Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Most people are familiar with the Enola Gay—the B-29 that dropped Little Boy, the first atomic bomb, over the city of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Less known are the fifteen Silverplate B-29 airplanes that trained for the mission, that were named and later adorned with nose art. However, in recorded history, the atomic mission overshadowed the occupational folklore of this group. Because the abundance of planes were scrapped in the decade after World War II and most WWII veterans have passed on, all that remains of their occupational folklore are photographs, oral and written histories, some books, and two iconic airplanes in museum exhibits. Yet, the public’s infatuation and curiosity with nose art keeps the tradition alive.
The purpose of my graduate project and internship with the Hill Aerospace Museum was to collaborate on a 60-foot exhibit that analyzes the humanizing aspects of the Silverplate B-29 nose art from the 509th Composite Group and show how nose art functioned in three ways. First, nose art was a canvas to express airmen’s emotions regarding their training and ending the war. Second, nose art framed the airmen’s experience and created an identity for the crews. Last, after the war, the men reframed their war experiences by transitioning the art from the plane to their storytelling performances.
Looking beyond the pin up girls and cartoon images, aircraft nose art opens an opportunity to reflect on stories of bravery and fear, loneliness and pain, and a desire for change. While some nose art was a snapshot of a specific time in these airmen’s lives—1944 to 1945—other images reflected a culmination of lifelong feelings: dedication, support, and love. A nose art exhibit is a vehicle to help society better understand the experiences of today’s veterans and launch conversations about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Wesemann, Terri, "Metal Storytellers: Reflections of War Culture in Silverplate B-29 Nose Art from the 509th Composite Group" (2019). All Graduate Plan B and other Reports. 1426.
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