Association member Sam Jackson uses a video camera in front of the F-86 display in March 1997. Note sign pointing the way to the "Enola Gay" display. (Credit - Sam Jackson)
One of our members sent this photo along with a newspaper clipping about the F-86 exhibit at the Smithsonian's Air & Space museum during the Air Force's fiftieth birthday year. After studying the photo, it occurred to us that the name "Enola Gay" in the background might confuse some of today's young people. No, kids, that isn't the name of the Sabre. But there IS a connection that might have been forgotten unless we printed the story. So here goes -In early 1997, the photo above was sent to us by member Sam Jackson, of Centreville, VA. Shortly thereafter, another member sent us a newspaper clipping about the Air & Space "Sabre" exhibit. The clipping had a particularly beautiful picture of the exhibit. Our President, Dee Harper, knew that the photo would be perfect on the cover of SabreJet Classics, so he asked the Board Chairman, Jim Campbell, to try to get us a copy. Jim was well placed to get this done, since he was in the marketing business in Detroit and had the right contacts. Jim called the museum and was told that there were no more copies available and it would take three months to produce one. Jim said he knew the business and it shouldn't take more than three days. And furthermore, he might have to call on our favorite congressman, Sabre Pilot Sam Johnson (R-Tx) to help us out. We got the photo in five days and it appeared on the cover of SabreJet Classics, Vol.5 No.1, Spring 1997.
Turns out Sam had recently been selected by the Speaker of the House to be a member of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Are you starting see why we got the Sabre photo so quickly? You may be interested in our take on why and how Sam Johnson became a Smithsonian Regent.
Before all this, in the mid-nineties, there was a huge flap about the proposed exhibit of the Enola Gay (which dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima) in the Smithsonian. Many WWII veterans and veterans' organizations opposed the exhibit on the grounds that it emphasized the casualties caused by the Enola Gay, and did not reflect adequately the positive side of the mission, which arguably saved millions of lives by bringing the war to a speedy end. Air Force magazine was a leader of this opposition, and the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association joined the fray with a flood of letters (on our letterhead) to both the Smithsonian and sympathetic Senators and Representatives of the U.S. Congress. Perhaps the most vocal (and credible) critic of the proposed exhibit was Sam Johnson, and the "good guys" won. Happy ending! The exhibit was changed for the better and Sam was appointed a regent of the Smithsonian Institution.
Congressman Sam Johnson and his lovely wife, Shirley, attended our 11th reunion in 1997 and Sam was the principal speaker at the banquet. (SabreJet Classics, Vol.5 No.2, Summer 1997).
So we think you'll agree that there is quite a story behind the photo of the F-86 with an "Enola Gay" sign hovering over it. The Sabre is no longer on display at the Air & Space Museum, but we think it can be seen either at the Smithsonian's Garber facility in Silver Hill, Md., or the new Dulles facility when it opens. By the way, the "Enola Gay" sign refers to the entrance to that display, which is just behind the Sabre.
No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.
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