A hellraiser with a penchant for buzzing airfields, Bob Morgan fell for a Seattle beauty that would carry him through the war in Europe--a four-engined Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress. After falling in love with Margaret Polk of Memphis, Morgan named his new bomber after her--the Memphis Belle. Leader of the first bombing crew to survive twenty-five daylight missions over the flak and fighter-filled skies of Occupied France and Nazi Germany and return to the U.S., Morgan and his plane were made fam...
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April 30, 2001
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Excerpt from The Man Who Flew the Memphis Belle by Robert Morgan
I still go over to Memphis and see her once in a while. She looks pretty good for an old girl. We've both been through a lot since we first met back in 1942, and I'm always amazed at how well she's held up through it all. After more than half a century she's still about the most gorgeous thing I ever saw. She's had a little help in that department from some specialists in the field, but then you name me one great beauty that has not.
I look at her and the memories come flooding back. I can stand there at her side and all of a sudden an hour has passed and it has all streamed through me again at high speed, the images and the noises and the terror and the ecstasy and the grief and the triumph. And then all the decades since.
And maybe when I come out of that reverie I have to put my hand against her for a minute to steady it. That cool smooth exterior. And her? Not a tremor. Nothing ever seemed to bother her much. Nothing ever brought her down.
I come to visit her at least once a year from my home in Asheville, North Carolina. "Visit" isn't quite strong enough a word. It's a pilgrimage. I still enjoy being with her. Of course, things will never be the same between us as back then, but that doesn't matter. Hell, we'd all be in a pretty pickle if they were. No, what matters is that she is not forgotten -- not by me, and not by the country she helped save. That, and the fact that she has a good, secure place to spend the rest of her days, even if it is in a theme park. Damn, I whisper to her sometimes. Could either of us ever have predicted this? That you'd end up in a theme park on an island in the Mississippi River? With 150,000 people coming to admire you each year, there amidst all the gift shops and the restaurants and the children's playground and the musicians blowing jazz in the summer?
Sometimes, maybe on a Saturday or a Sunday when the crowds are biggest, I stand off to one side and watch the people drift into the little domed museum on Mud Island, where she's been housed since 1987. I watch them as they form a circle around her and take off their sunglasses and look up at her -- perhaps aim a flash camera in her direction -- and try to hear what they have to say. Or to read their thoughts -- most of them have fallen silent.
Silent in the presence of the Memphis Belle.
Very few of them look my way. To them, I'm half-invisible, just another senior citizen out to enjoy the weekend sunshine and a few minutes of nostalgia for a time that is fast fading from America's firsthand memory.