Restored Memphis Belle unveiled at US Air Force museum – Jerry McLaughlin was there

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

Having the honor of being invited to the National Museum of the United States Air Force to attend the unveiling of the Memphis Belle was truly a once in a life time opportunity.  Being Harry Friedman’s guest put me in pretty special company.  I sat with Harry’s literary partner, Graham Simons, and his wife, along with Harry’s two daughters and grandson.

The crew after the landed after the 25th mission.
The crew after the landed after the 25th mission.

It was very, very rewarding for all of us to hear Harry’s name mentioned, one of the few individuals who received personal recognition, for his leadership in rescuing the Belle from literally rotting away on Mud Island in Memphis.  The three speakers at the ceremonies made appropriate and brief presentations standing before an immense dark curtain with a centered projection of an artist rendering of the Belle.

 

On her way back to the USA, June 9, 1943.
On her way back to the USA, June 9, 1943.

What I found most poignant in the ceremonies was the introduction of the families of each Belle flight and ground crew member, as well as the decedents of a local boy by the name of Orville Wright.

The plane was moved to Ohio in 2005 after being on display for decades in Memphis, Tennessee, where the plane deteriorated in an outdoor display. It took some 55,000 hours to restore the plane to its wartime glory. ©Jerry McLaughlin
The plane was moved to Ohio in 2005 after being on display for decades in Memphis, Tennessee, where the plane deteriorated in an outdoor display. It took some 55,000 hours to restore the plane to its wartime glory. ©Jerry McLaughlin

After the opening comments and introductions, the speaker’s equipment was removed from the stage and a voice boomed to the audience, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Memphis Belle!” – and the enormous curtain dropped, showing off  the magnificently lit most famous B-17 of them all, followed by several seconds of total silence as the crowd was literally overwhelmed by what they were seeing!

It was finally put on display after 13 years of restorations on Thursday — exactly 75 years after completing its last mission ©Jerry McLaughlin
It was finally put on display after 13 years of restorations on Thursday — exactly 75 years after completing its last mission ©Jerry McLaughlin

The very brief silence was immediately followed by, as you would expect, enormous applause, as well as shouts and cheering. Graham pointed out to me that the Belle is presented in a wheels-up, bomb bay doors open configuration – as would be the case when she would be executing her ultimate mission, dropping bombs on an enemy target.

A trip to Dayton to see this very special airplane is a must for all WWII aviation enthusiasts.

The Memphis Belle returned to the United States after completing 25 combat flights over Nazi-occupied Europe. ©Jerry McLaughlin
The Memphis Belle returned to the United States after completing 25 combat flights over Nazi-occupied Europe. ©Jerry McLaughlin

 

The B-17F bomber was unveiled Wednesday at a private event honoring family members of the Memphis Belle crew ©Jerry McLaughlin
The B-17F bomber was unveiled Wednesday at a private event honoring family members of the Memphis Belle crew ©Jerry McLaughlin

 

Pilot Robert Morgan named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis ©Jerry McLaughlin
Pilot Robert Morgan named the aircraft after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, of Memphis ©Jerry McLaughlin

 

The ribbon is cut to the B-17F Memphis Belle Exhibit during a public ceremony on May 17, 2018. ©U.S. Air Force photo
The ribbon is cut to the B-17F Memphis Belle Exhibit during a public ceremony on May 17, 2018. ©U.S. Air Force photo

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
Along with the B-24 Liberator, the B-17 formed the backbone of the USAAF strategic bombing force, and it helped win the war by crippling Germany’s war industry. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. ©U.S. Air Force photo
Boeing B-17F Memphis Belle on display in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. ©U.S. Air Force photo

 

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)
(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

 

German bombing warningWarning from a booklet dropped by the thousands on Germany. It reads: “Attack—by Day and by Night. The giant bombers of the RAF—Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lancasters—carry out heavy night operations. Now they are unleashing the special machines of the American air force by day.”
German bombing warning
Warning from a booklet dropped by the thousands on Germany. It reads: “Attack—by Day and by Night. The giant bombers of the RAF—Stirlings, Halifaxes and Lancasters—carry out heavy night operations. Now they are unleashing the special machines of the American air force by day.”

 

Aug. 18, 1943: Women aircraft workers sign their names on the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle during a visit in Long Beach.
Aug. 18, 1943: Women aircraft workers sign their names on the B-17 bomber Memphis Belle during a visit in Long Beach.

 

This 1943 file photo shows the crew of the Memphis Belle, a Flying Fortress B-17F, poses in front of their plane in Asheville
This 1943 file photo shows the crew of the Memphis Belle, a Flying Fortress B-17F, poses in front of their plane in Asheville

 

Memphis Belle at Patterson Field (now Wright-Patterson AFB) in July 1943.
Memphis Belle at Patterson Field (now Wright-Patterson AFB) in July 1943.
The Memphis Belle during the War Bond campaign
The Memphis Belle during the War Bond campaign

 

Crew of the Memphis Belle.
Crew of the Memphis Belle.

They are, left to right: Tech. Sgt. Harold P. Loch of Green Bay, Wis., top turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Cecil H. Scott of Altoona, Penn., ball turret gunner; Tech. Sgt. Robert J, Hanson of Walla Walla, Wash., radio operator; Capt. James A. Verinis, New Haven, Conn., co-pilot; Capt. Robert K. Morgan of Ashville, N. C., pilot; Capt. Charles B. Leighton of Lansing, Mich., navigator; Staff Sgt. John P. Quinlan of Yonkers, N. Y., tail gunner; Staff Sgt. Casimer A. Nastal of Detroit, Mich., waist gunner; Capt. Vincent B. Evans of Henderson, Texas, bombardier and Staff Sgt. Clarence E. Wichell of Oak Park, Ill., waist gunner.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the service’s national institution for preserving and presenting the Air Force story. Each year about one million visitors come to the museum to learn about the mission, history and evolving capabilities of America’s Air Force.

 The museum is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum featuring more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Thousands of personal artifacts, photographs and documents further highlight the people and events that comprise the Air Force storyline, from the beginnings of military flight to today’s war on terrorism.