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Air Force dedicates nose art on KC-135 at RAF Mildenhall to late WWII crew chief

Master Sgt. Dewey Christopher, left, poses for a photo with his ground crew and his first B-17 Flying Fortress, “Skipper” at Thorpe Abbotts, Diss, England, in 1942.

COURTESY PHOTO

By KYLE ALVAREZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 8, 2021

RAF MILDENHALL, England — The Air Force has dedicated nose art on a KC-135 Stratotanker in memory of a World War II crew chief who helped the allied effort in Europe by keeping the B-17s of the 100th Bombardment Group mission-ready, the second time RAF Mildenhall has honored Master Sgt. Dewey R. Christopher.

“We are dedicating this aircraft today to honor a legend, who in our eyes is a national treasure,” Col. S. Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, said at a ceremony Friday at Mildenhall, which Christopher’s son Gary watched via a virtual link.

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The aircraft is one of 15 Stratotankers the wing has decorated with nose art honoring the legacy and mission of the Flying Fortress bombers flown in nearly 9,000 missions between June 25, 1943, and April 20, 1945. The 100th Bombardment Group lost 732 airmen and 177 aircraft in that time, which earned it the nickname the Bloody Hundredth.

“We are binding the history of the Bloody Hundredth both past and present through this nose art because it symbolizes that rich legacy of the predecessors and of Dewey Christopher,” Pananon said.

Christopher worked during WWII behind the scenes at RAF Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, England, helping to maintain the Bloody Hundredth’s B-17s.

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He joined the Army Air Forces, hoping to become a pilot, shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. But an eye injury prevented him from achieving that dream, and he put his mechanical skills to use, working as a maintenance crew chief on B-17s.

In an interview two years ago when a building at Mildenhall was renamed in his honor, he said he never lost an aircraft and that one of the planes he worked on flew more than 60 consecutive missions without a maintenance report, “which meant there weren’t any discrepancies on my airplane.”

Among the crews he was assigned to were those that created the nose art on two of the bombers, Skipper I and Skipper II.

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Nose art “gave the crew an identity,” said Ron Batley, the curator of the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum. “The flight line was a sea of olive drab or silver coated airplanes but if they had nose art … they became an individual crew and people would recognize them. It was their airplane.”

The Mildenhall-based 100th Air Refueling Wing is the only active-duty U.S. Air Force unit authorized to display the World War II tail flash of its legacy unit.

Christopher passed away in 2019, five months after the building housing the Professional Development Center at RAF Mildenhall was renamed in his honor.

After his wartime service, he worked as a mechanic for American Airlines for more than four decades.

alvarez.kyle@stripes.com
Twitter: Kalv2931


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The Skipper III nose art on a KC-135 Stratotanker at RAF Mildenhall. The U.S. Air Force at RAF Mildenhall dedicated the nose art on May 7, 2021, in memory of Master Sgt. Dewey Christopher, a World War II crew chief who helped keep the B-17s of the 100th Bombardment Group mission-read.
KYLE ALVAREZ/STARS AND STRIPES

Dewey Christopher in his Class A uniform in 1942. The U.S. Air Force dedicated nose art on a KC-135 Stratotanker in memory of Christopher, a World War II crew chief who helped keep the B-17s of the 100th Bombardment Group mission-ready, at a ceremony at RAF Mildenhall, May 7, 2021.
COURTESY PHOTO

The 100th Air Refueling Wing lead jet displays the nose art of “Skipper III." The U.S. Air Force dedicated the nose art on the KC-135 Stratotanker at a ceremony at RAF Mildenhall, May 7, 2021, in memory of Master Sgt. Dewey Christopher, a World War II crew chief who helped keep the B-17s of the 100th Bombardment Group mission-ready.
KAREN ABEYASEKERE/U.S. AIR FORCE

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Isaiah Herring, left, 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainer, and Airman Camden Roman, 100th Maintenance Squadron maintainer, pose for a photo with retired Master Sgt. Dewey Christopher, at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 21, 2019.
KAREN ABEYASEKERE/U.S. AIR FORCE