BUNKER HILL, Ind. (AP) — The woman named "Do It" has witnessed some of the most dangerous missions ever executed in World War II.
She was there, helping carry personnel and cargo, and dropping paratroopers into enemy territory all across the Pacific Ocean.
And she did it all while wearing just a skirt, casually reclining on the front of a C-47 Skytrain warplane.
"Do It" was the name of the woman painted on the nose of the plane which was used during missions in the South Pacific during the war. Today, that plane is on display at Grissom Air Museum.
And "Do It" is now on display as part of new exhibit highlighting the one-of-a-kind nose art painted on some of the most iconic military aircraft in history.
The exhibit features seven pieces of art which were all once on the front of airplanes that are connected to Grissom Air Reserve Base or are on display at the museum.
There's Passionate Paulette, which was painted on the front of a B-25 bomber that was featured in the movie "Catch-22." Felix the Cat was displayed on the nose of the F-14 Tomcat supersonic fighter jet. "Ball 88," another scantily clad woman, was painted on the nose of the Vietnam-era F-105 bomber plane.
Kayan Olinger, the registrar at the museum who does most of the historical research for displays, said the inspiration for the exhibit came after she was looking through old photos of the warplanes displayed in the museum's airfield and noticed some of them had nose art which had mysteriously been painted over at some point.
That was the case with the museum's C-47 warplane. An old photo showed "Do It" painted on the side. Olinger said she never even knew the image existed.
"I thought, 'Let's bring back that art and show people what that C-47 used to be,'" she said. "I love nose art, so I thought this was a great idea."
Olinger decided to reach out to art students at Indiana University Kokomo to see if they had any interest in recreating the images that had once been prominently displayed on the planes.
"I didn't think there would be that big of a response," she said. "I thought the students would think, 'Well, anyone can paint a lady.' But they were all really excited to do it."
Six students eventually jumped on board to recreate the images. And the nose art exhibit was born. Olinger said so far, the response to the display has been positive.
"Most people that come here are excited about airplanes anyway, so the prospect of seeing recreated nose art is something they would be interested in," she said. "I haven't heard any complaints. It's mostly just been people asking questions."
Nose art first came to prominence in World War II. But what eventually became a long-standing tradition on warplanes started as a whim.
Olinger said the first people to paint images on the planes were the mechanics, who were bored and missed their families - especially their wives or girlfriends.
"It all just started out with guys missing their wives," she said. "It was full-fledged art, but it was all done by amateurs. None of them were professional artists, which is why so much of the art is of women. Now, this kind of art is a little more modern."
The museum opened last Thursday for its upcoming season, which includes other new exhibits and display areas.
And there's no better way to get people engaged with the new exhibit space than the nose art display, said Tom Kelley, a museum board member.
"It's just a really fascinating way to start your tour," he said. "It really whets your appetite to find out what else is out there. We never had that sense of attraction before at the museum."
The art display also dovetails with another new exhibit installed this year. One of the pieces is the actual nose art taken off the plane of William Kepner, who was born in Miami County in 1893 and graduated from Kokomo High School.
Kepner served in both world wars and was a pioneer balloonist and airship pilot. In 1934, he commanded a specially constructed balloon that reached a then record altitude as part of a joint mission between the National Geographic Society and U.S. Army Air Corps.
The flight nearly ended in tragedy after the balloon ruptured at 61,000 feet and plummeted back toward Earth. Everyone on board was eventually able to parachute to safety once the balloon reached lower altitudes and crashed.
The Grissom Air Museum now has a new exhibit which displays a piece of the canvas-made balloon, along with its relief valve, which has a large dent left over from when it smashed into the ground.
Museum Director Tom Jennings said the pieces are unique artifacts that tell a fascinating tale of a local hero.
"It's a pretty significant piece, and Kepner was a pretty significant figure in this area," he said. "It's just a really great story to tell."
Other new exhibits this year include the stories of two men who served in Vietnam, as well as a renovated area that serves an immersive gallery focusing on Air Force defense and security forces.
Board member Kelley said after revamping the museum for the first time in years, the exhibits and displays feel fresher and more focused than ever before.
"With exhibits like this, we're not only able to tell a story," he said. "We're also able to offer a tribute to the people that made Grissom so special."
Source: Kokomo Tribune