Controversy At The Smithsonian

Spirit of St LouisBefore World War II, the most famous airplane by far was the “Spirit of St. Louis,” flown by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 to cross the Atlantic nonstop for the first time. Of course, the Smithsonian Institute proudly displays this famous airplane. But, put that on hold for a bit and let me take you first to World War II Africa, where Jack Ogilvie was assigned his first plane as an Army Air Corp fighter pilot.

The P-39 was not the plane of choice by the wartime pilots. It had been a political boondoggle and the Army was forced to use them. I wrote of Jack’s training escapades in an earlier posting that tells why he was sent to this aircraft squadron.

SAM_4737Suffice it to say, Jack and his comrades would battle the German Messerschmitts in this plane that was not ready for combat. But that’s another story also. Let’s witness his first flight, which resulted in his first court martial. (Yes, I said first.)

Upon arrival, Jack and the other pilots were to meet their Crew Chief. It so happened that the Crew Chief was from Dallas, as was Jack. They both recognized each other immediately and the Chief said, “O my gosh! Not you!” He had been the head usher at the Majestic Theater in Dallas, Texas. Jack said, “One of my escapades was to sneak into the Majestic Theater and watch whatever was playing. Then I would raise a ruckus and the head usher would have to come, escort me out and refund the money I was supposed to have paid to get in.” So, they had some catching up to do about the past days.

The next order of business was to meet the squadron artist. This was the man that would paint all the artwork for the airplanes. His name was Jack Bell and he had been the resident artist and set designer for the Summer Musicals in Dallas (it’s a very small world). Later Jack Bell would become the illustrator for popular children’s series.

SAM_4738The two Jacks collaborated on the name that would be painted on the nose of his P-39. They settled on “Spirit of Big D,” which would include an image of the famous Mobil Oil Flying Red Horse, that sits atop the Mobil building in downtown Dallas. This, of course was a play off the well-known “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane.

The first flight that airman, and later-to-be fighter pilot ace, Jack would make was to buzz some friends in an Army encampment. He said, “I flew real low over an encampment” (a gross understatement). It was actually an Army battalion and he flew down, between the tents, on Officer’s Row, where all the brass of that outfit resided. (Jack was very proficient at low level flying.)

He didn’t realize it, but he had snagged a telephone wire with the wing machine gun from that compound and it was trailing behind him as he landed (smoking gun evidence). Also, the report from the Army General, during his intensely heated complaint, was that the plane had a Red Horse on it. (Busted!)

Jack said, “That started it.” He is still amazed today at how many times God has seen him through scrapes and danger. As Jack says, “He is personal,  just as a person is to me. And He gets me into these episodes and gets me out. It’s not just one, but hundreds of terrible jams and gets me out of them. I don’t know how He does it or why.” I told him that I believe, “it is because people need to hear how God has protected you. They need to hear your stories.”

I’ll write more about Captain Jack and his expertise with the P-39 later. He was truly an expert pilot and devised a way to avoid the deadly Messerschmidt with the P-39. But his true claim to fame is in the P-47 Thunderbolt. He says this was a very reliable aircraft. “It would take a tremendous beating. It was just amazing.” And he would certainly be the one to know – he flew 200 missions in this fighter and received the Silver Star for bravery.


The last seven missions Jack flew in the P-47 ended in either crash landings or the plane had been shot up so bad that it could not be used any longer. Captain Jack Ogilvie wreaked so much havoc among the Germans that he was mentioned twice by Axis Sally (the European Theater version of Tokyo Rose). Jack says, “I fooled them so many times – I was pretty well known.” There was even a comic book character named for him – “Smilin’ Jack.”

After the war Jack toured with America’s top World War II fighter pilot ace (26 dog fight victories) in war bond rallies across the nation. This was sponsored by Republic, the manufacturer of the P-47. Jack was introduced at these rallies as “The man who had been shot at more times than anyone else in the war.”

So now, the rest of the story. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum decided to house Jack’s plane in the museum (of course, not his original. He apparently never brought one back that could be used again!). So, the P-47 was brought in with the original art work of Jack Bell, proudly displaying the “Spirit of Big D” and the Flying Red Horse and his official plane designation, 5A2.

But, wouldn’t you know it, politics took over (some things never change). The St. Louis powers that be were totally incensed that this airplane would infringe on their, in their minds, exclusivity to the “Spirit of” logo. “Spirit of Big D” and the location of it on the aircraft had to change and so much pressure was placed on this, the museum had it repainted. The logo was moved to the cowling instead of the fuselage and the red horse stood alone.

P-47In this picture Jack is holding a box of the plastic model for this airplane. In the instructions for the model it says, “…the Smithsonian’s Thunderbolt is being restored to display the markings of a P-47D used by a flight leader of the 345th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group of the Twelfth Air Force…” That would be Jack.

Jack says, “It was such a big deal then. The officials in St. Louis went crazy when they saw it.” He laughs about it and is amazed at how much fervor was given to change the markings on his airplane that saw him through such deadly conflict. But as happens so many times, the Smithsonian bowed to the pressure and accommodated the demand of St. Louis.

Smilin'_JackThe bottom line, to me, is that Captain Jack’s life was spared many times and he is still stunned to this day how he came through those days. But he is grateful to God and loves to tell his stories. I look forward to sharing more of “Smilin’ Jack’s” escapades.