The Memphis Belle in Atlanta on March 3, 2013
Last weekend the B-17 Memphis Belle came to town! This is not the original Memphis Belle, the B-17 piloted by Robert K. Morgan that was celebrated so highly in 1943 for finishing 25 missions. That plane is grounded and being lovingly restored in Dayton, Ohio.
Rather, this is the B-17 that was used in the 1990 movie “Memphis Belle.” It is being operated by The Liberty Foundation, the same group that owned the Liberty Belle, the beautiful plane that flew me around Atlanta in 2009 and was almost completely destroyed two years later. Great news! The Liberty Belle is being restored too. The expense to do this is astronomical so donations are gratefully accepted.
The Memphis Belle was at the PDK (DeKalb Peachtree) airport for only two days with passenger flights set up all day long and ground tours after they were done.
As I drove up the street to the airport on Sunday mid-afternoon I heard it. There it was, flying low over the nearby buildings and as I watched it I imagined that it could have been my Dad’s B-17 Liberty Lady flying, lost, over the island of Gotland shortly before its belly landing.
There is a lovely waiting area at PDK with huge picture windows looking out onto the airfield. I had a ringside seat and for several hours watched the plane take off and land. It was freezing outside.
(Okay, okay. Perhaps not freezing but very very cold. I kept thinking that it was like East Anglia would have been on a nice day.)
As I watched the Memphis Belle come and go I noticed that there were fewer WWII veterans there than there had been in 2009. They’re all either just under or just over 90 years old now.
Dennis Baker, WWII Bombardier
It was my incredible good fortune to meet Major Dennis Baker and his family. Like my Dad, Major Baker had been a bombardier in the Eighth Air Force, and he agreed to let me tour the B-17 with him!
Major Baker is almost 94 years old but you’d never know it. Yes, probably due to the roaring thunder of the bombers he once flew in, Baker explained that he is “deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other.”
If you want to see Dennis Baker in action today and also read more about his action during the war, here is an article about his visit to the WWII Heritage Days in Peachtree City. It’s an annual event honoring our veterans.
Finally it was time for us to board the Memphis Belle. There was a long line of people waiting to climb a ladder up through the hatch door near the front of the plane. We got special permission to step up into the waist area at the back side door.
I’d forgotten how cramped it was. Even though the nose was blocked off for everyone, we did squeeze/crawl up into it. The bombardier chair had been taken out but there was that panoramic view.
Major Baker was stationed at Chelveston with the 305th BG and completed 35 missions in a B-17!
Most of the time we sat in chairs that had been put in the radio room for passenger flights. From there we had a grand view of the Bomb Bay where the bombs were stored. Just as air crews had to do 70 years ago, the folks on tour had to squeeze through a narrow opening and walk over the 18 inch catwalk.
(I didn’t see how some of the well fed gents would make it through, and one did have to turn around.)
I asked the Major, “Dennis, did you ever have to walk over that cat walk with the bomb bay doors open to the earth below?”
“Yes, I did … twice!” he replied. Once one of the bombs didn’t drop when it should have and had to be manually released.
“We had a safety belt that would keep us from falling down through the bottom of the plane,” Baker reassured me, but all I could visualize was he and my Dad scrambling over that narrow piece of metal while the plane was tumultuously flying through the Flak and flames.
Thank you so much, Major Dennis Baker, for the personal tour. We can never thank our veterans enough.
UPDATE: Please read the comment below by Jim Mandelblatt whose father actually flew ”Movie Memphis Belle,” then a VB-17G (s/n 44-83546) on various times between May and September 1954.
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