Lucky Leister leaving his 30-year dream job

Mike Leister, right, and Bob Corcoran were reserve air technicians when the Shoo Shoo Baby restoration began at the Air Mobility Command Museum. Learn more about the plane and museum in the special section in today’s edition. (Submitted photo/Air Mobility Command Museum)

Mike Leister, right, and Bob Corcoran were reserve air technicians when the Shoo Shoo Baby restoration began at the Air Mobility Command Museum. Learn more about the plane and museum in the special section in today’s edition. (Submitted photo/Air Mobility Command Museum)

DOVER — You might not immediately recognize the fuselage in the photo with today’s column as anything special.

And, you might not recognize the gentleman passing the tool up to the man in the pilot’s seat.

But it’s the Shoo Shoo Baby with Mike Leister at her side.

It was the plane and the man who gave wings to what is now the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base.

“That is a young, slender, fully haired red head named Mike Leister on the right,” Mr. Leister joked in a recent email when this editor asked him to confirm it was indeed him in the photo.

It reminds one of the line from Jamey Johnson’s country song, “You should have seen it in color.”

In a recent edition of the museum’s Hangar Digest, Gen. Walter Kross recalled an early visit to the old hangar where Shoo Shoo Baby was brought back to life over the course of 10 years and later flown to its resting place at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

From the Editor logo copy copyThe general was impressed with the volunteers’ restoration work.

“I remember one young-looking fellow with red hair, who guided me through the project, and the certainty he conveyed that this B-17 would actually fly in a few years,” said Gen. Kross. “As I left, I turned to (then-436th Airlift Wing commander) Jim Brewer and said, ‘Young Mike’s hair is red because there’s a fire in his belly that keeps it that color.’”

Mr. Leister was Gen. Kross’ choice to get a historical center started on the base.

That was 30 years ago.

The Air Mobility Command Museum celebrated with the Festival of Flight in late September.

In some ways, it was a celebration of the museum and how it has become the state’s top cultural attraction with more than 100,000 visitors a year.

It also was a celebration of the staff and volunteers who have rebuilt planes and built a unique collection of airlift and air refueling planes.

Mr. Leister is the only staff member who has been there from the beginning. Over the years, only a few other people have held full-time positions there.

“One thing I’m proud of is that all the management people here are former enlisted folks,” said Mr. Leister. “We learned this job on the job, and we have the best compliance rate of any museum in the Air Force system.

“And while we were at it, we didn’t make it a dry, boring museum.”

Mr. Leister is moving on to the pursuits of a retiree at the end of November.

The first goal, he said, is some time off, then he plans to go back to the Marshall Steam Museum in Hockessin and drive trains for them.

He and his wife of 14 years, Claudia, intend to do some traveling. And, he’ll volunteer at the Milford Museum where his wife, Claudia, is director.

And there will be visits with his two grandchildren.

You’ll likely still see him around the AMC Museum, too, serving as a tour guide mentor or helping with the volunteer program.

Does he consider himself a lucky man after 30 years at the AMC Museum?

“Oh, hell yes,” said Mr. Leister. “Within the military, to be able to build your own museum, yes, absolutely.”

***

amc-cover

The Delaware State News produced a special section on the Air Mobility Command Museum.

It tells the story of two key restorations — Shoo Shoo Baby and the C-47A Turf and Sport Special — that led to the museum and launched the museum.

It’s crazy to think that both were found abandoned in fields — one in France and the other in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Leister’s first look at the C-47A was when it was parked in the weeds at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Over the years, they brought it back to its World War II look, reunited it with its D-Day crew and made it the centerpiece of the museum.

Even today, it’s a work in progress.

One of the great experiences of my research and interviews for the special section was an hour-plus tour and conversation with Bob Leicht, a retired U.S. Army colonel with 27 years in the service, including special operations.

Part of his motivation, he said, is to pay tribute to the paratroopers who jumped from the C-47A on D-Day in 1944.

“There’s a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who jump out of perfectly good airplanes,” he said. “Yea, we understand the history and it’s all part of the psychological game. You know what it means to jump into a contested area and be surrounded immediately.”

Col. Leicht is originally from New Jersey and had considered it for retirement after his final job in Tennessee. He decided on Middletown after making a stop along U.S. 301 on a motorcycle trip with his son.

“I could be in New Jersey, but for my attachment to this museum,” Col. Leicht said. “I came here three years ago because an Air Force friend said one his buddies volunteers. So I came and checked it out and when I learned the history of this thing and the pivot point is that it dropped 82nd Airborne troops on D-Day. I’m an old 82nd Airborne soldier.”

***

Last week’s column featured a story on the military career of Teresa Connor and, in part, a description of her work to have a mural painted on a blast wall at the NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan.

This editor had reached out to the artist, Omaid Sharifi of the ArtLords.

He sent back a note that spoke of her efforts to get the mural done.

“She was the one who made it possible for ArtLords to paint inside the NATO Resolute Support HQ.” he wrote. “She was passionately trying hard to get the permissions and my team was encouraged to do more when we saw her commitment for this work.

“During the painting of the mural, she invited everyone to be part of this great experience, she never gave up.

“I hope to have her back,” he wrote. “Afghanistan needs Americans like Teresa.”

The mural featured a female police officer helping an Afghan woman with a child. Its message read, “Afghan Female Police, a force for good.”

“The location of the mural was very important as many Afghan security officials and NATO dignitaries visit the NATO-Resolute Support HQ and the first thing they see apart from guns and blast walls is our mural.”

If you missed the column, it can be found at delawarestatenews.net in the “From the Editor” section.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.