By NEMS Daily Journal
Even in a state of disassembly and retirement from combat the fuselage of an F-105 Thunderchief jet fighter/bomber projects power and fury like that delivered in the skies over North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Col. C.S. “Smitty”” Harris of Tupelo flew one of the famous warplanes before he was shot out of the sky on a Vietnam War mission, crashing in North Vietnam and imprisoned for eight and a half years. He came to Tupelo on his release, rejoining his wife and children who had lived and waited for him here.
Harris was on hand for the F-105’s arrival by truck, and sometime in coming months its reassembly will be completed and a permanent public display opened at Veterans Memorial Park.
Airplanes and ships of war, their crews and the names given the aircraft and ships long have carried special significance for towns and cities connected with them.
In Tupelo’s case, Harris is living history and memory of the war in Vietnam, the aircraft he flew, and all that he endured as a POW and ultimately returning as a hero.
The Baby Boom generation in Northeast Mississippi may remember that Memphis had on display a famous World War II bomber, the Memphis Belle, a B-17 whose crew remained intact for 25 consecutive successful combat missions over Europe, flying from a base in England.
The B-17F unfortunately was not maintained and fell prey to vandalism. It has been permanently moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where it is undergoing complete restoration and will be permanently displayed in the base’s famous air museum.
Tupelo’s acquisition of the F-105 required long hours and a network of cooperation with veterans groups and the military. Members of the Haralson County Veterans Association in Georgia arranged to bring the airplane 900 miles from Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to Tupelo, where it will be stripped, repainted and assembled for display.
A lot of work remains before the project can be completed. A group called Jet Volunteers has raised about $30,000 of the $60,000 needed to erect a display stand and pay the other expenses related to completing the site.
The private-sector project accepts donations through CREATE Foundation in Tupelo. Donations can be made at createfoundation.com by accessing the Veterans Park Memorial Jet Special Project, or mail designated donations to CREATE Foundation, 213 West Main St., Tupelo, MS 38802.