Danger up close: 5 memories of the B-17 Memphis Belle and the men on the missions

James Verinis’s children never met their grandfather, Jim Verinis, a co-pilot on the iconic World War II B-17 Memphis Belle.

But back in May, they connected with an important part of family and American history as thousands from around the world visited the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force for the roll out of the restored historic four-engine Boeing bomber.

» PHOTOS: 13 years and 55,000 hours of work: restored Memphis Belle

Based at RAF Bassingbourn in England during the war, the Memphis Belle was the first heavy bomber to complete 25 combat missions over Europe and return to the United States.

Dozens of family members of the crew traveled across the country to see what their late fathers and grandfathers did to win the war in Europe. Here are five memories of the Memphis Belle and the men who flew the Flying Fortress:

1. CONNECTING GENERATIONS Jim Verinis, a co-pilot on the iconic World War II B-17 Memphis Belle.

“It really is going to bring my father to life for my 4-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter,” said James Verinis, 48, who will travel to Dayton from South Kingstown, R.I., with his family. His father died in 2003.

“It’s going to be a tangible reincarnation of his as much as anything else.”

2. HISTORY WITH DAYTON When the Memphis Belle returned stateside in June 1943, the celebrated plane embarked on a whirlwind three-month war bonds tour in the United States that included a stop in Dayton.

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.”

» A LOOK BACK: Memphis Belle visited Dayton on “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.

3. WARTIME GIRLFRIEND Robert K. Morgan Jr., 72, son of the the Memphis Belle's pilot Robert Morgan who died in 2004, will travel from San Francisco, California, to pay homage with his family to the crew and the plane. Morgan named the bomber after his wartime girlfriend, Margaret Polk, and the plane's famous nose art was inspired by a 1941 illustration by George Petty in Esquire magazine.

» PHOTOS: Memphis Belle restoration taking shape


“One of the things dad always said was, because people constantly called him a hero, he said the only real heroes are the ones that didn’t come back,” Morgan said. “That was the thing I remember the most about dad talking about the war.”

4. HOLLYWOOD FAME Two films, a 1944 William Wyler documentary called: "The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress," and a 1990 Hollywood film, "Memphis Belle," marked the plane's wartime milestone. Aircraft restorers and volunteers have spent tens of thousands of hours restoring the Memphis Belle since the plane was hauled to Wright-Patterson in 2005 from Tennessee.

» PHOTO GALLERY: Memphis Belle exhibit taking shape

5. SNEAKED ABOARD Dean Giambrone's father, Joseph M. Giambrone, was a ground crew chief who sneaked aboard the Memphis Belle for one flight. Giambrone, 66, said his father expected a "milk run," or easy flight.

That wasn’t what he got.

“He said it was very scary,” said Giambrone, who will trek to the Memphis Belle unveiling from the Philadelphia suburbs. “They were surprised at all the flak and the fighter planes that met them.


» ‘Memphis Belle’ will rumble over real life version in Dayton

» Memphis Belle towed into Air Force museum for first time

» Memphis Belle visited Dayton on “26th mission”

» New flight controls added to famous B-17 Memphis Belle


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