A last wish for ‘Memphis Belle’

It has been roughly a year since Col. Robert Morgan, the man who flew the B-17 “Memphis Belle” on 25 missions over Europe, died from complications after a fall.

At Sun ‘n Fun in 2004, Col. Morgan had a booth where he signed copies of his book, photographs and artwork inspired by his famous B-17. At the same booth this year, his widow had a petition to have “Memphis Belle” moved from Mud Island, at Memphis, to the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio.

“It was Bob’s wish,” Linda Morgan explained.

The petition was signed by hundreds of visitors to Sun ‘n Fun and will be presented to the appropriate politicians and Air Force authorities, Morgan said. It points out that “The United States Air Force owns the B-17 ‘Memphis Belle’ … and soon will announce where the plane will be permanently displayed. Col. Bob Morgan’s last wish was that the ‘Belle’ be sent home to the United States Air Force Museum, where it will be properly cared for and not subject to political pressures and meager funding.”

Col. Morgan started that ball rolling with a 2003 letter to Gen. John P. Jumper, USAF Chief of Staff. He cited “political problems” associated with building a museum in Memphis for the famous bomber and a “breakdown of relationship” between the Memphis Belle War Memorial Foundation and the Memphis Belle Memorial Association. The former group was established to raise $15 million for the project; the latter leases the airplane from the Air Force and plans its restoration. Having a number of highly trained FedEx mechanics at its disposal, it seems well suited to that task but, Morgan insisted, is “wholly unsuited to the raising of millions of dollars needed for this project, not to mention planning, building, managing and sustaining a major museum.”

In February, the Director of Air Force History, C. R. Anderegg, offered the MBMA “an opportunity to demonstrate it can provide for the aircraft’s long-term care, display and restoration,” stipulating that six conditions must be met and proven. The most demanding concern money, including proof of pledges and actual endowments; a fully funded long-term lease or deed for the museum; and fully funded, full-time professional staff.

Memphis has had the bomber since 1946 – “Plenty of time to raise funds to build a facility to house the ‘Belle,’” Linda Morgan commented. The Air Force Museum recently completed a new building for its collection of World War II airplanes where she would like to see her late husband’s “beloved ‘Belle’ enshrined…where she would have the care and appreciation she deserves, in perpetuity.”

She hopes that others who are interested in the preservation of “Memphis Belle” will communicate with their Senators, Representatives and senior Air Force officials.

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