Community spirit and patriotism ran high throughout the City of Sparks during the Second World War. In terms of per capita, Sparks topped amongst the highest in the figure of sending its sons off to war. The people of Sparks made generous contributions to the USO, bought war savings stamps and bonds along with scrap drives, kitchen fats and weapons collections. When the Fifth War Bond Drive began, the City put forth one more effort which raised enough for the first purchase of a plane. As written by Former Sparks Mayor D.J. Fordin (who was elected Mayor from 1939 to 1947 and from 1951 to 1953), “This little village of about 6,200 residents raised $600,000 in bonds which led to the naming of a B-25J Bomber by Boeing in the City’s Honor”. When you adjust for inflation $600,000 raised by the people of Sparks during a bond drive is the equivalent of $7,945,534 in today’s dollars.
According to an article in the March 16, 1945 Sparks Tribune, a meeting in late 1944, sparked the idea for Sparks to participate in the war bond drive. However, this idea was probably spurred into being when editor Edwin Mulcahy revved up the spirits of Sparks residents in September, 1943 by writing that the Union Pacific Railroad had sold enough bonds to launch a “Spirit of the Union Pacific”, and he opinioned that the Southern Pacific Railroad company could do the same.
The first month of the bond sale was slow until July 1st when businessman Carl Shelly spearheaded a big open air meeting in the park across from the Bank of Sparks building on B Street. Throughout the bond drive the Bank of Sparks stayed open late to facilitate bond purchases and sales began to roll. “Buy a Bomber” became the rallying cry for the people of Sparks. The rigorous buying frenzy that followed saw the City of Sparks go “over the top”. The Boeing Company took interest in the project and informed Sparks officials that as soon as word came, they would inscribe the name, “Spirit of Sparks” on the fuselage of a bomber.
The first Mayor Fodrin learned that a plane had been inscribed with the City’s name on it was on March 12, 1945 when Lieutenant Jack Kenyon’s wife wrote a letter to him from her home in Los Angeles. By that time, the aircraft had flown more than 84 bombing missions in the European War Theater. Most of these missions by the “Spirit of Sparks” took place through the Brenner Pass, a lifeline of German Forces in Northern Italy. The “Spirit of Sparks” also flew in other missions over Southern Europe during the war. Lieutenant Jack Kenyon was assigned to the aircraft on January 1, 1945. By March, he and his had flown 30 successful missions without any casualties and were rotated out from the aircraft.
It was learned in 2000, that the aircraft had been assigned to the 321st Bomb Squadron and flew more than 150 successful missions over Italy from its base Fano, Italy during the war. The final officer to fly the “Spirit of Sparks” was Captain McEldery. In May, 1945, Captain McEldery was giving the next flight officer a flight examination and after two hours in the air, it was time for landing practice. The airfield at Fano had had power lines over the approach to the field. A pilot had to “come in high and drop down fast”. Unfortunately for the flight officer in training he came in high and dropped too fast on the approach. Both wings were instantly wrinkled and damaged during the landing, thus ending a very successful military career for the “Spirit of Sparks”. The aircraft was eventually scrapped and used to further the effort in Europe during the war. Captain McEldery also recalled a mission with the Spirit of Sparks during the war on March 10, 1945. Captain McEldery and his crew were assigned to take out a railroad over the Po River in Brenner Pass in Northern Italy. During the mission two of the planes in his formation were shot down, but he and the crew of the “Spirit of Sparks” were lucky and returned safely with only a few flak holes. “She always brought her crews home”, declared Captain McEldery.
A painting of the “Spirit of Sparks” is on display at the Sparks Heritage Museum located at 814 Victorian Avenue in Sparks. The painting was created and donated by Robert Schweitz, who flew 69 missions in the aircraft during the invasion of Italy in 1944 and 1945. The museum also displays a scaled model of the aircraft and photos of her and her crew so patrons can see just what the “Spirit of Sparks” looked like.
Excerpts for this entry were taken from the “Sparks Community Spirit Sparkles” article from the History of Sparks Centennial Edition book. The History of Sparks Centennial Edition book is available for purchase for $25 at the Sparks Heritage Museum; all proceeds from the book go to support the museum. For more information about the Sparks Heritage Museum please visit www.sparksmsueum.org or call 775-353-1144.
Photo description: BACK row left to right: 1st Lt. Jack Kenyon, pilot; 2nd Lt. Fred Williams, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. William Daniels, bomb navigator. FRONT row left to right: Francis Allen, radio runner; Glen Babcock, turret gunner and Earl Jenson, tail gunner. Photo courtesy of Sparks Heritage Museum.