Restored WWII bomber Memphis Belle makes public debut

Veterans 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)
Robert K. Morgan, Jr., son of the Memphis Belle pilot of the same name, walks past the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" during a private viewing 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)
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)
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)
The Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress," is displayed for private viewing 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)
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)
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)
Visitors gather under open bomb-bay doors during 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)
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)
United States Air Force (Ret.) Col. Howard Hunt, center, meets with Memphis Belle fans during the private viewing of the 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)
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)
The Memphis Belle, a Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress," is displayed for private viewing 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)

DAYTON, Ohio — Robert K. Morgan Jr.'s voice wavered with emotion when he talked about seeing the Memphis Belle all put together for the first time in 50 years.

His father, Robert Sr., had flown the legendary B-17F on 25 perilous bombing missions in World War II and worked the rest of his life to make sure the airplane was preserved.

The famed "Flying Fortress," looking better than new, was put on public display Thursday morning after a restoration project that took more than a dozen years and 55,000 hours of labor at the National Museum of U.S. Air Force.

"Dad would be so proud," said the 72-year-old Morgan, who lives in San Francisco. "I wish he were here. It means everything to me and my family. He's here in spirit."

Morgan traveled to Ohio along with families of the other Memphis Belle crew for a private unveiling of the plane Wednesday night and the public opening of the exhibit Thursday at the sprawling museum near Dayton.

The debut came on the 75th anniversary of the Belle's 25th and final combat mission of the war. Soon after the museum opened at 9 a.m., hundreds of people gathered around the exhibit trying to get the best angle of the famous plane for cellphone photos.

The Memphis Belle was trucked to the museum in corroded pieces in 2005 after efforts to restore it in Memphis ran out of money and steam. It had been displayed outdoors in its namesake city for decades after the war and was in bad shape due to weather and vandalism.

"I promised him when he was dying 14 years ago that I would do anything I could to keep the plane alive," Morgan said. "He knew before he passed that the plane was going to come to the museum, he knew that we couldn't keep it in Memphis. And he knew it would be preserved here, he knew it would be restored here. He was extremely glad that it would be here."

The Memphis Belle was feted as the first B-17 to complete 25 missions and return to the U.S. at a time when most crews in the strategic daylight bombing campaign were lucky to make it to a dozen.

The Belle wasn't the first B-17 to make the requisite 25 missions, it just happened to be the one that became famous, thanks to newspaper reporters and Hollywood director William Wyler, who decided to build a documentary around the last mission.

A wildly successful 32-city war bond tour around America in the summer of 1943 made national celebrities out of the airplane and crew. Wyler's 1944 documentary cemented the legacy, and a 1990 movie introduced it to a new generation.

The Belle, with the leggy, swimsuit-clad pinup girl freshly repainted on both sides of the nose, is displayed suspended above the museum floor as if in mid-flight, with bomb-bay doors wide open.

James P. Verinis, 48, came from South Kingstown, Rhode Island, to see the Belle. His father, Capt. James A. Verinis, flew missions on it as co-pilot and later commanded his own B-17.

"I look at it," Verinis said, "and I wonder if it ever it ever looked this beautiful."

___

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

People also read these

Police: Woman killed by Florida officer in...

Aug 10, 2016

A police "shoot/ don't shoot" demonstration went shockingly awry when an officer shot and killed a...

Father of Orlando shooter sighted at Hillary...

Aug 10, 2016

Father of Orlando gay nightclub shooter spotted at Hillary Clinton campaign event in central Florida

After 18 years, alligator gets new home at LA Zoo

Aug 10, 2016

The Pasadena Humane Society is saying: see you later, alligator

Refugee athletes from Congo find joy simply in...

Aug 10, 2016

Refugee athletes Yolande Bukasa and Popole Misenga competed in judo at the Rio Olympics, and they...

Sept. 11 memorial motorcycle ride ending on a...

Aug 10, 2016

Leaders of a massive, annual motorcycle procession to the three Sept. 11 crash sites say this...

About Us

The World Insiders brings you exclusive coverage from across the globe in a timely, easy to consume format sourced directly from our regional media partners.

Contact us: sales[at]theworldinsiders.com

Subscribe Now!