Honoring the Memphis Belle

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Dad and I with the Memphis Belle. Notice that I’m wearing my Rosie the Riveter shirt? Yes, I am a nerd!

As a student of history, I was over the moon last year when the Memphis Belle was installed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton. They had a big weekend that included World War II reenactors, big band music and all sorts of other things.

My dad is a history buff too – he’s actually where I caught the bug from – so I dragged him along for a little father-daughter quality time. This was sort of a big deal because we don’t often get to do things on our own. Growing up, it was always me with my mother or all of us as a family but never dad and I alone.

Turns out the weather was horrible and rainy, ruining most of the outdoor fun but we had a nice time anyway.

If you’ve never been to this museum, it’s a great way to pass a day and it’s free. It’s packed full of planes and stories that you won’t read in most history books.

a crew.jpgThe Memphis Belle exhibit does a nice job telling the story of this plane and crew. The B-17 was vital to the war effort, having flown in every combat zone during World War II. The Memphis Belle was important because it completed 25 missions over Europe, a dangerous proposition and unheard of when it happened in 1942 and 1943.

The crew became symbols of the war effort, personifying all the young men who were doing their part to fight evil overseas. They ranged in age from 19 to 26 and came from across this nation. These were very young men, likely with little life experience, who were sent to hell and back 25 times.

I can’t imagine the terror they faced. I mean, can you imagine climbing into a plane time after time, knowing that you likely wouldn’t live through the day? And it wasn’t just the Memphis Belle crew – these guys beat very long odds to survive – but sixteen million Americans served in this war, asked every day to face the unthinkable.

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Many of these planes were lost to time following the war. But the Memphis Belle dodged that bullet, so to speak. It was sent to Memphis where it sat out in the elements for decades. Damaged by weather, vandals and looters, it was in pretty bad shape. But it was acquired by the museum and sent to Dayton for restoration several years ago. We were lucky to be there for the festivities when the plane was installed in Dayton in time for the 75th anniversary of the planes’ 25th mission.

Displays feature each of the crew members and there are some artifacts on display in addition to the plane itself. I especially loved this stained glass window.

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Want to visit the Memphis Belle at the Air Force Museum? Click here. I’ll write more about the museum another day.

 

 

 

 

Adventures Revisited: Decorating A Travel Tree

One of my favorite traditions is to collect Christmas ornaments from the amazing places I go in this world. Each ornament gets its own postcard or tag with a trip memory written on the back. Then both the ornament and memory are displayed on a tree devoted only to my travels.

Sometimes the ornaments are actual Christmas ornaments. More often than not, they’re things that I purpose into an ornament.

A stuffed buffalo from Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, a toy plane from the day my dad and I saw the Memphis Belle together (that was our first big adventure just the two of us), a glass sun catcher from a trip to Wytheville, Virginia with my mother and a Canadian flag from Toronto are part of this collection.

Most items are new but a few are vintage like a souvenir pennant from Hollywood. When I visited back in 2004 I wasn’t collecting ornaments and I recently found this vintage piece in an antique store.

I decorated that tree this week and had a fun time reminiscing about my adventures. It was especially rewarding reliving this year’s fun with friends – Utah with Johnna, Fallingwater with Meria, Pittsburgh with Nichola and Virginia with my mother as well as the solo adventures I had this fall made me smile.

There are a few ornaments that I was careful not to read the tags or think about too much when I pulled them from the tote. Some memories are bittersweet enough they’re best left undisturbed. Maybe next year I’ll be ready.

But this is an overwhelmingly happy tree to decorate and enjoy throughout the season. Seeing the Biltmore decorated for Christmas was a bucket list item that I checked off a few years ago. Memphis is where I paid my respects to Elvis and where I saw BB King play in his club on Beale Street. A vintage toy train reminds me of my solo road trip through rural Indiana while a toy soldier reminds me of the morning I watched the sun rise over the George Rogers Clark Memorial and the tour I had inside the memorial – just me and a National Park Service Ranger. That Hollywood pennant reminds me of one warm Easter Sunday spent at Venice Beach. That was the only Easter I’ve spent away from home. A decorative Santa Claus tells the story of road tripping through Canada and finding the unexpected in Toronto last year.

I’ve never regretted taking a trip or the occasional sacrifice necessary so I can afford to do so. This tree is a testament to why.

Travel enlightens. It reminds us of our place in this world and how small we are. It teaches us about other people, their traditions and values. It gives us a release, an opportunity to escape reality and have fun.

It’s good for us.

I’m already dreaming of the next adventure and wondering what memories I’ll add to the tree next year.