GREENVILLE —A celebration of the 70th anniversary of when the original Fighting Falcon glider was dedicated will be held on Sunday.
The event will include a reception honoring the anniversary of Glider Day from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Fighting Falcon Military Museum at 516 W. Cass St. in Greenville.
On May 19, 1943, the original Fighting Falcon glider was dedicated after it was purchased with funds raised by the Greenville High School class of 1943 and constructed at Gibson Refrigerator Co.
In order to raise money, the students sold war bonds, which totaled $72,000 — enough to purchase four gliders, according to museum member Bill Delp.
According to documents provided by the museum, Greenville’s Dan Dibble was present for the dedication and said the day was called Glider Day in Greenville. The celebration took place at Black Field and included a parade, marching band, several dignitaries speaking and the U.S. Department of Treasury honoring the students who sold the war bonds.
“One highlight of the event was when the glider opened and out came a jeep filled with armed soldiers who quickly subdued a mock attack by Japanese forces,” Dibble wrote in the documents. “For several hours, another glider was flown behind a tow plane over the city for all to see.”
Delp worked as a tool engineer for the factory manager and the master mechanic at Gibson while building the gliders.
The Gibson Refrigerator Co. received contracts from the U.S. Army Air Force for the production of CG-4A troop carrying gliders, and was one of 15 companies to do so. Each glider was made up of 70,000 individual parts with a height of 12 feet, 7 inches, a wing span of 83 feet, 8 inches and length of 48 feet, 4 inches.
Delp said the crew consisted of a pilot, co-pilot and 13 infantrymen.
“Gliders were actually the first stealth aircraft used by the military,” stated a museum document. “It was towed by either a C-46 or C-47 and released behind enemy lines.
By the time World War II was over, Gibson had built 1,078 of the 13,909 CG-4A gliders constructed.
Other defense contracts through Gibson included four-pound incendiary bombs, 100 pound mustard gas chemical bombs, 500 pound U.S. Navy practice bombs, B-24 bomber wing flaps, bomb shackles and 165-gallon jettison fuel tanks.
According to museum documents, 52 C-47 tow planes and gliders participated in a mission code named “Chicago.”
“In recognition of the students’ patriotic efforts, the 9th Air Force headquarters ordered that the Fighting Falcon be the first glider in the echelon of 52 gliders heading through the dark into Normandy on D-Day,” the documents state.
On that day, the glider carried Lt. Col. Michael C. Murphy, who was the highest ranking glider pilot in the Army Air Force. The glider also contained co-pilot Second Lt. John B. Butler and Brigadier and Gen. Donald F. Pratt and his personal jeep, loaded with command radio equipment and gas cans.
The glider crashed, leaving Murphy half in the plane with his legs broken and left knee severely injured — but conscious. The general’s aid was stunned, but uninjured. Pratt and Butler died.
Gliders that were not shipped to be used in the war were packed in crates and sold for $50 per crate. According to museum documents, there were 60 gliders packed in 300 crates.
“One could have had a complete glider for $250,” said Delp, but noted most gliders were purchased for the wood crates to build items out of.
Delp said in Greenville, he knows of several houses built out of the crate wood.
Fighting Falcon Military Museum
During the 50th anniversary of D-Day, in 1994, Museum Secretary Barbara Christensen said a phone call was made to the Greenville Board of Education from Jack Welborn of Texas about the restoration of the Fighting Falcon and future of the museum.
This conversation sparked interest not only in restoring the Fighting Falcon, but giving the project a permanent resting place within a museum.
Delp, who was part of the restoration project, said a search was on to find glider parts to be reassembled. Many of the pieces were found in barns and farm gullies.
“We had cannibalized parts to make a whole (glider),” Delp said.
The restoration took 11 years to complete.
When trying to find a place to house the museum, Delp said Greenville Public Schools sold the administration building and land at the time to the museum for $40,000, giving the museum a year to pay off the debt. A donation by local philanthropist Blanche Ash allowed the museum to purchase the building and land in a short amount of time.
“By creating a museum in this building, the oldest existing school building in Greenville was also preserved,” stated museum documents. “In the summer of 2003, a 32-by-64-foot addition was added on the north side of the building to house the restored glider as well as related displays in glass cases and on the walls.”
The museum was incorporated into a 501C3 nonprofit in March 2000. The official grand opening of the museum was held during the Danish Festival on Aug. 21, 2004.
Once the museum opened, Delp said the museum’s motto has been: “Persistence, frugality and generosity.”
Christensen said the donations and continuous support of the families have kept the museum alive.
“We are grateful for the donors who have supported the museum over the years,” she said.
Because of donations, the museum is getting ready for an expansion to give a foundation and storage room under the Fighting Falcon display.
Currently, the museum has more than 350 items on display throughout the two-story building and focuses on all veterans from Greenville and the surrounding areas. Exhibits at the museum include World War I, World War II, the Civil War, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and modern war.
“This place is like a shrine,” Delp said of the local history that has been collected in its nine years.
The museum is open on Sundays and by appointment. There is no cost for the museum, but donations are suggested to help cover operating costs.
“Our goal is to share their story with as many people as possible,” the documents state. “Without sharing, the story will wither and fade into the vague uncelebrated, unappreciated thing called ‘The Past.’ There have been many wars fought on our country’s soil and other fears. These wars pulled men and women from their homes, families and jobs. Their sacrifices must be honored.”