The Amazing Story of Miss X
By Wally Blackwell, Pilot, 601st Squadron
This unusual story began late on a Saturday night at the very end of the 398th annual reunion held at Oshkosh, Wisconsin in September 1990. Jack Lee, a 603 Pilot, and I were about to say bon farewell for that reunion. Jack and I have been good friends since we were both accepted into the USAAF pilot training program from Massachusetts in early 1943. We went through the next year or so to flying training together and in July 1944 we were assigned to the 8th AF with B-17 crews ready to fly combat for the 398th Bomb Group. Earlier that evening Hal Weekley, 601 Pilot, had reported on the status of the restoration of a B-17 called the Aluminum Overcast. In his talk Hal had mentioned that if anyone had any pieces of a B-17 lying around, the Experimental Aircraft Association of Oshkosh, that was restoring the AO, would like to have them.
So at this almost farewell time, Jack, in his usual casual way, said, I wonder if there are any pieces of Miss X still laying around in my old hometown of Salem, MA. I really had to try hard to believe that Jack was serious about this. Thus began this almost unbelievable but absolutely true story that must be told. Yes, the City of Salem, MA. was seeking a WWII Memorial in 1945 for its town square, had actually acquired a 398th war weary B-17 from the USAAF and had it flown from Arizona to a nearby Coast Guard airfield, had it dismantled, transported it the ten miles or so to Salem and would reassemble it for a memorial. This would be possible because veteran B-17 crew chiefs and experienced B-17 mechanics were quite easily recruited.
The Salem town folk had originally wanted the 603 Squadrons Ole Blood and Guts B-17 because Jacks crew picture, taken in front of that plane, had been in the Salem paper and General Patton had been a Salem resident at one time. Alas, they discovered that Ole Blood and Guts had perished in combat. However, this local lad named Jack Lee had flown a B-17 named Miss X and Miss X was available! But sad to say, at the time of the reassembly of Miss X in Salem, the town fathers decided it wasnt going to work. So Miss X was relegated to a rather remote park where it was soon desecrated and vandalized. Even a chain link fence around the plane could not save it. Eventually its broken body was sold for $200 to a local junkyard.
This story sounded really unbelievable that Saturday night, but Jack said it was true. And the events that followed all proved it to be so. Thus we started our search for the remnants, if there were any of Miss X. Jack found endless memorabilia in his garage in California about the event. When I went to Cape Cod to see my parents, Ralph Hall of New Bedford, 601 tail gunner on the McCarty crew, Ken Green, a gunner on the 603 Hastings crew who has always lived in Salem and I went on a search at the Salem site. We had help during our visit from the local press and other interested parties. That search and other follow on investigations were all failures. But the story of the tragic demise of Jack Lees beloved Miss X will live on for posterity.
I can now include additional comment and details of this saga. Two articles are included below to do this.
The first is the letter that Jack Lee wrote to the Salem Evening News newspaper soliciting help with the search for Miss X. It tells the story in a very grand manner. See Jack Lee's Search for Miss X by Jack Lee, Pilot 603rd Squadron in a January 1991 Flak News article.
The second is more details of the story skillfully reported by Allen Ostrom in his January 1991 Flak News article, It All Began With Ole Blood & Guts by Allen Ostrom.
So this is the story of a lost love. There are those in Salem that still remember. Jack Lee will always remember. Jacks father lived in Salem at that time in 1945. He did a bit of salvage work before it was too late. He rescued the pilots seat of Miss X for Jack. If you visit Jack in California he will show it to you.