WWII’s Famous Memphis Belle Bomber Was Found In Altus, OK
When it comes to World War II, there is no shortage of courageous and amazing stories about how ordinary men defied the odds to achieve legendary status. Easy Company's famed Band of Brothers, the infamous true story of the real "Dirty Dozen," the Tuskegee Airmen, the Doolittle Raid, and of course the Memphis Belle among countless others.
If you were an airman enlisted in the pre-US Air Force Army Air Corp during the Second Great War, odds are you were under the age of 25 and had an acceptable life expectancy average of almost four flight missions over Europe in the fight against Nazi Germany. If you were lucky enough to be assigned as part of a B-17 Flying Fortress crew, that number expanded to eleven missions on average, less than half the typical scheduled deployment.
25 bombing missions was the golden number for US bombardiers in WWII. The moment you managed to touch down after that final mission, you and your plane would return stateside to tour the country as heroes in the attempt to sell war bonds, but very few made it to mission 25. In fact, the Memphis Belle crew had few issues up to mission 24, and the legend was made on that final bombing run in 1943.
If you've seen the movie, the crew survived regardless of the unimaginable odds. Some might even call it luck that the crew never suffered a single casualty. When they returned to the US to tour for the war bond drive, the plane was inevitably reassigned to be used in training, but almost immediately after America won its second world war, it was shipped off to the boneyard to be pillaged and scrapped, left to deteriorate in a field in Southwest Oklahoma.
It's amazing to think a generation could just up and let go of such rich history, but as we've seen throughout time when a war is over, people will do just about anything to let go of such a contentious event in time. World War II was a justified brutal campaign against unimaginable evil. It was peacetime and the world was trying to move on. Out with the old, in with the new.
Altus Air Force Base - named Altus Army Air Field at the time - became the resting place for the famed Memphis Belle B-17. It was put out to pasture with hundreds more all waiting to be scrapped for aluminum, copper, instruments, etc... when a keen-eyed airman from Memphis spotted it in the boneyard and contacted the mayor of Memphis in late 1945. After a few phone calls, the City of Memphis purchased the plane from Altus AAF for $350.
It had already been stripped of instruments and small totems by souvenir hunters, but a crew put it back together with salvaged parts just in time to fly it home to Memphis. It remained on display there until 2005 when it was transferred to the National Museum of the United State Air Force in Ohio where it rests today 100% restored.
While Oklahoma plays a small part in the very long storied history of the Memphis Belle, it's amazing how close we came to losing it in the name of recycling.