Disney draws up ducky art for old American war bird

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Disney draws up ducky art for old American war bird

by: William Cole | .
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | .
published: December 17, 2015

The Walt Disney Co. has created its first U.S. military insignia since World War II -- for the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor and its "Swamp Ghost" B-17 bomber.

The irascible Donald Duck is seen rising from a bubbling swamp, his arms extended like wings, below the words "Swamp Ghost" in a font that was also uniquely created for the artwork.

"We hope that the creation and display of the Swamp Ghost nose art serves as a tribute to aviation history, and to all those who serve," Greg Coleman, vice president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Disneytoon Studios' worldwide marketing, said in a news release.

The Disney contribution comes as the Pacific Aviation Museum looks ahead to the 75th anniversary next year of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Oahu, and is meant to connect younger people with history that is fading with the veterans who lived it and are now in their mid-90s.

Ford Island, where the aviation museum is located, was ground zero for the Japanese surprise attack. Bullet holes remain in hangar windows, and strafing-run damage still pocks tarmacs.

John Baxter, author of "Disney During World War II: How the Walt Disney Studio Contributed to Victory in the War," said in his book that one of Walt Disney's "purest expressions" of patriotism was his creation of a unit to produce military insignia free for the U.S. armed forces and Allies. The unit worked throughout the war, churning out nearly 1,300 insignia, according to Baxter.

"By far, the single most requested and used Disney insignia character during the war was Donald Duck, who was featured in at least 146 designs," Baxter said. Donald Duck was one of the most iconic and likable Disney characters during the 1940s, said Klay Hall (director of Disneytoon Studios' "Planes"), possessing a "feistiness with a 'can do' attitude."

"He seemed like a natural fit for the Swamp Ghost nose art," Hall said in the release.

Several Disney representatives unveiled the Swamp Ghost logo at a Dec. 5 fundraiser at the museum, with Coleman saying, "We were so thrilled and inspired by some of his (Disney's) work that that actually got us all going and thinking about what we could do here for the Swamp Ghost."

Artists Mike Gabriel (director of "Pocahontas," "The Rescuers Down Under" and the Oscar-nominated short "Lorenzo") and Hall worked together to create the B-17 art.

Key Disney individuals involved have relatives who served in World War II, with Gabriel describing how his father, a P-47 fighter pilot, was shot down and subsequently rescued by the French Resistance. Coleman's grandfather was a B-24 bomber pilot, the Pacific Aviation Museum said.

Elissa Lines, the museum's executive director of development, said Coleman is part of a national leadership committee working on fundraising to continue the museum's development.

"Greg came to the (annual fundraising) event last year to see the museum for the first time," Lines said. "On that visit he saw the B-17 and got very fascinated by both the story of that B-17 and by the history of the Disney Co. that had such a strong involvement during World War II in supporting all the military branches."

Back at Disney he floated the idea that in looking ahead to the 75th anniversary of Dec. 7, Disney, after 70 years, could do a unique, one-off piece of nose art for the B-17, Lines said. Unit insignia and nose art on airplanes proliferated during World War II. Pinup girls also were popular.

Skip Lehman, a member of the national leadership committee, said the Swamp Ghost logo was no rush job. "They (Disney) had a meeting a month. They did thousands of renderings of different nose art," he said.

"Swamp Ghost" wasn't the B-17E's original nickname. The Flying Fortress got the moniker years after getting shot up over Rabaul, Papa New Guinea, in 1942 and ditching in several feet of marsh water. The crew survived, but there the big plane sat -- for the next 64 years.

A 2007 Smithsonian Magazine story about the bomber said the belly landing was perfect; only the propellers were bent. When Australian troops checked out the plane in 1972, they found it "eerily untouched," with machine guns in place and fully loaded, and a thermos with what used to be coffee inside, the story reported.

The plane was finally salvaged. In 2011 the Pacific Aviation Museum began negotiations to obtain the bomber -- a striking symbol of American air power during the war -- and brought it to Hawaii in 2013.

Lines said the Disney artwork won't actually go on the nose of the aircraft.

"No, it's a historic aircraft," she said. The next step will be to continue to work with Disney on ways to display the logo. That could include a hologram projection or possibly painting it on a separate aircraft nose cone.

An important part of Disney's involvement is "reaching out to the younger generation and finding a way to communicate those (World War II) messages" of character and patriotism, Lines said. "How are we going to display the logo in our museum? And how (might we use it) in merchandise or ways that people can take it away with them?"

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