OLIVE BRANCH, MS (abc24.com) – The Memphis Belle returned home on Tuesday October 15 - sort of.
The World War II bomber is credited with being the first to complete 25 combat missions, bringing all hands back alive.
On Tuesday, a replica of the Memphis Belle, the plane used in the Hollywood movie, arrived in Olive Branch. The real Memphis Belle used to rest on Mud Island in Memphis; it now sits at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. So, the Liberty Foundation tours the country with the movie Memphis Belle, to honor heroes of the past and keep their memories alive.
“You can get a sense, a feel, smell and a taste, and all the things that go along with them, for what it was like without being shot at,” said John Ferguson, a volunteer pilot for the Memphis Belle.
Although the replica Memphis Belle never saw combat, as one of only a handful of B-17’s still flying, it is a powerful reminder.
“A reminder of what they did for us in World War II,” said Ferguson.
The movie Memphis Belle attracts huge crowds, including WWII veterans.
“They tear up and very emotional,” Ferguson told abc24.com, “they’re thinking about their buddies that didn’t come home.”
One who did make it home, Memphian Dick Eiseman who was a B-17 top turret gunner, got quite a surprise on Tuesday.
“I hear it coming as I was going out the front door to get the mail,” Eiseman told abc24.com, “and it was right over there.”
Asked if he had flashbacks, Eiseman said, “Right away, right away.”
Eiseman flew 32 combat missions in WWII.
“On about half our missions,” said Eiseman, “we experienced attacks from German aircraft. We were there on D-Day; we flew seven sorties on D-day.”
The memories are not pleasant.
“It was an impossible day,” said Eiseman, “so many lives lost.”
Finally, it was time to fly. Eiseman made his way into an all too familiar position he through he had left behind forever.
After circling the Olive Branch airport for about 15 minutes, the Memphis Belle touched down one more time; a short flight, but memorable.
How was it?
“Great,” Eiseman told abc24.com, “like old times, you know?”
Even though the Memphis Belle is credited as the first to complete 25 missions, some believe a B-24 called Hot Stuff was first.
That plane’s crew included Mississippi native Robert Jacobsen.
However, that did not diminish the presence of the movie Belle; rides and tours are available October 20-21 at the Olive Branch airport for $450 per ride.