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What's In a Name?

By Stewart W. Bailey, Museum Curator

November is National Aviation History Month and also marks the observance of Veterans Day, when we take time to remember those men and women who have given of themselves to protect our country by serving in the armed forces.   We tend to forget that older veterans we meet were once young men and women whose service took them to many far-away places, often leaving their home for the first time.  In reading letters written by veterans during wartime, they almost universally talk of missing family, friends, loved ones and home.  So it is not surprising that they did many little things to remind them of the place they called home.  

It is said that you don’t have to ask a Texan where they are from; their pride in the Lone Star state will cause them to tell you right way.  As Texans signed up by the tens of thousands to serve during World War II, many who became flyers proclaimed their love for Texas by naming their airplanes for their city, state or the attributes that make Texas great.  There was really nothing new about this, as pilots had been creatively marking their airplanes since the beginning of flight, but the vast expansion of aviation during World War II led to an explosion of “nose art” unmatched at any other time in aviation history.  

Names like “Texas Terror,” “Texas Tornado,” “Texas Ranger” “Lone Star Avenger” and “Hun Hunter from Texas” adorned many a fighter or bomber as their pilots and crews aimed to show the enemy that you don’t mess with Texas.  Others recalled their home towns with names like “City of Fort Worth,” “Spirit of Abilene” or “Fort Alamo.”  Then there were those who remembered their favorite girl back home such as “Texas Belle,” “Texas Kate,”  “Big Alice from Dallas,” “Miss Possum: My Texas Gal” and “San Antonio Rose.”  All of the names were meant to capture a memory of the home these warriors left behind.  

Reflective of where Texans served, Texas-themed nose art spread to every theater of war.  “Miss Dallas” was a P-47 that flew out of England on fighter escort missions over Germany, while the P-40 “Texas Longhorn” fought the Japanese over the jungles of New Guinea and “Touch of Texas,” a B-24D, bombed the refineries of Ploesti during the infamous Operation Tidal Wave mission of August 1, 1943.  

As World War II ended, the soldiers, sailors and airmen came back to the places they called home.  Those aircraft that survived the conflict also came home, but for the most part were cut up for scrap, no longer needed in a world where peace had been restored.   The artwork that showed the pilot’s Texas-pride disappeared with the aircraft and the only record of these special symbols of home remain in the veteran’s photo albums or archives.  

So here is a small selection of those pieces of art that once proudly proclaimed “Texas is my home!”

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