The Story of the Memphis Belle



The B-17 from WWII known as the Memphis Belle is renowned for being the first heavy bomber to complete it’s 25 missions over war-torn Europe. That’s despite being bullet-ridden, flak damaged, and on five separate occasions having engines shot out and once coming back with her tail nearly shot off. But to her credit she dropped more than 60 tons of bombs.

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photo credit: Rob Shenk via photopin cc

The war bird saw missions over France, Belgium, and Germany. Happily, she kept all of her crew alive. The Memphis Belle gets her name from the pilot’s girlfriend Margaret Polk. After serving 25 missions, she was brought back to the U.S. where the plane and much of the crew went on a 31-city War Bonds tour. It’s worth noting that during the first three months of America’s combat flight missions over Europe, 80% of the aircraft were shot down because there were no escort fighters available.

The Original Memphis Belle

Today, the original Memphis Belle is undergoing restoration. The original memphis Belle was found in Oklahoma in 1946 among hundreds of other B-17s about to be turned into scrap metal. When Memphis mayor Walter Chandler learned this, he bought it for the scrap value of $350.

However, six decades later, local groups were unable to raise the funds to make the original bird flight worthy again. After years of static display at various locations in Memphis, the original Memphis Belle was moved to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in October 2005. It is now undergoing what is hoped to be a full restoration. Unfortunately, original parts are very difficult to find.

Funding of the restoration includes $150,000 donated by the city of Memphis, $100,000 each from Boeing (the manufacturer) and Federal Express (headquartered in Memphis) and $576,000 from the American people after Hugh Downs of TV’s 20/20 aired the need for more money.

Several other WWII era aircraft seen at many national air shows honor the Memphis Belle in name but are not the original. None are B-17s.

The Original Crew

In case you’re wondering what happened to the original crew of the Memphis Belle:

  • Captain, Robert K. Morgan, took command of the Memphis Belle at the age of 24. He went on to become a Lt. Colonel and flew the first mission over Tokyo. He died in Ashvielle, NC in 2004.
  • Co-pilot, James A. Verinis, went on to pilot his own aircraft named the Connecticut Yankee. He died in 2003.
  • Navigator, Charles B. Leighton, is credited with discovering a way to identify false German radio beacons intended to draw bombers into harms way. Died 1991.
  • Bombardier, Vince Evans, served a second tour of duty under the command of pilot Morgan in the Pacific theater. He died in an airplane crash in the 1980s.
  • Top Turret Gunner, Leviticus “Levy” Dillon, transferred off the Memphis Belle after 4 missions and being shot in the leg during mission 3. Died in 1998.
  • Radio Operator, Robert Hanson, kept a bullet ridden logbook from the plane. Died 2005.
  • Ball Turret Gunner, Cecil Scott, retired after 30 years at Ford Motor Company. Died 1979.
  • Right Waist Gunner E. Scott Miller dropped out of sight after the war. Died 1995.
  • Left Waist Gunner, Clarence E. “Bill” Winchell, is credited with keeping the most accurate diaries of the Memphis Belle missions. Died 1994.
  • Tail Gunner, John P. Quinlan, went on to fly in the Pacific Theater. Died 2000.
  • Crew Chief Joe Giambrone replaced 9 engines, both wings, and 2 tails on the Memphis Belle. Died 1992.
  • The Memphis Belle, Miss Margaret Polk, namesake to the aircraft. Died 1990.

 

About the author: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 30 years and writing about real estate investing for seven years. He also draws upon 25 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, a few short miles from a national forest in the Olympic Mountains with the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles in the opposite direction.

Comments

  1. The Liberty Foundation does in fact have a B-17 named the Memphis Belle that tours annually.

    http://www.libertyfoundation.org/index.html

    • Brian Kline says:

      Jennifer,
      Thanks for letting others know that. Many sources say there are no flying B-17s.

      Brian

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