AUSTIN -- You can look it up: The Memphis Belle was the first heavy bomber to complete 25 missions during World War II.
Except, according to Jim Lux, a retired IBM marketing representative, it wasn't.
Not even close. It was a B-24 Liberator nicknamed Hot Stuff, the crew of which included Robert T. "Jake" Jacobson, a Mississippi native who died in 2010 at age 93.
Hot Stuff, Mr. Lux said -- and he has plenty of supporting documentation -- reached that milestone against long odds at a time when many planes were being shot down, fully 3 1/2 months before the Memphis Belle, a B-17.
The Belle made it home and became a potent propaganda tool and the subject of a documentary during the war and a feature film in 1990.
Hot Stuff was on its way home when, on May 3, 1943, it crashed into a mountainside in Iceland in bad weather, killing 14 of 15 aboard. Only the tailgunner survived.
Mr. Jacobson wasn't on the plane. He and five other crew members were bumped from the doomed flight by Gen. Frank Andrews, often called the father of the U.S. Air Force, and his entourage. General Andrews had taken over command of U.S. troops in Europe from Dwight D. Eisenhower and was expected back in Washington to collect his fourth star.
Hot Stuff and her crew were to rotate home and be used to sell war bonds.
Instead, because of the crash, that honor fell to the Belle -- which barnstormed the country on a three-month morale-boosting tour -- and her crew.
"I understand why they did it," Mr. Lux said. "I just don't understand why Hot Stuff was forgotten. That's just wrong."
Mr. Lux stumbled across the information that has potential to rewrite a piece of the war's history.
An Air Force veteran, Mr. Lux was helping put together the program for an air show and gathering in 1999.
Mr. Jacobson, a buddy of Mr. Lux, gave the younger man pictures and documents from his service years.
Mr. Jacobson had finished 31 missions over North Africa and Europe and 14 over Japan -- including one on Aug. 14, 1945, the day of the Japanese surrender.
Mr. Lux went through the material. And there it was, a certificate signed by the group's commander, Col. Edward "Ted" Timberlake, mission No. 25 over Naples, Italy, dated "7 Feb. 43."
"Jake, you didn't tell me you guys were the first to complete 25," Mr. Lux said.
"Heck, I didn't know that," Mr. Jacobson replied.
Mr. Lux continued researching after Mr. Jacobson's death with the aid of Mr. Jacobson's daughter, Kelly Treybig, who had a great deal of her dad's records
"I approached the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio," Mr. Lux said. "The director wasn't too impressed. So now I have all kinds of records and research, and I have proof."
"I believe that's the case," said Brett Stolle, a museum curator. "He's put together a pretty convincing narrative. We can't confirm that it was the first aircraft to reach 25 missions, but it looks promising that that's the case. It did before the Belle. ..."
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