'Silver Dollar' nose art dedication shares latest heritage of 100th ARW KC-135 fleet

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere

The 100th Air Refueling Wing unveiled its latest nose art tribute – “Silver Dollar” – at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, honoring the 100th Bomb Group’s World War II Airmen and aircraft, and coinciding with the 80th anniversary of what became known as “Black Week”, Oct. 10, 2023.

“Black Week” occurred during the week of Oct. 8 to 14, 1943, earning the name due to the heavy losses endured by Eighth Air Force. The Mighty Eighth lost 138 heavy bombers, 24 fighters and more than 1,400 Airmen to enemy action. The 100th BG itself suffered the tragic loss of 12 aircraft and 121 crew over Germany. This was the week which also earned them the moniker “The Bloody Hundredth,” due to the disproportionate number of losses it suffered on what was later known as the “Awful Eight” missions – three of which happened between Aug. 17 and Oct. 14, 1943.

On three of those missions, the 100th BG suffered a loss of 28 aircraft and 283 crew. Twenty-seven of the original 35 crews who arrived in England in June 1943 were killed, wounded or captured by Oct. 14, 1943 – 109 days after their first mission.

The “Silver Dollar,” originally tail number 23-2090 on a B-17 Flying Fortress, which flew its missions out of Thorpe Abbotts, Norfolk, England, now adorns one of RAF Mildenhall’s KC-135 Stratotankers, tail number 58-0095, and was officially unveiled in a nose art dedication ceremony.

All the 100th ARW’s heritage nose art and “Square D” tail flashes are dedicated to the heroes of the 100th Bomb Group and the sacrifices they made for the “Bloody Hundredth.”

“‘Silver Dollar’ had a long and storied battle record, beginning at a crucial period of the war. By February and March 1944, the main battles for air superiority in the lead-up to D-Day had begun, and ‘Silver Dollar’ would join the fray during this pivotal time in history,” said Col. Thomas Hutton, 100th Operations Group commander, whose name is displayed on the KC-135.

“Its first operational sortie occurred on March 15, 1944, with Lt. Elmer Ferbrache’s crew. Staff Sgt. Bill Behr, the ball turret gunner, was sent a bright, shiny silver dollar by his mother for good luck. When he saw the bright, shiny B-17G for the first time, he said, ‘It shone like a silver dollar!’ The crew immediately adopted that name for their plane, placing their faith in the significance of the good-luck coin that said, ‘In God We Trust,’” remarked Hutton.

He added that the aircraft’s luck held out, despite many close calls from fighters and flak, and went on to fight and survive 102 missions between March 1944 and April 1945. Multiple crews completed their required tours of combat duty on “Silver Dollar” and survived the war, having great affection for their shiny, silver plane.

However, on April 18, 1945, tragedy struck.

“Not by enemy aircraft or flak, but by a runway taxiing accident on base at Thorpe Abbotts. ‘Heavenly Angel,’ another of the 100th BG’s B-17s, ran into Silver Dollar after landing, and flattened her tail,” said the 100th OG commander. “Not to be deterred, then-Lt. Col. Tom Jeffrey ordered the tail be removed from the damaged ‘Heavenly Angel’ and placed on ‘Silver Dollar’ – the aircraft’s call sign was then changed from ‘D-Dog’ to ‘E-Easy,’ effectively ending ‘Silver Dollar’s’ official wartime service with the group.”

Hutton shared how the aircraft was then stripped of all her armament, including the chin turret which gave her the appearance of a shiny, silver B-17F.

“She was also given a brand-new nose art design – very similar to the one we are unveiling today. Silver Dollar continued to serve the 100th Bomb Group as Jeffrey’s ‘hack,’ or personal transport, for which she is most closely remembered today. The B-17 continued to fly non-combat missions, even participating in the famed ‘Chowhound missions,’ where B-17s dropped bundles of food to the starving citizens of Holland towards the end of hostilities,” he said, adding the aircraft continued to serve in occupied Germany after the war, finally returning to the United States in 1950, when it was chopped up and melted down in Pyote, Texas.

“But today she flies again with the 100th Air Refueling Wing,” exclaimed Hutton. “The nose art design you see here today was designed by my former crew chief, Staff Sgt. Tyler Goldsborough, who spent uncountable hours designing the nose art and customizing the aircraft with the ‘Silver Dollar’ logo. He PCS’d back to the States in July, but because of his love for this aircraft and the proud history of ‘Silver Dollar,’ he flew back to RAF Mildenhall for the unveiling today.”

Goldsborough, currently stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, returned here for the unveiling.

“Seeing it come full circle and finally being unveiled on one of RAF Mildenhall’s tankers is exciting. I put a lot of time and effort into making this design – it’s one of those things that’s almost like seeing a kid for the first time when it’s born,” he remarked happily. “To finally get to see it on the jet is awesome!

“It means a lot that I was invited to attend this unveiling – I felt like I was contributing to the heritage of this base, and it’s something I really wanted to do. I was afraid when I left that I was never going to get to see the unveiling, so being able to come was emotional and satisfying,” said Goldsborough.

When he first PCSd to RAF Mildenhall, Goldsborough explained that there were some open dedicated crew chief spots and he told his senior leaders that he really wanted to be assigned the aircraft.

“I got the jet, but at that point, we had no nose art. Someone asked me if I would be willing to design a nose art for ‘Silver Dollar’ and at first I put some designs together for just the head – I didn’t know it was going to be double-sided – then I just fell in love with the history of it when I started reading the history of the 100th Bomb Group. When I found out about the number of missions it flew, I fell more in love with the nose art, history and heritage of the jet – it was just awesome, and a great experience,” he remarked.

The dedicated crew chief explained that he knew he needed to return to his former base for “Silver Dollar’s” unveiling, no matter what it took.

“Seeing it in person is completely different than seeing it in a picture. When I left here, I didn’t get to see it at all – I knew what the design looked like but I didn’t know what it was going to look like on the jet. Sitting up front and seeing my hard work pay off on a jet is so satisfying, it almost brought tears to my eyes!” he said.

“Silver Dollar” is the latest in RAF Mildenhall’s fleet of tankers adorned with heritage nose art which honors those from the 100th Bomb Group in World War II.

“You can see the strong ties which bind the 100th Bomb Group of World War II, with the 100th Air Refueling Wing of today, are not just what appears in history books. The ties are built on relationships between survivors or the 100th Bomb Group, their family members, volunteers, and currently serving Airmen, who understand the proud legacy from which they came, and honor that legacy every day,” said Col. Ryan Garlow, 100th ARW commander, and step-grandson of 100th BG veteran, Tech. Sgt. James P. Scott Jr.

“Every time a KC-135 takes to the skies from RAF Mildenhall, the ghostly assemblage of dozens of B-17s take off with that tanker and its crew. The skies that were once hostile are now the skies of our allies,” he said. “When NATO fighters from across Europe fly up to meet us today, their pilots give our boom operators a friendly wave as we refuel them as part of our joint NATO deterrence mission.

“None of this would have been possible if not for the sacrifice made by the men of the ‘Bloody Hundredth’ during World War II, who not only won the war, but – more importantly – won the peace, as former enemies have now become strong allies,” remarked Garlow.