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Famous fly-by remembered with monument

Bob Morgan Memorial

Steve Duncan reads a passage from Col Morgan’s book

Well, this is one of those true stories that has become a legend. World War II US Army Air Corp Colonel Robert Morgan, pilot of the famous Memphis Belle, was remembered Thursday (Aug 14) at noon along with his legendary fly-by, or more correctly stated, fly-between the county and city buildings in downtown Asheville.

A committee wishing to remember this event, which some falsely believed was a “tall-tale,” placed a monument between the two buildings and unveiled it to the public in a unique fashion.

Now, for those readers not familiar with the “Memphis Belle,” which Morgan piloted, it was a B-17 bomber, known as a Flying Fortress because of the number of machine guns placed on the aircraft. Morgan and his crew’s fame originates from becoming the first bomber crew to complete 25 missions, which was a complete tour of duty.

Many might think an easy task given the number of machine guns (13) it had to defend itself and the nickname “Flying Fortress,” but that was not the case. According to a statistical fact given at the unveiling, more than 80% of aircraft in Morgan’s squadron were lost during the first three months of combat operations over Europe.

Upon completion of those 25 missions, Morgan and his crew instantly became celebrities and brought renewed hope to other crews that they could survive their tour of duty. They were brought home for a nationwide war bond tour for the public to see their famous plane and its crew.

It was on their stop in Asheville, Morgan’s hometown, when the legendary feat was accomplished. Morgan had departed from a local Asheville Airport, it was said that it was the one next to the French Broad River where the old race track use to be, but others say it was south of Asheville in Cane Creek. Whatever the case, Morgan decided to make an exit to be remembered.

Tilting his big four-engine bomber with a 104-foot wing span into a 60 degree bank, Morgan flew the monstrous aircraft between the two buildings which are only about 75 feet apart. It was said to have cleared both buildings of their occupants, who rushed out to see what was happening.

The ceremony commemorating the event on Thursday, which was the 71st anniversary of the fly-between, included the presentation of colors and the National Anthem by the US Air Force’s 14th Weather Squadron, speeches by committee members and family members along with a reading of the event from Morgan’s 2001 book, “The Man who Flew the Memphis Belle” written with Ron Powers.

As Steve Duncan, a member of the committee and former colleague of Morgan’s, read the passage from the book, the sounds of the large bomber was recreated for those gathered by Stewart Sound, which had everyone looking to the skies to see what was flying overhead.

After the ceremony, those gathered were invited to view the monument close up which features a telling of the event and an engraving of artist David Lee Sample’s depiction of the event. Placed at the base of the monument were 71 roses, one rose for each year since the fly-by.

Col. Morgan passed away on May 15, 2004.

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