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My apologies for JHM being light on content these past few
days. But over the weekend, I was out in Ohio
at Dayton Disneyana. Which is this two day-long event presented by the Plane
Crazy Chapter of the Disneyana Fan Club.
Photo by Jim Hill
Disney historian Jim Korkis and I gave a couple of talks
over the course of this con. And when we weren't wandering the halls at the
Wyndham Garden Hotel meeting & chatting with the very nice members of the
Plane Crazy Chapter and/or area Disneyana fans, we were being treated like
kings by our event hosts, Anita & Gary Schaengold.
Look into my eyes. You will
pet me now.
If I had to pick a particular high point of this trip
(beyond -- of course -- befriending Jasper, the Schaengold's tubby tabby), it
would probably be what we did last Friday morning. When (thanks to the very nice
folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios as well as Ron Kaplan, enshrinement
director at the National Aviation Hall of Fame) Jim, Gary and I got an absolutely
spectacular tour of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
I don't know how many of you folks are already aware of this
amazing facility. So let me give you the Reader's Digest version: The National
Museum of the United States Air Force is the world's largest and oldest
military aviation museum. It's located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton,
OH. (Which is entirely appropriate. Given
that Dayton was home of the Wright Brothers.)
As you wander through this facility's over one million
square feet of exhibit space (And -- believe it or not -- the National
Museum of the United States Air
Force will soon be expanding. Early next year, they'll be breaking ground on a
huge new structure which will be used to house the Museum's Presidential
Aircraft & Space galleries), you can go all the way back to the early,
early days of military flight. Back when we were sending members of the Army
Air Corps aloft in vehicles that could charitably be called crates.
Now jump ahead just a few short decades and you have the
Strategic Air Command's long range bombers ...
... and a few short decades after that, when you have the
unmanned drones that are currently high in the sky over Afghanistan,
seeking out insurgents. So you're talking about nearly a full century's worth
of displays & exhibits that celebrate militarized flight.
Mind you, in the three hours that Jim Korkis & I toured
this facility on Friday, we only got a taste of all the exhibits that are currently
on display here. And I now know that -- if I'm going to really do the National
Museum of the United States Air Force right -- I'm going to have to come back
to Dayton someday soon and then plan to spend two or three days wandering
through this immense facility.
At the very least, next time I plan on spending a whole lot
more time checking out the "Disney Pins On Wings" exhibit in this
museum's World War II gallery.
This terrific little display touches on the 1,200+ pieces of
insignia art that Walt Disney Productions created during WWII.
Given that Walt was only just 16 years old when he signed up
to be a Red Cross ambulance driver back in World War I, he knew first-hand the sort
of impact that a clever cartoon drawing could have on the troops' morale. Which
is why Disney made a point of drawing a smiling
doughboy on the side of his own ambulance.
Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved
Which is also why -- as part of their war effort -- Disney
artists created (free-of-charge, mind you) character-based designs not only for
American and Allied military units but also for Civil Defense & all of
those industries which quickly switched over to a wartime footing.
As far as Walt was concerned, this was the right and proper
thing to do. "(Those) insignia meant a lot to the men who were fighting," Disney
explained in a post-war interview. "I had to do it ... I owed it to
Of course, there were those servicemen who just couldn't
wait for that official piece of Disney-designed insignia to arrive. So they
took it upon themselves to paint their favorite Disney characters on the sides
of their planes.
Check out the somewhat crudely painted
above or the equally crude pink-elephant-on-parade-from-Disney's-"Dumbo
" character nose art below.
Now it was one thing for the servicemen who were stationed
in the UK to
paint Disney characters on the sides of their aircraft. If they were looking
for the proper paints to use on a project like this, all these soldiers &
airmen had to do was make a quick trip down to London
to pick up the necessary supplies.
Now contrast that with what the guys in the Pacific Theater
had to do. As Ron Kaplan recounted during last Friday's tour of The National
Museum of the United States Air Force:
"Those guys often had to barter with the locals to get the
hairs off of the backs of wild boars. Which they'd then use to fashion crude
paint brushes. These flyers would also pay the natives to collect brightly
colored berries for them. Which they'd then mix with enamel to create the
paints these servicemen would use to paint on these insignias.
And once these guys were done, these Disney character
insignias would look great. Until their plane flew through a thunderstorm, that
is. Then all of that rain would wash that berry-and-enamel paint right off of
the fuselage. And the insignia painter would then have to start all over again."
Speaking of Ron and those pieces of Disney insignia art ...
As part of our tour, Mr. Kaplan took us upstairs to the museum's closed-to-the-general-public
administration area. Where -- right outside of one of the upstairs conference rooms
-- Ron had discovered some genuine Disney treasures.
Just in case you're wondering, folks: Nope. These aren't
copies. These are the actual originals. The very same hand-painted drawings
that Disney artist would send out in military units in response to their
requests for character insignia art.
Now as for me ... Well, I couldn't help but look at the
above image of Dumbo & Jiminy Cricket and wonder if some Disney artist (who
had been assigned to storyboard the title sequence for "The Mickey Mouse
Club") didn't decide to circle back on an idea that he'd first seen
as a piece of Disney-designed insignia art.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Whatever the case, this "Disney Pins On Wings"
exhibit is just a teeny tiny portion of the thousands of items that the National
Museum of the United States Air
Force currently has on display. So the
very next time that you're in Dayton, OH,
be sure and swing on by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to check this place
Oh, and did I mention the very best part? That admission to
this museum & its million square feet of exhibit space is free?
Have a Happy Fourth, folks!
Great article Jim. I would like to suggest that you link the pictures in your articles to larger size images so that the details don't get overlooked. I would love to see larger pictures of the hand-painted drawings and be able to read the inscriptions on the plates. Thanks.
I've recently published a second edition of my book Toons At War, which looks at the history of the Disney Studio during the war. The book has been rebranded as Service With Character and it's available on Amazon as an e-book. The revised eiditon includes 88,000 words of text covering 14 chapters, 385 photos, of which 340 are in color, 10 appendices, and end notes. There are no plans at this time to do a paper copy of the book.
It wasn't just the USAF that Disney worked for. I grew up in Orange County a couple of miles form MCAS El Toro, a marine base. The base logo was designed by Disney artists. In addition several units at the base had their squadron logos designed by Disney artists too.
The trip you took sounds fantastic and I only wish I could head back out to see it at the musuem.