/ The Disney Traveler

Walt Disney Linked with U.S. Air Force

I may have mentioned this before, but, I was a history major in college.  While not a huge fan of memorizing dates and places, I love the stories of the past, how people and events shaped our world.

So, this fall, when my husband participated in the U.S. Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH, (map)  I suggested the whole family tag along.  Expecting groans from the remainder of the family, I was surprised that they were eager to travel along.

The morning of the marathon, as we drove to the start/finish area of the race, everyone seemed, well, excited!  My only apprehension, what would I do with the girls while we waited the few hours for Dad to complete the half-marathon?

As we drove near the Air Base we noticed many retired planes on display, lining, what we would discover later, the finish chute of the course.  Home to the National Museum of the United States Air Force (map), open daily with the exception of major holidays and offering free admission, my entertainment plan was mapped out in front of me.

At the start of the race was a flyover, the first of three¬†we would see¬†as the race progressed.¬† The first being¬†F18s, second¬†were WWII era¬†aircraft, and the last was a replica of¬†the Wright¬†brother’s¬†flier.¬† As the gang stood looking up in amazement, this was my window to let the educational element of our¬†weekend begin.

The National Museum exhibits military aviation history and displays more than 400 items in the aircraft collections, exhibits and thousands of artifacts from the earliest years of flying to the aircraft of today, even missiles and space exploration.

With special credentials, guests can even explore the presidential aircraft, known as Air Force One. These planes have served as transportation for presidents like Franklin Roosevelt, with its special accommodations for his wheelchair, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower are on display.  The focal point of this area, however, it the plane that served to fly JFK on the day of his assassination.

The Air Power Gallery holds the world’s top collection of WWII era¬†aircraft and exhibits that tell the proud stories¬†of those involved in the Air Force and the¬†war.¬† It was in this gallery that I made a Disney connection -¬†an exhibit entitled, Disney Pins on Wings – The Insignia Art of Walt Disney Productions During WWII.

Having served at the age of 16 as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross during WWI, Walt Disney, knew the importance of humor to help boost morale.  Disney embellished his ambulance, as well as others with drawings and cartoons, delighting all who viewed them.

Walt Disney Productions created their first military insignia in 1933 at the request of a naval reserve unit.  During the next several years the Studio received a few additional requests, but when activation occurred in 1940-41, hundreds of new military units were formed, and the requests for insignias flooded Disney.

Disney felt so strongly in the importance of this effort, that he created a special six-man team to do all the design work.  The insignias were often printed in black and white in newspapers and seeing this as a way to boost home front morale, Disney allowed their use, royalty free, despite their often commercial use.

In all, Walt Disney Production created approximately 1,200 designs for both American and Allied service units, civil defense and war industries.  Not only established Disney characters were used in the insignia art as the design team created hundreds of new characters as well.

While almost all of the war era Disney characters appeared in the designs, the most requested was Donald Duck. Mickey Mouse, and his nice guy personality, was never associated with a fighting unit.  Sweet, innocent Bambi was the only character to not be used at all.

Contracted through the government, Disney Studios was kept busy creating public information and training films during the war years.  Still, all work done by the Studios on the insignias was performed free-of-charge as a donation to the war effort.

With so much information at our feet, the few hours we had to kill flew by, with many galleries left unexplored. While this might seem like a trip for older children, even males at that, I must tell you that my girls were thrilled with this adventure.  We excitedly returned the next day to finish where we left off.

Photos Courtesy: U.S. Air Force, personal photo

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    1 Comment

  • heather says:

    Great story! So interesting to learn about Walt Disney and how his interests directly affected everything that Disney is known for.

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