NMUSAF thrives under Underwood’s watchful eye


He’s an unassuming, quiet warrior. Humble, but a task master, getting the job done and then some. We all had someone in school like this gentleman. One who gets an assignment and before you know it’s completed with time to spare.

The kid you always turned to for homework help. Without knowing for sure I bet Jeffrey Underwood was that guy.

And his work ethic and attention to detail fits him well in his current position, well at least for another couple of days.

‘Dr. Jeff,’ as I call him, is the official Historian out at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and if you think he sits in an office all day compiling information on museums treasures, think again.

“My primary duty is to write the Museum’s official annual history. However, I have also curated numerous exhibits throughout the Museum, conducted VIP tours, given many media interviews, and published articles and book reviews in academic journals.” Jeffery says.

Chances are you’ve experienced some of his handiwork.

“I curated the recently completed “Secret War” exhibit about the clandestine special operations missions during the Southeast Asia War. Also with the wonderful museum staff curated the “Tuskegee Airmen” exhibit, “Flight Nurses in World War II,” “Bob Hope,” “Precision Guided Weapons in the Southeast Asia War,” “B-52s in the Southeast Asia War,” and many more.” Underwood says humbly.

You may have run into ‘Dr. Jeff’ from time to time at the museum, or chances are you’ve seen him on TV a time of ten. He’s appeared on History Channel, PBS, National Geographic, BBC, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and now his proudest moment, right here in Dayton City Paper. (OK, I assumed that.)

Born in Cincinnati, then moving to Oklahoma, Underwood received a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in history at the University of Oklahoma, earning his Doctorate in American History with a primary interest in U.S. military history.

“This interest in military aviation came from my father, who had served in Burma during World War II as a radio waist gunner on B-25 bombers. In retrospect, becoming a US Air Force historian seems to have been the textbook path for my career. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to join the National Museum of the USAF, and it was a natural fit for me.” He says.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. After 28 years in civil service ‘Dr. Jeff’ is hanging up his ‘history hat’ and boarding a flight into retirement.

“I plan to locate near a university and continue writing about American military aviation. Of course, I also plan to have more playtime with my wife, Valerie. There is a whole world for us to explore.’ He says.

Speaking of, he met his life partner this way.

“My sister-in-law set me up on a blind date with Valerie in 1988. Her father had served in China and designed the Fourteenth Air Force emblem, and we took an immediate liking to each other. A year later we married. My career has taken me to several bases in the U.S., and Valerie has always made my life an absolute joy.”

I love stories like that, and there’s plenty more here at the museum.

“Some of my memories include watching the Museum’s craftsmen restore the SPAD XIII. It gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see under the fabric covering exactly how that iconic World War I fighter was built in 1918 and the peerless craftsmanship of today’s experts at the Museum.” He says.

‘Dr. Jeff’s’ service, dedication and contribution to our world class facility has not gone unnoticed.

“We greatly appreciate all that Dr. Underwood has contributed over the years as the Historian for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. He is an expert on over 100 years of military aviation history and heritage and we wish him a long and happy retirement.” Wes Henry, Chief, of the Research Division says.

The mission continues and if Jeffery could wave a magic wand …

“I would place one of the current Air Force Ones in the Museum’s Presidential Gallery. Then, I would add a Keystone biplane bomber from the late 1920s. Fortunately, the Museum’s staff and volunteers will not need that wand to finish restoring the B-17F “Memphis Belle” ™ and have it on display in 2018.” He says.

Underwood sums up his tenure this way.

“I firmly believe that people will still be enjoying the Museum hundreds of years from now, and just knowing that I played a small part at this wonderful institution warms my heart.”

Good luck my friend and by the way, could you leave that magic wand? There’s an Air Force One at the Reagan Library in California which would look great here. Just sayin’. — Cheers! Buch


By Jim Bucher

Jim Bucher is a local resident and guest columnist.

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