May 17 (UPI) -- Seventy-five years after completing its final mission in Europe as part of World War II, the B-17F bomber known as the Memphis Belle went on view at its new permanent home -- the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
It's been 14 years since the heavy bomber left its former home in Memphis. About 55,000 man hours to restore the rusted and dilapidated aircraft paid off Thursday when it went on view in Dayton, Ohio. Hundreds of people, including Linda Morgan, the widow of pilot Capt. Robert Morgan, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday.
The aircraft, which features seductive paintings of pin-up girls near the nose and bears a name in homage to the pilot's then-sweetheart, became synonymous with the U.S. Air Force's heavy bombing campaign against Nazi Germany. The Memphis Belle was unusual, first that it reached 25 combat missions and second that it did so largely with its entire crew intact.
During World War II, the United States lost more than 25,000 airmen and more than 8,000 heavy bombers. Jeff Duford, the museum curator and project manager for the exhibit, said that at times during the war, three out of every four crewmen would be killed, captured or so badly injured they couldn't continue.
"How does one climb inside of this aircraft knowing that I'm probably not going to come home, and I don't have to do that one time; two times; three times; 10 times -- I have to do that 25 times," he said. "These crewman were faced with choices that we are not faced with in our daily lives, and thousands of them made the choice to do their duty and selflessly fly these missions in order to defeat an evil regime."
"They felt like they were a great crew - they were tightly knit, confident and dedicated to what they were doing," he added. "However, being in those formations, flying straight and level with enemy anti-aircraft and fighter aircraft, there certainly was a little bit of luck for them too."
The Memphis Belle sustained damage on seven of its missions and tail gunner John Quinlan received a Purple Heart for injuries. On a mission to Lorient, France, on Jan. 23, 1943, the aircraft was so badly damaged, the entire tail had to be replaced.
After completing its final mission 75 years ago Thursday, the plane and some of its crew went on a tour of U.S. cities to sell war bonds. The tour coincided with a documentary film by director William Wyler -- Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress -- establishing the plane and its crew's mythic status.