Invited dignitaries and some of the family members of the Memphis Belle crew were at a private event in Ohio for a sneak-peak of the restoration exhibit on May 16th and the events to follow. Captain Morgan’s oldest son, Robert, and his youngest daughter, Peggy, were honored to attend the ceremony for their father.
Other family members of the crew were there also. The celebratory event also included three B-17 Flying Fortresses, six P-51 Mustangs and three WWII-era trainer aircraft on static display. Viewers may tune in to this LIVE event on the Memphis Belle exhibit opening page on the museum’s website at: www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Upcoming/Boeing-B-17F-Memphis-Belle-Exhibit-Opening
Memphis Belle crews flew through perilous, flak-filled skies dodging Nazi Germany fighters on missions over mostly France and Germany beginning in November 1942. The plane was based at the 324th Bomb Squadron of the 91st Bomb Group (Heavy) in Bassingbourn, England.
The crew marked its 25th wartime mission bombing a German Navy submarine pen at Lorient, France on May 17, 1943. The USAAF chose the aircraft for a highly-publicized war bond tour from June-August 1943, and its crew was celebrated as national heroes. The aircraft and crew are the subject of two widely-seen Hollywood movies (one in 1944 and another in 1990).
A large number of people have each played an important part in ensuring the aircraft survived. Col. Morgan named the bomber after his girlfriend Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tenn. He then had a pin-up art piece by a 1941 George Petty Illustration in Esquire magazine put on the side of the plane. However, the romance didn’t survive the war. The Memphis Belle Memorial Association had the plane on display for a number of years and played a large part in the plane’s survival. Unfortunately the Association members realized that the renovation would be too costly to continue, and thus the Air Force stepped in to continue with restoration.
Many hands have been involved in this project—including many volunteers— with new paint, the attachment of propellers and the plane’s nose and tail. For the past 13 years, workers have labored to meticulously restore the Memphis Belle, scraping paint, bending metal and fabricating parts, since the Boeing built bomber arrived in 2005. Many parts, long since out of production, have caused restorers to make new parts by hand, sometimes with only a fragment of an old part or without blueprints.
Parts had to be made, as they were no longer available. Dale Burnside, a retired General Motors engineer and former Air Force tanker pilot in the Vietnam war, worked tirelessly on the iconic plane with a volunteer crew of three. They restored gun turrets and put windows back into the plane. Much has been a labor of love for this iconic plane which helped to defeat the Nazis in World War II.
Courageous moments are captured in the Museum’s World War II Gallery with a variety of engaging and evocative exhibits to tell the proud story of the US Army Air Forces during the war. The new exhibit has interactive displays, rare archival film footage and many personal artifacts. Artifacts are on display from seven of the crewmembers including several war-time uniforms; a flight suit; combat boots; flying goggles; dog-tags; pilot’s wings and other rank insignia. In addition, rare color archival footage—some of which has never been seen by the public before— can be seen.
Guest speakers, book signings, films, and many other activities both inside and outside the Museum are all a part of this celebratory event. The new exhibit tells the complete story of the historic Memphis Belle, its crew, and their missions. In addition, it addresses the many myths associated with the aircraft.
Specifically, Thursday evening, the 17th, will be a Living History Film Series of the Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944).Throughout the day on both Friday and Saturday there will be many activities and displays to see, including a WW II aircraft flyovers throughout Saturday.
The Air Force Band of Flight and the Air Force Band of Mid America will perform on Friday evening by giving a free concert with Glenn Miller music. For those unable to be present, there will be live streaming of the event. Viewers may tune in to this LIVE event on the Memphis Belle exhibit on the museum’s website at: www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Upcoming/Boeing-B-17F-Memphis-Belle-Exhibit-Opening
Schedule is subject to change.