When I was growing up, my Uncle Harold Taylor was a really big deal to the younger cousins. Not just because he’d been a fighter pilot in World War II and a POW, but because his P-51D Mustang – named for our mother’s cousin our Aunt Mary Nell – was one of the decal options in the MPC 1/72 Mustang kit.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned more from our cousin Sally about their history – how Mary Nell Durie of Waco was visiting her aunt Emma and Charlie and their daughters Lucy Ann and Charlotte (my mother) in Marshall when she was introduced to local boy Harold Taylor by Lucy Ann’s friend Mary Jane Rickles (later Armstrong), and during the war while flying with the 317th Fighter Squadron of famed 325th Fighter Group he named his P-51D “Mary Nell.” (No word whether his prior mount – a P-47 – was named for someone else).
After the war they were married, with Harold’s best friend Sam Hall serving as his best man, just as Harold had done for Sam in February of 1946. The photo below is from my grandparents’ album from 1946. (The lady on my grandparents’ porch is my great-grandmother, Lucy Potter Kleypas, who was apparently also visiting from Waco).
Coincidentally, Mary Nell came from a family which spent a lot of time with horses – next to the above picture of her with Harold in my grandparents’ scrapbook is this.
No word whether this is a “mustang.” (Clearly it’s in a dappled camo scheme, though).
Thirty years later when Sam was elected to Congress from Marshall, Harold went to work for him in his Marshall district office, using an office downstairs in what is now the magistrate judge’s chambers.
Finally, my junior year of high school in 1981 I had a chance to interview Harold about his service in World War II for a history class project. But when Mother called him, he didn’t want to talk about his service, and had Congressman Hall call me on a Sunday afternoon so I could interview him instead.
That wouldn’t be the last time I talked to Sam Hall, however. Ten years later I went into his office – in the same federal building in Marshall that Harold had worked out of – as a third year Baylor law student to interview for a job as one of his law clerks after I graduated. Sitting on the couch in his office was … Uncle Harold. “I don’t need to ask you any questions,” Judge Hall told me, closing the folder Sue Jordan had made on me for him. “I know more about you than you know about yourself.” And he did. At that point he’d known my family over half a century, including in Harold’s case even before they “were” part of my family.
And five years after that, when Harold heard I was running for city commission he called me and gave me some good advice. “Do what’s right,” he told me. “And don’t do anything else else.” I still have those notes. And I still didn’t think to ask him about his wartime service.
And of course we saw Mary Nell at family reunions for many, many years until she passed recently. Shortly after we took this picture (at which time I explained to budding aviation nut Parker that she was famous and I showed her a picture of the MPC kit of her Mustang) she sent me a nice note (which I also still have).
And while we’re at it, here’s Mary Nell’s recipe for cornbread, taken from my grandmother’s files. You don’t need a bag from the grocery store.
Airfix New Tool P-51D
But back to modeling. I built one of the MPC Mustangs when I was growing up, and haven’t built a P-51 since then, but have always wanted to build a really good Mary Nell Mustang in my preferred scale of 1/72. I don’t know what the best Mustang kit is in 1/72, but I’m always looking forward to building Airfix’ new tool kits, and when I saw this one, I picked it up. I found some decals that included the Mary Nell several years ago, and have been working on my modeling (especially airbrushing) skill since then. After blasting through three Sea Blue carrier planes in recent weeks and studying some online forums on Mustang modeling I decided it was time.
I did not know at the time I got the model that Harold’s P-51 did not have the tail fillet, but it was a simple matter to remove it from the Airfix kit. I also chose the flaps down options, which is a nice touch.
Puttied wing seams
One of the peculiarities of P-51 construction is that many of the wing seams were filled with putty and sanded smooth, then painted aluminum.
While it’s a subject of heated debate to what extent those seams would have opened back up and become visible in service, I thought it was appropriate to putty them in on my model and sand them down as well so the wing had a different appearance from the rest of the aircraft. So my wing has significantly fewer seams than the kit indicated. But more than on the attached drawing, since research indicated that the outer wing segments were removed for shipping – so those seams should still be present.
Bare Aluminum / Painted Aluminum
The Mustang’s fuselage and most control surfaces were bare aluminum, but as I noted, most of the wing was primed, puttied, sanded and painted aluminum. I am not quite to the point of using true metalizer paints, so I opted for a (theoretically) metallic silver for the fuselage and plain aluminum for the wing – both by Vallejo. But there was no visible difference between the two, so I topcoated the fuselage after adding one drop of Steel (to 10 of aluminum), and topcoated the wing after adding two drops of light gray (also to 10 of aluminum). So the difference is subtle, but it’s there now. And I went back and hand-colored some panels.
I used the Eagle Strike set, and they were terrific. Thin but plenty durable, and matched up well with the new tool Airfix tail. Requiring the modeler to paint the tail yellow was a very good decision. Also notable was the decision to provide the fuselage numbers as a separate black decal that went over a red base, thus providing a tiny red outline. The instructions leave a little to be desired, but I was able to puzzle most of it out.
I did object to their notation that the Mary Nell’s pilot Lt. Taylor was “KIA” 2/22/45. In fact, Harold’s plane lost coolant over Munich but he was able to reach the ground safely. Unfortunately, if the accounts I have are accurate, he was severely beaten by SS before being taken into custody as a POW. His injuries were not minor – when I was clerking for Judge Hall he related when he took Harold to the doctor after the war for treatment of a wound in his back. When the doctor cut it open, hair “billowed out” Judge Hall said, along with a horrible stench. Hogan’s Heroes this was not.
So I’m happy to finally have a Mary Nell in my collection. It sits on a shelf not too far from its wartime Luftwaffe opponents, but with the picture of Harold and Mary Nell behind it to remind me of the family connection.