The Two Memphis Belles
The romance behind the famous B-17’s name.
- By Elaine de Man
- Air & Space magazine, May 1990
Courtesy of Margaret Polk
(Page 3 of 3)
A small item ran in the August 3 Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Wedding Bells Won’t Ring Out for Memphis Belle and Flier.” Within a week Bob was engaged to a woman in San Antonio. That too made the news, but the romance didn’t last. Soon Bob was again begging Margaret to reconsider.
She needed more time, but the war wouldn’t wait. By December Bob had a new assignment and a new airplane to fly in the Pacific. He wrote to Margaret and thanked her, on behalf of the whole crew, for allowing them to name the Memphis Belle after her. Then he married Dorothy Johnson of Asheville, North Carolina, his hometown. A year later he led the first B-29 raid on Tokyo in a bomber named Dauntless Dotty.
Margaret Polk still lives in Memphis, where the Memphis Belle is on permanent display. She occasionally shows up at the Memphis Belle Pavilion to sign autographs. Often she’s asked if she’s the girl in the bathing suit perched up there on the nose of the airplane. She’s not, but she tells them she is—just to see their “little ol’ mouths fall open.”
“I’m still crazy about Bob,” she says. In the 1950s Margaret married a traveling tractor parts salesman, but the five-year marriage never approached the intensity of the romance she had with Bob, who eventually divorced Johnson and remarried.
Still, Margaret says she and Bob are friends. A recent Christmas card from him reads, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” It is signed, “Past, present, future—love, Bob.” “That Bob,” Margaret says, shaking her head. “He could charm a snake.”
—Elaine de Man
Margaret Polk died of cancer at her home on April 5, 1990, just after this story was published. She was 67. Robert Morgan died on May 15, 2004, in Asheville, North Carolina, of complications from a fall. He was 85. His wife Elizabeth Morgan had died in January 1992, and he remarried that August, under the wing of the Memphis Belle. Morgan’s letters to Polk are now at Memphis State University.