Without doubt though a large number of people have each played an important part in ensuring that the aircraft survived – but one person stands head and shoulders above the rest – Frank Donofrio.
In 1967 he was president of the Mid-South Metal Treating Co. “I used to drive down Central Avenue on my way to work and I would pass the Memphis Belle. Somehow she always intrigued me because I had seen the Belle film during the war. Then, one day in March of 1967, I picked up a copy of Newsweek and read a story under the headline, ‘50,000 Films for Sale.’ It seemed the government was selling off a lot of films, mostly training films, made during the war. I had always been interested in training films because I used them in my business. But not all of them were training films. A few of them were documentaries and the Newsweek story was saying that the best of these was a film called the Memphis Belle.”
Donofrio kept the Newsweek clipping which describes the film as ‘…beautiful, almost impressionistic. The film set the style for a decade of documentaries.’ Donofrio, his desire whetted by the daily sight of the Memphis Belle standing on Central, and now by the high praise of the film by Newsweek, wanted the film so badly that he made a special trip to the Government’s film depository in St. Louis to get what was believed to be the only surviving print.
Bringing the film home and watching it once more made him a confirmed Memphis Belle fan. He was to devote a good portion of his life to ‘The Memphis Belle Project.’ It started when John Means, a Commercial Appeal writer, heard about Donofrio’s trip to St. Louis and wrote a news article about it, linking it to police inspector Joe Gagliano, who had been a B-17 bombardier at Bassingbourn in the period immediately after the Memphis Belle had been sent home in 1943.
Then the 91st Bomb Group Association announced that it had chosen Memphis for its 1967 convention and reunion in July. Colonel Robert K. Morgan would be in Memphis to attend. Frank Donofrio attended the meeting and became an associate member. Then Memphis radio personality Dottie Abbott got involved. She had been the first Station Manager on WHER back in 1955 when it was owned by Sam Phillips of Sun Records, Roy Scott, and Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inn. The station had been promoted as an early experiment in all-women’s radio programming and was billed as ‘the nation’s first successful all-girl station.’
Dottie began pounding the drums for the Memphis Belle. The result – a new committee was formed. They all met in Dottie Abbott’s home. Members were Roane Waring, Jr., attorney and former Legion commander, Thomas Williams, Judge Willard Dixon, Menno Duerksen, Memphis Press-Scimitar, and Frank Donofrio, who was elected chairman. For the next few years, Donofrio admitted he was not quite able to provide the spark to get the thing going. In the meantime, the Memphis Belle had been painted and refurbished one more time and things did not seem to be that urgent. Then the Tennessee Army National Guard began to talk about moving the Armory to another location which created the need to move the Memphis Belle.
Things started moving again. Donofrio was contacted by George T. Lewis, Jr., an attorney, and John Emerson, a Shelby County employee, both representing the American Legion, which was now trying to crank up a new Memphis Belle project. It was decided that if the new group was to raise funds as a non-profit organization it would have to incorporate# Lewis did the legal work. The organization that would eventually create a permanent home for the aircraft, the Memphis Belle Memorial Association, was a reality. The date was April 6, 1976. Donofrio was elected president. Emerson was named vice-president and Lewis, secretary. The first money-raising project was to sell memberships.
MBMA’s Efforts to Restore the Memphis Belle:
Sadly enough, the MBMA was not able to raise enough money to restore and keep possession of the aircraft due to Air Force’s requirements. Thankfully though, the Air Force Museum is taking great amounts of time and effort in order to restore this storied plane back to its original greatness. It is estimated to take 3-5 more years, from October, 2011, in order to complete its restoration according to the director of the museum, Lt. Gen. John L Hudson, USAF (retired) Airforce Museum’s Memphis Belle Restoration Project:
Partnership between MBMA and the Oral History Program:
Lausanne Collegiate School were asked to take over and revamp the Memphis Belle Memorial Association website through the students in the Oral History Program. This website will primarily be used as an educational tool in order to teach all ages about this great aircraft in Memphis history. It is dynamic and evolving; the project will never be finished as such, so visitors are encouraged to bookmark it and return# This website will be dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of the Memphis Belle, allowing it’s tale to live on regardless of the era.
George D. Barnes, P.E.: Barnes graduated from the University of Memphis. He is a registered Professional Engineer that has worked with many different organizations in various states such as New Jersey and Florida. He used to be the President of the Germantown Community Theater and currently holds various high offices in different organizations. He currently serves as the President of the Memphis Belle Memorial Association. He is married to Carol Coxe, who was the former lower school Dean at Lausanne. He plays sports such as baseball and flies airplanes in his free time.
Brian E. Pecon: Pecon is a graduate of Boston University and the University of Rochester, respectively earning a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Technology and a Masters in Business Administration in Production Management from both universities. After serving as a B-47 bomber pilot in the Strategic Air Command he pursued an aviation career in operations management by completing periods of employment with American Airlines and Federal Express, the latter as the Sr. VP of Flight Operations during the formative years of FedEx. His private business career was complemented by serving ten years in the public sector as the Director of the Office of Economic Development for the City of Memphis and Shelby County. He recently published a leadership biography of his life From The Ground Up, a Life Long Journey in Reinventing Yourself.
Harry Friedman: Friedman first heard of the Memphis Belle in his youth, and has been an integral part of the association ever since. He joined the US Army Reserve during high school, and became Captain of the US Navy Reserve Medical Corps later in life. He joined the MBMA in 1977, and was even President at one point in time. He was also in charge of the Memphis Belle’s 1986-1987 restoration; he is currently the Archivist for the organization. He is a member of the National Eagle Scout Association, and is looking forward to retiring in Hawaii. He is married to Carol, and has several grandchildren, as well as three French bulldogs. He wrote Memphis Belle Dispelling the Myths and Boeing B-17-The Fifteen Ton Flying Fortress with Graham M# Simons.
Jerry Klein: Klein is a graduate of the University of Memphis# He served in the Tennessee Air National Guard and then on United States Air Force from 1950 through 1953# He created and is the President of Kossman/Klein & Company, which is an advertising agency in Memphis# He is married to Juliet, and is the father of two Lausanne graduates# His wife was a previous chairman in the Lausanne Board of Trustees#
J. David White: Born in Memphis, Tennessee, White is the son of a World War II veteran.He graduated from Whitehaven High School in 1966, then graduated with B.S. in Engineering Technology from Memphis State University in 1970. He started his Telecommunications career in 1978 with South Central Bell Telephone Co#, and then joined the Telecommunications Department at FedEx. White became a volunteer with the MBMA in 1986 in order to help the founder, Mr. Frank Donofrio. He had the pleasure of meeting 8 of the Belle’s crew members# In 1993 the Belle’s pilot Colonel Robert Morgan performed Petty Officer White’s re-enlistment ceremony in the United States Naval Reserve in front of the legendary B-17. “I believe we should share the message with future generations about The Memphis Belle and all those who served in the Military as to the real reason why we Americans enjoy our freedom today.”
G. Andrew Pouncey, R.L.A.: Pouncey has degrees from Rhodes College, Mississippi State University and the University of Memphis. He is the Director of Economic & Community Development Services for the City of Germantown and a registered landscape architect. Andrew joined the MBMA in 2003, and shortly afterward became President. He headed the negotiations and transfer of the Memphis Belle to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. In his tenure as past-president, he suggested and worked to carry through on the efforts to leave a tangible reminder of the aircraft’s story to educate future generations to the importance of the aircraft and its 59 years in Memphis. He designed the Memphis Belle Memorial Monument located in Veterans Plaza in Overton Park that was dedicated October 23, 2011.
The Memphis Belle Memorial Association, Inc. is a 501c3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to honoring the “Memphis Belle,” her crew, the 8th Air Force and everyone who served in defense of Freedom in WWII and educating all generations about the importance of the missions of the “Belle” and the other aircraft and crews who served
The MBMA Board of Directors consists of:
Barnes, George (President);
Jamison, Bill (Treasurer);