The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, has a remarkable collection on display. Most notably, it houses the B-29 bomber Enola Gay from the first atomic mission, and the Discovery space shuttle.
Those two are quite the sight to see, but being a gun guy, I was drawn to something I wasn’t expecting to see: a Winchester Model 12 shotgun.
Mounted in a special exhibit case dedicated to General Henry H. Arnold, the gun was a special presentation to him from Winchester in 1943 (perhaps coinciding with his 4-star promotion). Bearing serial number 1,000,000 and engraved with the “prop and wings” insignia, this high grade gun with a presentation-grade stock was the same model used by aerial gunners during WWII, albeit theirs were less fancy.
Arnold had quite the career, including a tremendous amount of “firsts” and most every honor that could be given to a leader of his stature.
His initial aerial training came directly from the Wright brothers in 1911. He honed his chops in WWI and encouraged the development of both the B-17 and B-24 bombers during the intra-war years.
As the commanding general of the Army Air Forces during WWII, he saw its expansion from less than 25,000 men and fewer than 4,000 aircraft to almost 2.5 million men with 75,000 aircraft. After the war, he was promoted to general of the Air Force, the first person to hold that five-star rank.
If you’re ever in the DC-area, be sure to swing by the museum and check it out.