WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Seventy-five years after completing its final mission, the B-17F Memphis Belle was revealed to the public May 17 as a piece of history at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
And its reveal meant different things to different individuals. For James P. Verinis, son of the late Memphis Belle Co-Pilot James A. Verinis, it was honoring the remembrance of his father.
“To see busloads of people coming and the country in general consuming it in this way, it really makes me feel like my father’s memory is alive again. It’s pretty impressive,” said James P. Verinis of Rhode Island.
James A. Verinis passed away in 2003, his son said, which was two years before the Memphis Belle was moved from Memphis, Tennessee to the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
“My father was very interested in the plane coming here (to the museum),” James P. Verinis said. “[Museum Curator Jeff Duford] had a letter my father wrote to the museum back in the 90s saying that he hoped it would end up here because they all knew it was open to the elements in Memphis, Tennessee and essentially was not going to survive the test of time. I don’t know if [my father] knew it was going to come here … It’s nice to know it did end up somewhere he wanted it to go.”
For 12-year-old Thomas Harrison, it was an opportunity to travel overseas to get an up-close look at the real Memphis Belle after constructing his first model of the aircraft five years ago.
“It’s amazing how they restored it in such good condition,” said Harrison, of Northampton, England. “… It’s so impressive in person [and] It’s amazing how many people there are [at the ceremony].”
Twelve-year-old Joshua Cahoon also got a first-hand look at the aircraft that inspired a pastel drawing he created as part of a student art contest hosted by the Air Force museum. While he said it was challenging for him to create art based on aircraft he had never laid eyes on, participating in and winning the contest allowed him to further his plane drawing skills and participate in the ribbon cutting ceremony.
“I had to research a lot of it and it was hard because I couldn’t see the actual plane, so I had to look up lots of pictures, I watched both of the Memphis Belle movies and I studied a lot of it. Then I figured out what I wanted to do and I did it in pastel,” said Cahoon, a sixth grade student at Smith Elementary School in Oakwood.
Will he create additional Memphis Belle-inspired art after seeing it in-person?
“I might,” he said.
For Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Museum Director Jack Hudson, the Memphis Belle in its current state is on “its second mission:” to tell the Air Force story and to inspire young individuals to participate in STEM activities.
“It connects the American public, young and old, to Air Force history and heritage and it serves as connecting tissue between [the reality of the day] — leadership, teamwork, innovation, national alliance and more — to the American values of today — leadership, teamwork, innovation, national alliance — all the same attributes,” Hudson said.
The B-17F Memphis Belle was the first U.S. Army Air Forces heavy bomber to return to the United States after completing 25 combat missions over occupied Europe, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. It was revealed to the public May 17 — exactly 75 years after its crew finished their last mission in the war against Nazi Germany on May 17, 1943.
The museum will continue the celebration Friday, May 18 and Saturday, May 19. Museum gates will open 8 a.m., while the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The event includes 30 vintage aircraft on display, 160 reenactors, musical performances, book signings, plane talks, a showing of “The Memphis Belle” and more. For a schedule and map of the events, visit https://bit.ly/2rI0uyG.
Contact Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.