Memphis Belle Expert Dr. Harry Friedman
Pick the speed up your number one big land green dot. Well, not God. God. Hello. And welcome to the green dot e as podcast for anyone and everyone who loves aviation. The green dot is sponsored by GE aviation. I'm Tom sharpen tier government relations director here at EA across the table. I'm Christina the museum programs coordinator, and Chris we have a guest today that has a very special connection with probably one of the most special aircraft from the World War Two era. You want to introduce them bring him on. Absolutely as I said last night as as a kid growing up. This is a a high honor to have year because as as a kid, you were someone I really looked up to and still do someone who's worked tirelessly to preserve not just a one b seventeen although it is focused on one. But you've done a lot for the b seventeen community. And that's Dr Harry Friedman, sir. Welcome to the green dollar happy to have you here to be here. Thanks for having me. So Dr Freedman how does a neurosurgeon from Memphis get involved with with World War Two. Asian be seventeen. And then eventually the the most famous b seventeen of the mall aviation came before medicine. I grew up with. Six years old. I think I was when I first saw the Memphis Belle movie, the wiler movie and maintained an interest in that and general but particularly military aviation throughout the years. Once I got into medicine, it kind of paid for itself because every doctor needs a diversion. This was my diversion. Slow now growing up in Memphis. I have to ask do you? Remember, the first time you actually saw the the airplane in person. Yes. I do that was it was sitting at the Tennessee Air National Guard. It was probably nineteen forty nine or nineteen fifty. My brother was in the Air National Guard at that time took me out there and introduced me to the airplane that the movie I just seen just a couple of years before. So that was how we got involved. We were you starstruck. When you saw it probably wasn't. I don't know what starstruck is. I just love seeing the airplane. Even at that time. I didn't realize all about the airplane, and what it had been through. And even having seen the movie. So I took a while. But once as I got into it and started learning more about the crew and the people. Yeah. It kind of grows on you. Can you briefly recap for those of us those of our audience listening that don't know kind of how the Memphis Belle aside from the name arrived in Memphis, the airplane came through Memphis in one thousand nine hundred forty three on the bond tour, the mayor at that time, even at that time approached the war department and wanted the or department to release the airplane to the city of Memphis. So it could be set up as a display, well, the tersely came back and said there's a war on we still need that airplane. Now, you can't have it. Then after the war the airplane ended up. It's the reconstruction Finance Corporation field, which was alters army airbase and one thousand nine hundred forty six a reporter for the local newspaper happened to be out there and someone called his attention to the fact that the Memphis Belle was sitting pulled away from all the other aircraft and setting out next to a famous be twenty four the word went back to the mayor the same mayor and one thing led to another ended up buying it for a fraction of what it costs the government produce it in nineteen forty two. So what was that figure the airplane? The data card shows that the cost was three hundred and fifteen thousand dollars the city of Memphis acquired it for three hundred fifty dollars at the time. I was still in flyable condition. Correct. It was flown back. I crew was assembled and and it fluid from Altus to Memphis. Wow. Three hundred and fifty bucks for fly will be seventeen and the Memphis Belle that I mean that's much fuel left in it though. We couldn't recoup our investment on that come on. You always get a free tank of gas per. Every. I used it up. So what sort of happened next? Once it arrived in Memphis. Well, this two phase. It's at first phase the airplane was kind of tossed from the fourth ferrying command which had a base there during the war in for a year or two afterwards. And then Tennessee Air National Guard was formed so it kinda came under their purview. Meanwhile, there were ongoing grandiose plans for displaying it even during that time the Smithsonian actually put a plug in for it. They wanted to get it. And by the way, they were already actively gathering aircraft, as you know, Paul Garber was real active with Smithsonian getting all the airplanes out of orchard, Chicago and other aircraft. That's why we have a lot of them saved. So there are a number of plans going on. But nothing ever really happened by early nineteen o in. In nineteen fifty the airplane had been given over to the care of the American Legion post number one. And they went ahead and created a concrete pedestal put the airplane up on that put a fence around it to display, and that's where many people in Memphis. Remember it? It was sitting there the army national guard armory, and maybe people saw it kind of were upset over the condition. Edited was falling into. The in one thousand nine hundred seventy seven the army national guard had to move from its site at what was the fairgrounds and liberty stadium, and they had to Musso the bell had to move Tennessee Air National Guard came to the rescue again and took it apart took it over to the Air Guard base and there and stored it they're put it together. And that's where it stayed and count of not being well taken care of at the time. Royal, fry was the director of the air force museum as it was known, and he came to the city and said, I know you own it. But we want it because you're not taking care of it. What came of that was in nineteen seventy six. The Memphis Belle Memorial Association was chartered as a nonprofit corporation with the sole purpose of preserving and educating about the Memphis Belle. The mayor and the the director the commander of the American Legion post got together and answered Mr. fries requests by saying. Okay. We'll turn it over to the air force museum by then there was a lot of interest in the airplane. And they've decided that the best way to protect it was to give it to the air force. But and that was done, but the understanding that the airplane would stay in Memphis under the care of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association. So you went from one thousand nine hundred forty six to nineteen seventy six at basically belong to the city and the American Legion. And then in nineteen seventy six the NBA got their charter I joined in one thousand nine hundred seventy seven and then it came under the care of the sociation over the years. We did maintenance work on it. Preservation, and what it was taking care of it for a part of the time by the Memphis area. Vocational technical school the students there as part of their curriculum made parts of the airplane strip corrosion. And what have you later on efforts were being made to house the airplane at the airport under one of our benefactors and board members the city of Memphis at the time was downtown was in a state of decay, and the city fathers were looking for a means of getting more interest for tourism in the city and looked on the bell as a natural tourist attraction. Just wanna pause it right there for a second. And Chris you've been involved a lot in an air museums throughout your career. And and a lot a lot. Lot of World War Two history. How does Memphis saving the bell kind of fit into that early preservation efforts where we started to recognize historically significant aircraft material coming out of the war effort in the the need to preserve that. I I in my opinion, the Memphis belles, a rare case where the airplane was immediately pulled out after the war a lot of the aircraft. We have flying today or in museums had other careers, and that's how they survived, you know, aluminum overcast hauled meat, and it hauled oil was a fire ant sprayer. And and you know, that's how a lot of the World War Two Warbirds managed to earn your keep survive until the point where it was noticed that oh, this is a historic airframe. Let's restored back to how she look in World War Two sometimes that fighters were Reno area saying things like that where the Memphis Belle in very few airplanes of that nature like flak bait swaps gay things like that were -ly. Recognized. And thank God. They were set aside by five people that were looking way futuristic down the road people like Frank, Donna frio, and mayor Chandler that said this airplane needed saved. So it it certainly a rare. I shouldn't say Reverend to special tier where it wasn't that didn't happen as much, you know, if you different if Memphis Belle had become a a firebombers, and then he'd come back and been restored, which is the route that a lot of the Warbirds we have today went where they they found other ways to survive on. Basically, you're saying that the more desirable airframes were the ones that hadn't been used much. So in many cases, those were not combat veterans. Right. I mean, a lot of them. I mean, a lot of the words we have today actually were produced at the end too late for the war, for example, most of the beasts of and teams we have flying or the very late run g models with the Cheyenne tails and things like that and weren't even built by Boeing, right? Yeah. Ours is a lucky. Yeah. Ours. A lucky Vega. Yeah. I mean, so I would put my I mean, if I'm wrong, let me know, Harry, but I would put Memphis Belle in that tier with an ele- gay. Flak bait that I mean, it was definitely one of those aircraft that people said this is important to save. Thank god. They did that group did familiar Jack. Somewhere along the line. One of the directors of the national air and Space Museum listed five significant aircraft and US history in Ola gay the Wright flyer Lindbergh's airplane the x one and the Memphis Belle. I I completely agree. I think it they're the sacrifices of the men in over the skies of western Europe is still not fully appreciate it. I mean, the statistic that we lost more people there than the entire Marine Corps in the Pacific. Right. I is something that's not not always. Well understood. And and the Memphis belles, a huge symbol of that. I, you know, I agree with what the air force museum displays as you walk in. It's an American icon, and it truly is. I don't think anybody can look at a b seventeen in at some point your brain, not connect at to the Memphis Belle. Whether it's g or d whatever. Temple. You think seventeen at least maybe I'm biased, but your mind goes to Memphis Belle. Sure. Yeah. So does your Friedman? We're the the bells is is on its concrete plinth outside and in in in pretty pretty poor condition at this point. So at this point, the Memphis Belle memorial sociation steps in and watch you take it from there. Right. And so the association main job was to try to come up with a display mechanism for many years. It ended up staying out at the Air Guard, except when it went across the field to the vocational technical school in the early mid eighties. A fundraising effort was created to install the airplane as I indicated while ago as a tourist attraction down on mud island, which is actually a peninsula on the doorstep of downtown Memphis, which is. The western edge of it is the Mississippi River, and so a group of businessmen from downtown got together formed committee fundraising and basically say took over the project. We had some plans going on where it would be installed in memorialize in a museum out at the airport at the time. But the mayor came in another mayor came in who expressed an interest in the bell for different reasons. And so they the fundraising effort took off and it culminated in the dedication in one thousand nine hundred eighty six in a pavilion that was built on the island. It was celebrated by flyover of seven b seventeen including overcast correct Sega where we flying overcast at the time. Bill Harrison, I think had aluminum or capsules flight. Yeah. Harrison was piloting. Yeah. And so it was as soon as we look. Around and we kind of knew from the beginning that could not be the permanent location. I mean being right on the edge of the river. As was proven later on a river. The creek rose. And the water came over the banks and was about to go into the pavilion and finally receded. There were even plans by the air force museum to the heavy lifted out that was squelched for a variety of reasons, but any rate once we got it, and we already knew that this was not going to be a lifetime fixture. The air force museum sent down officials in the early to thousands general Metcalf came down with their restoration folks looked at the airplane said this is basically this is what you gotta do if you're gonna keep it, and we were already doing some work on it. But this then culminated in and by that time, the naval air station, north of Memphis, the airside had closed down in the city of Millington took over the airfield navy kept the south side, we worked out and arrangement with the city to take over one of the hangars which had been one of the intermediate repair facilities at the naval air station. Long story short. We moved the airplane out to Millington and began a restoration in earnest we had at one time a crew of forty certif-. Fide airframe and power plant specialists mechanics who actually worked with FedEx and they volunteered to work on the airplane. So they basically started doing major structural repair. And the like and so the airplane was moving along when we did our market research to determine whether or not building museum would be fees. When by the way, the county had already given us a piece of land to build a museum on when we did our market research and consulted with some of our former board members, it was felt that the money the support in the city of Memphis was not there like it had been in one thousand nine hundred six when we unveiled it on the island, and so after several meetings back and forth with congressional and senatorial representatives and with the air force officials. We finally decided that it should go up there. So we basically told them to come get it. It wasn't that the air force came. And took it away. We knew they wanted. But we finally surrendered and said, you know, for long term preservation and needs to be at the air force museum, Chris volunteering at the air force museum when that was happening, right. I was there. They came in. Yeah. It was as actually I I'm ever sought in person was the day that they brought it in on a trailer into the restoration shops of. Yeah. It was pretty it was pretty special. They set up a special time volunteers were able to come over and see it then thanks to Rick Harissa. I got a chance to go in with him and see over at the museum and. I mean, I got chills. The first time. I saw it. I was star struck. I no kidding. I read about this thing watched all the movies. And now I'm finally getting to see the real air. We still are starstruck. Yeah. Yeah. And it was amazing to watch the restoration go on, you know, I I didn't volunteer there anymore later on because I had moved away. But as the restoration was going on. I've good down there with Mark wartime earn a Roger in and get a chance to go in check it out. I think he went with us on one of the strip's, didn't you? Yeah. I was gonna say, yeah. Couple book about seven years ago at this point. We went down there. And I was just blown away by the philosophy that the museum had has essentially we're going to produce a zero time to be seventeen. Yeah. You know that if anybody ever wants the archival value of seeing what it'd be seventeen looked like in the wartime setup. They'd be able to take a look at this airframe for basically indicated just that what you just said that this was going to be the air point of record the b seventeen of record, and which led to some interesting discussions and controversy not controversy, but spirited discussions about. About at what level did we want to restore the airplane was it when he came out of the factory or was it after its twenty fifth mission. And as it ended up it was kind of a combination of both. It was mostly marked up as the twenty five after the twenty fifth mission. But there are some privileges taken with the internal arrangement of certain things that were more factory oriented not what it was later on. And Kris told me an interesting story about the the color of the of the Bombay paint cO. There is a heated discussion between me and max over what we're seeing in some of the the first picture that came out that was max is a former roommate of Chris and mine, and very avid model builder who tries to get everything. Absolutely, correct. He s in and always in just you know, he he's he likes to be right. He's hope he listened to this. And so we were looking at pictures of painting, the Bombay and both both of us had always thought the interior Bombay would be just bare metal and then they painted gray. And then it was amazing was in the comments section on the post. The actually had pictures backing up here. It was before. It was untouched. You're still untouched from the war. It was painted gray. And just things like that like details that basically I think are gonna drive model makers nuts for years over colors of things that we always one hundred percent thought it was this way and this restoration and the work that you guys have done prior to this restorations, well sort of prove wrong that the opposite. The case, you know, I remember the the I think probably somewhere in in the cyber world it's still circling trying to figure out what the lights were underneath the tail guns on the back. There's at one sort of mod. Oh my God. There was this debate that. Went on for weeks about what that was different modules, those lights and different purposes. So kind of a combination of the British way of signaling. Yeah. When they're in formation and American so, yeah, I mean, we I think we're still learning a lot from this restaurant as well. Well, one of the things I was misleading for people. We took liberties with painting interior much of the airplane was not painted inside. Frankly, they didn't expect him to be around long enough to need to be painted and preserved, but we took a different tack Memphis high humidity. So we decided to just coat the inside with zinc chrome eight. Whether it was we knew it was illegal. We did it anyway, just to preserve the airplane which turned out to be a got to be a little touchy at times because some of the original stencils marking for still in the fuselage, and I had go behind people when they were. Painting as a don't paint that over that. That's that's a ridge inal. And sometimes I wasn't there fast enough. But, but but a lot of the controversy was generated by us because what we did to preserve it. And but there were parts like in the cockpit and nose was dark. Green was that was original. And again, it goes back to the archive value of having an airplane that went straight into preservation rather than being flyer like ours. And a lot of the other b seventeen south there where whatever evidence that there is of the original wartime, configuration still existence in a lot of cases. So an airplane has its original turrets. Right. I mean, that's got to be the only be seventeen to have its original Gunter its on air and not only that when when we had it. We restored the transmissions and the mechanisms and so the top and bottom tourists were you could operate them electrically from inside the turret. Let's skip ahead a little bit here. So last may we all were in Memphis. Chris was one of the presenters you opened actually for Catherine Wyler one of the nights. Yeah. I never thought. I'd be able to say I have. And I wasn't there. But you you both watch the curtain drop on the on the on the restoration. What did that feel like to to finally see that happen? It took your breath away. I mean, there was a lot of gasping. And you could hear the tears and then the apply then it was dead. Silence. Like after a great symphony. You can't you know, you just stunned by and then, you know, cheers, and applause. I was I was blown away. I mean as the my favorite airplane period, and when the curtain dropped the first image that went through my mind for some reason was it it almost looked. I don't know if it was the lighting or just how well it looked. But it almost. Reminded me of one of the old wartime production photos. I mean, it just it off. I'm like, oh my God. It looks brand new is and we had discussions about that. It it just, but there was definitely a there was definitely a an emotion in that room that night you had family members of each one of the crew family members of Margaret poke there that was just a special night to be there. My wife got joked up I mean, and she's not an airplane. Geek, we are. And and she was just like this really felt you were seeing something special that night. And every time you go near the airport. You get this sense that still. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely ghosts there. No, yeah. Yeah. It is an absolutely amazing restoration. And I mean, the mount of painstaking detail some of the stuff seem suf- superficial. But you know, just the fact that the bomb markings were hand painted took photographs of the area where the nose aren't would be placed and then went back and got some good relatively high resolution photographs of the original nose, art and. They even nailed him down. This part is how many rivets away from here. So they would get it exactly centered. Exactly the way it was on the airplane. And that's how they did it. And this was in house artists who did this. And they found out that one of the stars was crooked on the back of the fuselage and they've made it crooked on the restoration purpose because we go jam Ronnie painted it on their painted. Nineteen forty three. It's for boy, by the way. That's just amazing. There was a funny story that came up last night about stupas, I guess spiritual successor. You wanna just mention that briefly to me this is one of the highlights of the whole week. I'm a dog lover. What can I say? And stupa sorta represents mom and apple pie when with the airplane being in combat here. Periodic pictures of the dog would show up on a b seventeen. Yeah. He wasn't even type rated as a little black Yorkie. Right. It was a Scottish Scott excuse me. Yeah. And one day near the end of the restaurant, not long before the dedication somebody came into the museum with a little Scottie dog who was a spitting image of stupa at the same time. We were going through frame by frame the outtakes from the wiler movie. And there was a split second to maybe two frames showing stupa under the airplane with a uniform on. And the resolution was good enough at the the fellows in restoration. We're able to basically recreate that uniform with together with the sergeant strike. And they contacted the owner of of that that Scottie dog and they loaned him to the museum for the week. And they dressed him up in that recreated uniform. He was one of the highlights. And one of the pictures I cherish was taken with him. And Roger dear. It was great to see you you'd go to an event you teach them re-enactors walking around and near Stu stupid. Unofficial reenact. Yeah. We've got we've got human re-enactors of the vets who might as well have have a stupa reenactor to. Absolutely. So as we start to wrap up here, Dr Friedman, I'd like to touch briefly on the work that you've done organizing the teams that fly to and keeping them maintainable. Do you want to talk a little bit about the seventeen co-op and the work we've done there? The b seventeen co op is a I call it a travel club. It's a loose organization of people who own and crew chief on the flying b seventeens off and on we've had static aircraft represented my ticket to the co op was because I had the Memphis Belle. And they actually came to us one of the representatives back in eighty five when they heard that we were going to have a fly in. They wanted us to be a part of the co op so I went to their first meeting and ended up staying the co op being the non flyer sort of the referee of some of the. Discussions. I didn't have a dog in the fight. So and that made some interesting meeting. So basically, the co op is a group of people who represent primarily the flying b seventeen we get together once a year to discuss. Operational issues parts issues acquisition of tires also. And this is where EA comes in is some of the issues we have with governmental regulations and the like and EA is weap- resented as well. And so basically, we just come together once a year to rehash what we've done over the year what we need to be doing. And it just happens to be it's fallen on my lap to organize those meetings leaves the other guys free to fly. Well, free to fly it that's an interesting topic. Because you know, because we have these really great static restorations now like the Memphis Belle, like shoot baby on a few of the other, you know, very very famous airframes Boeing B out in Seattle things like that that really does kind of free up the flyers to do the mission that they do because you know, you can't have a perfect restoration as it was in the forties and fly on a practical basis. Two thousand nineteen. Chris, you know, we've been co workers and friends for years. And and I've watched the the work that you've done with our be seventeen in the in the the veterans that we've brought on on our media flights. Do do you want? Just very briefly talk about how that program came about and your involvement with that. Yeah. I mean, the our airplane aluminum overcast is a Lockheed Vega built g model. Dr Bill Harrison, basically made it possible for us to have the air point. He donated to us went through restoration and got it as close to g standards as we could and still be able to have people move around in the airplane comfortably somewhat, and I came on board and twenty thirteen and I was working our membership department. And because I love the b seventeen I was given the the the job of of booking flights on the b seventeen and. And our flight of manifest are order form. Basically ask you what makes you wanna buy ride? You know, it's not a it's not a cheap flight, and there has to be some vested interest in in going up and people were writing these really cool notes about me. Oh, my dad was a bee's of teen navigator. And I wanna go sit where he sat some of them were, you know, we wanna take grandpa up one more time in the type airplane, he flew, and I asked if there was anybody reaching out back to these people, and we didn't really currently have that. And I asked if I could and I just simply with start emailing people back, and they would sometimes, you know, I said, do, you know, your loved ones name, do, you know, Grandpa's name, and you know, anything any info about where pointing flew on her wha bond group a lot of them. You would know a name knew he was on b seventeen and it and he's no longer with us, but they wanted to go fly the type airplane, he flew in and. And would just a little research these bond Ripa sociation are a wealth of knowledge, and they make researching a lot of the stuff pretty easy. So I would find a photo of the crew with them in it and send them their their confirmation of your your book to fly on the ten o'clock flight and ukiah California on Saturday. And by the way, here's a picture of your grandpa and his crew at their b seventeen and a lot of times. It was a photo that these family members had never seen. They had never seen their grandpa during World War Two you, and Chris you are at absolute wizard at that. I will I'll have like family friends who say, oh, yeah. My uncle was a World War Two pilot it within five minutes. I've got a picture of his plan is sitting in my in my inbox. Well, it thinks the play. I mean, really thanks to the associations that do and maintain their archives. It's making that kind of research possible and. The culmination of my work on the beasts of teen. One of my my proudest endeavors Oliver have is is putting the veterans back on the airplane. And you know, thanks to the trust of Sean and Christie in the folks over weeks, I would help with the media flights, and that would allow me to find war two Vetu hadn't been in a b seventeen in many years and get them a chance to go fly again, and it some of them, you know, many of them were crew members. But sometimes we would even touch the lives of the family members of, you know, the wives who were here, maybe their loved one isn't. And it was and I know Sean has a story similar where we had a a young gal fly who never met her dad and her dad was topped Eric garner. And she flew on overcast over where the top tier? It was. And she said this was the closest I've ever felt in. My dad was was in this airplane over new station that he would have been in. A briefly just wrapped, but my little part with saying that there's no higher honor that I think I can have then having been a part in returning a ah lost crew member that was missing in action for over seventy years not only back to the United States, but but back in a proper burial Arlington cemetery. Last may so I'm extremely fortunate to to get to be around this aircraft. Absolutely, Chris when I was in membership not long before you got there. And the, you know, I I'm barest say, I never I never. You get a really great idea. I embarrassed to say I had ever thought of it myself. But I, you know, the the party line had always been, you know, when a when a veteran would call in or a family member or call in and say, you know, I've got a family member. Who's a veteran can't pay for the flight? You know, is there any way we could work this out? And it's like it's easy. No, the the bombers very tough to operate, and you know, we have to celery seat, but you had the idea of working with the flight department to provide the context on those media flights to to put put those veterans on the media flights. So that now the media has somebody to talk to and some context for the for those flights, and that's those hugely important. It was to be part of it. We observe the same phenomenon when we had the Memphis Belle on mud island during the it's time there. It was not uncommon to have veteran show up with their family, and tow and the way the was situated was kind of a platform. In front of and above the airplane. So one standing up on the platform is actually looking straight at or maybe down on the airplane. It was not uncommon for someone to be kind of looking off in the air nowhere in particular and start talking about his experiences being on that kind of airplane. And and the children would look at them and say how come we haven't heard this? I mean hear it everywhere you go the fellows just didn't talk about one of the things you've done Chris about bringing these people out people hear about it. The word spreads family start asking questions, and we start discovering these veterans for. I mean, you know, we're losing them every day. But I think through your efforts we've been able to capture their memories and a lot of the stories that go with it. Absolutely. And Chris has a very great presentation that he's given on the on the veterans that are that we phone on the airplane that was that was what you you presented at the at the invading, the Memphis Belle. And I believe if you go to our webinars website, you'll be able to to find Chris's presentation archive. They're highly recommend you'll see it. It will send chills down your spine. It is. It is really great. I'll think kind words I appreciate. You deserve. Well with that that Decca Freeman. And and of course, Chris always. It's been it's been another great episode of the green dot to all of you listening. Please keep your reviews coming up positive reviews can come to me negative reviews can go to Chris now fan. And we'll kitchen next time when you're clear to land on the green dot.