In 1990, when the remake of the movie, Memphis Belle came out, I watched it with intrigue, knowing that my Dad, Allen Spencer had been a top turret gunner and flight engineer on a B-17G Bomber in the 8th Air Force stationed in Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England. The Memphis Belle, a Boeing-built B-17F-10-BO, USAAC Serial No. 41-24485, was added to the USAAF inventory on July 15, 1942, and delivered in September 1942 to the 91st Bombardment Group at Dow Field, Bangor, Maine. She deployed to Prestwick, Scotland, on September 30, 1942, moving to a temporary base at RAF Kimbolton on October 1, 1942, and then finally to her permanent base at Bassingbourn, England, on October 14, 1942. Each side of the fuselage bore the unit identification markings of the 324th Bomb Squadron (Heavy). My dad was a part of the 385th Bomb Squadron (Heavy). Dad didn’t arrive in England until early April of 1944. His letter from April 14, 1944 tells his family that he had arrived and couldn’t tell them where he was for security reasons, except to say that he was somewhere in England.
At the time I watched the remake of the original 1943 documentary film put out by the War Department, I assumed that while the movie said it was based on a true story, there was probably a lot of Hollywood hype to the movie. So, when I read my dad’s letter to his mother, my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer, I was surprised that my dad mentioned it and said she should go see it. From my experience with the movie, I don’t think it would be a film I’d want to watch while my child was still on active duty and fighting from one of those planes. Both the original version and the remake were real enough to either show or tell of events involving the B-17 Bombers in combat situations, and the inevitable shooting down of the planes by the enemy.
Of course, the point was to let people know that The Memphis Belle, a B-17 Bomber had become the first plane to accomplish 25 missions without being shot down. It was designed to be a celebration of that accomplishment. And so it was, but it also proved the stark reality that many other B-17 Bombers had been shot down, and in all reality would continue to be shot down. While the accomplishment of The Memphis Belle is nothing to take lightly, I think it would still be hard to think about all those men lost or imprisoned during that war…especially if I was the mother of an airman. In some ways, it surprised me that my dad would even ask his mom to so see the movie. He was always so protective of her. I suppose that in time, you get used to the events of war, especially when you are in the thick of it day after day, and maybe he thought it would give her hope too.
Nevertheless, it seemed rather strange to me that Dad had talked of this movie with his mother. I know that the Memphis Belle was a star, just because they had made it through without being shot down. They were the first, and to those at home trying to support the war effort, that was a moral booster. That made it important to do the movie and to have the Memphis Belle and her crew do tours back in the states. People needed to see the success of the air war. They needed hope that their loved ones would return. I suppose that was what my dad was thinking when he told his mother that she should go see the movie. I don’t know for sure if she did or didn’t, but in the end my dad came home, and that is all that mattered to my grandmother and to me.