Memphis Belle, the iconic World War II bomber, will be unveiled to the public next week after years of restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
But this won’t be the first time the legendary B-17 has drawn a crowd in the Gem City.
The plane, along with her crew, was the first Army Air Forces heavy bomber to fly 25 missions over Nazi-held Europe and return to the United States.
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.”
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.
“This one really had star power. The plane was a physical symbol of American progress in the war effort in this cataclysmic global war.”
The “battle scarred” plane and crew, “two components of the greatest team in this war,” according to the Dayton Daily News, arrived at Patterson Field July 9, 1943. The next day the bomber was on display at the Dayton Municipal Airport.
Ten crew members, and their mascot, a Scottish terrier named Stuka, rallied a crowd downtown at the Old Courthouse and had lunch at the Moraine Country Club before visiting the Standard Register and National Cash Register companies.
On arrival to the NCR Auditorium the crew was greeted by the thunderous applause of more than 2,500 National Cash Register employees gathered to pay tribute to the war heroes.
Flags of the United Nations covered the walls, an enlarged replica of the Memphis Belle nose art hung over the stage, and life-sized photographs of the plane’s combat and ground crew decorated the auditorium, according to a 1943 issue of NCR Factory News.
WHIO radio broadcast the assembly and workers gathered around radios at NCR, General Motors, Delco Products and other factories across Dayton that were producing the weapons needed for war.
Col. Edward A. Deeds, the NCR chairman of the board, and famed aviator Orville Wright, were seated on stage with other dignitaries as Maj. Robert Morgan, the pilot of the Memphis Belle, addressed the crowd.
“We are team mates of the greatest team that has ever been formed in the world,” said Morgan, whose war-time girlfriend, Margaret Polk of Memphis, Tenn., was the inspiration for the plane’s name.
“You are just as important a part of the team as we are. I know, and every member of my crew knows it … every member of the Eighth Air Force knows it — the ground crew, office crew, the flyers over the target – everyone of them knows how important every one of you are!”
Morgan’s remarks, and the words of thanks from each of the crew members, was a morale boost for the men and women making gun magazines, bomb sites and artillery shells in the Miami Valley, Heckman said.
“I have to believe that in the minds of most of these workers sitting in the auditorium and gathered around radios, that in a very real human way, seeing these 10 men on the stage drove home how important the work was they were doing day in and day out, really was.”