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