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American History: May/June '98 Letters

Originally published by American History magazine. Published Online: August 11, 1998 
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THE SKIPPY DEBATE

In the "Time Capsule" section of your February 1998 issue you wrote about the identification of the B-17 known as Skippy. I think I may be able to help.

An air force emblem and the letter "F" appear on the left fuselage of both planes, aft of the wings. These markings are visible below the left wing in both photographs. Also visible is a line where the paint on the upper part of the fuselage is darker than that on the lower section. However, the air force emblem in the Skippy photograph is much lower than in the "Trails in the Sub-Stratosphere" photograph. The stars in the emblem appear to be touching the line in the Skippy photo, but they are much higher in the "Trails in the Sub-Stratosphere" photo. Also, in the Skippy photo the bottom of the letter "F" is nearly touching the paint line, and in the "Trails" photo the letter is higher.

It would seem that these photographs are of two different planes, unless Skippy had a paint job between photo sessions.

Charles D. Evans
Lexington Park, Maryland

Regarding the identity of the two airplanes pictured in "Time Capsule" in your February 1998 issue, unless the photographs are very deceiving, it seems clear that they are two different planes. The reason has nothing to do with the nose art, which is in the shadow on one of the photos, but rather the appearance of the stars on the sides of the planes. One star has a white band around it, but the other does not. In addition, the points of the star on the plane in the upper photo are even with the horizontal line separating the lighter and darker areas along the side of the plane. In the lower photo the points of the star end well above the horizontal line. Also, the letter "F" on the upper plane appears to be a duller shade than the "F" on the lower plane.

The plane in the "Trails" photograph may never be identified, but I do not believe that it is Skippy. It's an interesting controversy, and I enjoyed reading about it.

Laura R. Gansel
Cottage Grove, Oregon

I read with interest the "Time Capsule" article in your January/February 1998 issue. My conclusion is that the photos are not of the same B-17, unless the airplane was painted between photos. Notice the Air Corps insignia on the side of the fuselage of each. One is outlined in white paint, and the other is outlined in black (or blue).

Dennis L. Duncan
Pasco, Washington

I take issue with Eric Ethier, who wrote "Time Capsule: Objects in History" in your January/February 1998 issue. You showed good photographs, which served to prove my studied observation that the name Skippy did not show up in the picture taken on November 27, 1943, on the mission to Emden, because of the deep shadow.

The article stated that I was a passenger on the Emden mission. In fact, I was a passenger on this aircraft, but it was during a flight from the United States to England in July 1943, when we deployed to England for the war.

If one is to agree with Ethier when he states, "The color of history is, after all, mostly gray," he must then ignore the many published historical documents available and believe the errors and untruths presented in the article.

Marshall B. Shore
Spokane, Washington

BERLIN OR BUST

I found your January/February 1998 article "From Balloons to Drop Tanks" by Clark Duane Roush very interesting, especially since I served with the 56th Fighter Group, Zempke's Wolfpack, in England during World War II.

Mr. Roush mentioned that General Kepner told the producers of the three most important fighters in use by the U.S. Air Force at the time–the P-38, the P-47, and the P-51–that he wanted to ". . . get to Berlin and had to have more gas in these planes." The author also reported that the P-51s appeared over Berlin in the spring of 1944, but he failed to mention that the P-47s did also. The 56th continued to escort the B-24s of the Second Bomber Division until the end of the war and in doing so had the best victory record of all the fighter groups that operated in the European Theater. The 56th was the only group to fly the P-47M, since only about 75 of them were built.

Thank you for a very interesting and informative magazine.

Taylor W. Cole
Nashua, New Hampshire

AMISTAD, THE MOVIE

The writer of a recent newspaper column repeated a rumor about Cinqué, leader of the Amistad slave ship mutineers in the 1830s, which says Cinqué became a slave trader when he returned to his home in Africa after his release in the United States. I was interested to see that you debunk that story in "All we want is make us free," from the January/February 1998 issue of American History. The author of your article, historian Howard Jones of the University of Alabama, says there's no basis for it. When he returned to Africa, Cinqué served as a translator for missionaries, not as a slave trader.

The recent movie Amistad does contain a few errors, according to Newsweek and New Republic articles on the subject. Cinqué never met his advocate, former U.S. president John Quincy Adams, and the Morgan Freeman character, a black abolitionist, wouldn't have been able to move as freely in white society as is portrayed in the movie. And so on. It should be noted, however, that President Martin Van Buren, who tried to enslave the mutineers again, redeemed himself of his pro-slavery stance years later by standing as a candidate of the anti-slavery Free Soil Party.

Andrew O. Lutes
Mansfield, Ohio

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