GALVESTON — When Larry Gregory gives a tour of the Lone Star Flight Museum, he sometimes has to be a little creative when explaining the artwork that adorned some planes during World War II, particularly when his tour includes young students.
Instead of trying to explain why young men at war painted scantily clad women on their airplanes, Gregory, the president of the museum, would have students use their smartphones to search for a more age-appropriate picture of a World War II bomber called Waddy’s Wagon not on display in Galveston.
“The girls always ask why there are a lot of girls on the artwork,” Gregory said. “So, we go into a little bit of a clean explanation, and then I tell them that my favorite piece of nose art does not have any women on it at all, and then we look it up on our phones.”
Now, students won’t have to use their phones to see the iconic World War II art.
The museum unveiled a replica painting of Waddy’s Wagon’s nose art on Thursday. Donated to the museum by Houston artist Jason Barnett, the painting depicts members of a B-52 flight crew being pulled by their commander, Walter “Waddy” Young, who before the war was an All-American offensive lineman at the University of Oklahoma.
“It’s one of the most vibrant pieces of nose art that I’ve seen,” Gregory said. “It’s a great way to tell a story about work as a team and doing everything in rough situations far from home.”
World War II has been called a golden age of nose art. Originally developed as a way for military aircraft to identify friendly units, the paintings eventually became a way for aircrews to boost morale and provide a distraction from the stresses of war.
The unveiling came as surprise to Gregory, who was called down to the museum floor Thursday to find museum employees and volunteers standing in front of the covered painting.
Barnett’s painting is about half the size of the original — which was lost when the bomber was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in 1944. Barnett used photos to duplicate the painting, which he has worked on during the last two years.
Barnett said he was inspired to do the piece after watching Gregory give a tour to a school group.
“He just mentioned it to me, and it was such a cool story and I knew he loved it, so I decided to paint it,” Barnett said.
Beyond Gregory’s fondness for the original painting, the piece has another special touch.
The fuselage Barnett used as a canvas came from another plane, a Lockheed Loadstar, that once belonged to the museum and was badly damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Barnett bought the Loadstar and has used the scrap metal for other projects.
“It was a World War II airplane and it was going to be melted down and probably turned into raw stock,” Barnett said. “This piece of artwork will keep the memory going.”