NEW ORLEANS – World War II Gen. Claire Chennault's granddaughter, a few tourists and the nephew of a Marine mechanic who worked on Curtiss P-40s during World War II applauded Monday as a crane safely eased the fuselage of the shark-nosed fighter plane representing Chennault's famed Flying Tigers into the National World War II Museum.
"Ain't that pretty?" Nell Calloway, Chennault's granddaughter and director of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe, asked, a catch in her voice, as the aircraft sat on a flatbed earlier.
Wayde Benson of New Orleans and his friend Mark Ferketise, both retired Marines, also came to see the P-40E — the last model flown by the 1st American Volunteer Group formed in China by Chennault, who was then acting as a civilian adviser to the nationalist Chinese government.
"My uncle was the Marine head mechanic for Pappy Boyington during the war," Benson said. George "Pappy" Boyington, a Marine Corps aviator since 1937, left in 1941 to join the Flying Tigers, rejoining the Corps in September 1942.
The small crowd also included six of the Flyboys Aeroworks LLC crew that recreated the fighter from a few bits of a wrecked plane found in a ditch near an Aleutian Islands airfield.
This plane never flew with Chennault's 1st American Volunteer Group. Although Curtiss made more than 14,000 of various P-40s — the third-largest number of any given plane in the war — this one is among about 32 remaining, museum CEO Nick Mueller said.
"We hope having a P-40 hanging in our museum helps to bring Louisiana's part of the story to life," he said.
"We're so lucky to stumble on this!" said Mary Ellen Doran of Dedham, Mass., who came to New Orleans with her husband, Dick, for Sunday's Mardi Gras Half-Marathon. They were among a few tourists who game upon the evnet.
Dick Dedham asked, "The Flying Tigers — weren't they mercenaries in China before the war?"
After it was painted to match the markings of the U.S. Army Air Forces group that absorbed some Flying Tigers pilots, the plane was partly disassembled and trucked to New Orleans.
Reassembly will continue into Tuesday, said Flyboys Aeroworks head Rolando Gutierrez.
"It's amazing to think how many young men flew planes like that," said Gerry Pyke, of Vancouver, Canada, visiting with his wife, Nancy.
They were surprised to find the museum listed as one of the city's top attractions.
"My wife said, 'What did New Orleans have to do with the war?'" Pyke said. Nancy Pyke said she knew the European side because her father was from the Netherlands. Pyke knew about many facets of North America's part in the war, but not about Chennault or other Louisiana angles.
They got documentation of this one: "Pictures, videos, everything," Nancy Pyke said.