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‘It took my breath away’: Memphis Belle unveiled at AF museum

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 @ 8:42 PM

Restored Memphis Belle unveiled at museum

The reborn Memphis Belle was unveiled Wednesday night before hundreds including the families of crewmen who flew the famed Army Air Forces bomber into history.

Under theatrical lighting and uplifted above the ground by three metal poles, the Memphis Belle was surrounded by a strategic bombing exhibit with cases filled with artifacts, many personal items of the crewmen who flew aboard the four-engine bomber on the perilous journeys.

Robert K. Morgan Jr., 72, of San Francisco, son of the late pilot Robert K. Morgan who died in 2004, wore his father’s silver wings and a bracelet he kept during the war.

“It means everything to me and my family that he’s here in spirit,” he said. “It’s just one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.”

The Memphis Belle made history as the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to survive 25 bombing missions over Germany and occupied France and return to the United States in 1943.

PHOTOS: 13 years and 55,000 hours of work restored Memphis Belle

Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Air Force director of staff and a keynote speaker at the unveiling, said the iconic bomber was at its final duty station and stood as both a symbol of the sacrifice of thousands of airmen in the skies of Europe and the might of the American industry in World War II that produced more than 300,000 aircraft during the war.

“It’s almost overwhelming. It’s almost tearful,” she said of the unveiling of the plane. “When the curtain came down and you saw her and the thousands of hours it took to restore her back to life. She is serving her final duty station to educate America on the sacrifices that our Army Air Corps men and women had in World War II.”

Linda Morgan, 72, of Crane Hill, Ala., and widow of Robert Morgan Sr., said the restored bomber “took my breath away.”

“I’ve seen pictures of that plane when it was in tatters and this, it looks better than when it came out of the factory,” she said in an interview with reporters.

Since 2005, restorers and volunteers have labored over 55,000 hours to restore the famed aircraft to its wartime look.

“After all the years, we’re almost there,” museum curator Jeff Duford said hours before the unveiling. “It’s almost surreal.”

“…What we get from this is an iconic touchstone that people can learn from,” said museum historian Doug Lantry.

Catherine Wyler, daughter of film director William Wyler who produced a 1944 documentary on the Belle and herself was a co-producer of a 1990 movie about the plane, appeared at the Belle’s debut.

“I think it’s fabulous … this is such a dramatic way to show it,”said Wyler, of Washington, D.C. “… I have a very sentimental attachment, not only because of my father, but also because of the film I made.”

Three B-17s and five P-51s flew over the museum in formation Wednesday in a salute to the World War II bomber.

A public ribbon-cutting for the Belle and a new exhibit of personal artifacts of the crewmen, part of a strategic bombing exhibit, was set for Thursday, the 75th anniversary of the crews final mission.

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AF museum attendance soars on first day of Memphis Belle opening

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 1:38 PM


            The Memphis Belle exhibit opens at the National Museum of the US Air Force. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
            TY GREENLEES
The Memphis Belle exhibit opens at the National Museum of the US Air Force. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(TY GREENLEES)

Attendance at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force soared Thursday nearly four times above the average for the same date in recent years with the debut of the Memphis Belle exhibit, figures show.

The museum counted 11,066 people in attendance for the unveiling of the reborn icon, compared to an average of 2,421 on May 17 between 2015 through 2017, spokesman Rob Bardua said.

“We are anticipating large crowds for sure,” he said. “You never know the exact number to expect.”

RELATED: ‘It took my breath away,’: Memphis Belle unveiled at AF museum

Memphis Belle activities with more than 160 re-actors, plane flyovers, book signings and movie screenings were to continue through Saturday,

The Belle was the first U.S.Army Air Forces bomber to complete 25 missions over war-torn Europe and return to the United States. The exhibit was revealed to the public on the 75th anniversary of its final mission.

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Did you see the president’s plane? Why it was here.

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 11:08 AM

A lumbering Air Force VC-25 presidential transport plane know as Air Force One was flying over Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for more than an hour on Thursday

Spectators of World War II bombers and fighters landing at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force got an extra bonus Thursday.

The plane commonly referred to as Air Force One, a Boeing 747 designated VC-25 in the Air Force, practiced touch-and-go landings on Wright-Patterson’s main runway. The jumbo jet is Air Force One only when the president is aboard.

Two B-17 bombers, a P-51 fighter and a PT-19 trainer, flew to the museum’s airstrip from Grimes Field in Urbana around the same time as part of festivities marking the debut of the B-17 Memphis Belle exhibit at the museum.

RELATED: ‘Memphis Belle’ will rumble over real-life version in Dayton

“Wright-Patt is an ideal location for training the VC-25 crews because we are close by air to the (Washington) DC area, have a long runway and light traffic compared to the DC metropolitan area,” base spokesman Daryl Mayer said in an e-mail. “It was merely a coincidence the VC-25 was training at the same time the B-17 contingent was landing on the (museum’s) runway. Our tower had contact with all aircraft at all times and were in compliance with all safety regulations.”

The World War II aircraft took off later in the day and may return for flyovers Friday but will not land because of weather concerns, said museum spokesman Rob Bardua.

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Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 11:43 AM

Memphis Belle exhibit officially opens

Alison and Chris Hoglan traveled to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force from St. Louis to see a legend reborn Thursday.

The mother and son were in a crowd of hundreds who watched a ribbon-cutting to the new B-17 Memphis Belle exhibit, showcasing the historic bomber’s 25 missions over Europe in World War II and the role of strategic bombing in the U.S. victory.

“She’s gorgeous,” said Alison Hoglan, 57.

Chris Hoglan thought the plane looked like it was in taking off and in mid-flight.

“I really like the way they displayed it with the landing gear up,” he said. “It was worth the trip.”

The Memphis Belle — made famous in two Hollywood films — gained fame as the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to complete 25 missions over Europe and return to the United States in 1943.

A ribbon-cutting Thursday morning made the opening of the exhibit official after the Belle was revealed in a private ceremony with about 1,000 people and family members of the late crew Wednesday night. And after a formation fly over of the museum Wednesday, four World War II-era planes — two B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, a P-51 Mustang fighter and a PT-19 trainer weer expected to land on the museum airstrip Thursday morning and remain on static display through the day.

P-51 Mustang Ain't Misbehavin' and B-17 Aluminum Overcast at The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The Memphis Belle exhibit opened to the public on Thursday after a 13-year restoration. Staff and volunteers worked 55,000 hours to restore the iconic World War II bomber. TY GREENLEES / STAFF(Ty Greenlees)

Thomas Harrington, 12, a fan of the Memphis Belle, traveled with his family from Northhampton, England to help cut the ribbon Thursday in front of the famous bomber. “It’s amazing how they have restored it in such good condition,” he said.

Linda Morgan, 72, of Crane Hill, Ala., and widow of Robert Morgan Sr., got a first look at the restored bomber in Wednesday night’s ceremony. The Belle, she said, “took her breath away.”

“I’ve seen pictures of that plane when it was in tatters and this, it looks better than when it came out of the factory,” she said in an interview with reporters.

The B-17 Memphis Belle was unveiled in a private ceremony Wednesday and opened to the public Thursday. MICHAEL BURIANEK / STAFF(Staff Writer)

Brian Pecon, president of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, had waited decades for the moment. The Belle was brought to the museum in 2005 from Tennessee after a fund-raising attempt failed to meet its goal to fully restore and display the plane in Memphis.

RELATED: ‘It took my breath away’: Memphis Belle unveiled at AF museum

“When they dropped that curtain yesterday it was truly awe-inspiring,” Pecon said Thursday. “It didn’t bring tears, but was a great emotional release.”

Glenn Legnon, 72, trekked from Lebanon, Tennessee, to see the spectacle.

“I think it was a good decision (to move the plane to the museum) because the aircraft had deteriorated so much in Memphis,” he said. “It took them from 2005 until now to get it restored.”

Visitors gather for a private viewing of the Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress," at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in Dayton, Ohio. The World War II bomber Memphis Belle is set to go on display for the first time since getting a yearslong restoration at the museum. The B-17 “Flying Fortress” will be introduced Thursday morning as the anchor of an extensive exhibit in the Dayton-area museum’s World War II gallery.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Since 2005, aircraft restorers and volunteers have painstakingly researched and labored to restore the famed aircraft to its wartime look, said museum director John “Jack” Hudson.

Parts of the museum grounds look like a military encampment with more than 160 re-enacters and dozens of military and civilian vehicles as part of festivities through Saturday.

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Published: Friday, May 11, 2018 @ 3:39 PM

The Memphis Belle and her crew were the first Army Air Forces heavy bomber to fly 25 missions over Nazi-held Europe and return to the United States. The plane and crew flew into Dayton in 1943 while on a war bond tour of 30 cities. The tour, a way to raise money and boost morale, was dubbed the “26th mission.”

James Verinis’s children never met their grandfather, Jim Verinis, a co-pilot on the iconic World War II B-17 Memphis Belle. 

But this week, they will connect with an important part of family and American history as thousands from around the world visit the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for the roll out of the restored historic four-engine Boeing bomber. 

» PHOTOS: 13 years and 55,000 hours of work: restored Memphis Belle

Based at RAF Bassingbourn in England during the war, the Memphis Belle was the first heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions over Europe and return to the United States.

Dozens of family members of the crew will travel across the country to see what their late fathers and grandfathers did to win the war in Europe. Here are five memories of the Memphis Belle and the men who flew the Flying Fortress:

1. CONNECTING GENERATIONS Jim Verinis, a co-pilot on the iconic World War II B-17 Memphis Belle. 

“It really is going to bring my father to life for my 4-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter,” said James Verinis, 48, who will travel to Dayton from South Kingstown, R.I., with his family. His father died in 2003.

“It’s going to be a tangible reincarnation of his as much as anything else.”

The Memphis Belle restoration at the National Musem of the United States Air Force is on track for completion in 2015. Exhibit Specialists are busy with metal work as wingtip and tail skins are fabricated and attached. Casey Simmons checks the engine cowl work. —Staff Photo by Ty Greenlees(Staff Writer)

2. HISTORY WITH DAYTON When the Memphis Belle returned stateside in June 1943, the celebrated plane embarked on a whirlwind three-month war bonds tour in the United States that included a stop in Dayton. 

In 1943, the Memphis Belle flew into Dayton during a war bond tour of 30 cities. The tour, a way to raise money and boost morale, was dubbed the “26th mission.”

» A LOOK BACK: Memphis Belle visited Dayton on “26th mission”

For the thousands of workers in Dayton producing materiel for the war effort, the tour created a sense of community and raised spirits, said Alex Heckman, director of education and museum operations for Dayton History.

3. WARTIME GIRLFRIEND Robert K. Morgan Jr., 72, son of the the Memphis Belle’s pilot Robert Morgan who died in 2004, will travel from San Francisco, California, to pay homage with his family to the crew and the plane. Morgan named the bomber after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, and the plane’s famous nose art was inspired by a 1941 illustration by George Petty in Esquire magazine.

» PHOTOS: Memphis Belle restoration taking shape

“One of the things dad always said was, because people constantly called him a hero, he said the only real heroes are the ones that didn’t come back,” Morgan said. “That was the thing I remember the most about dad talking about the war.”

4. HOLLYWOOD FAME Two films, a 1944 William Wyler documentary called: “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress,” and a 1990 Hollywood film, “Memphis Belle,” marked the plane’s wartime milestone. Aircraft restorers and volunteers have spent tens of thousands of hours restoring the Memphis Belle since the plane was hauled to Wright-Patterson in 2005 from Tennessee.

» PHOTO GALLERY: Memphis Belle exhibit taking shape

5. SNEAKED ABOARD Dean Giambrone’s father, Joseph M. Giambrone, was a ground crew chief who sneaked aboard the Memphis Belle for one flight. Giambrone, 66, said his father expected a “milk run,” or easy flight. 

That wasn’t what he got.

“He said it was very scary,” said Giambrone, who will trek to the Memphis Belle unveiling from the Philadelphia suburbs. “They were surprised at all the flak and the fighter planes that met them.

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