Col. Frank Kurtz, USAF (ret), came to town yesterday to meet an old war buddy - the B-17 Swoose I that he had flown, while becoming America's most decorated World War II pilot, in bombing missions over the Pacific and Europe during the 1940s.
Along to witness the reunion was his actress daughter, Swoosie, who is named after the plane which she hadn't seen since she was 5 years old.
"I think I recognize it," said Swoosie, as she and her father and a group of friends wandered through the huge Smithsonian Institution hangar in Silver Hill, Md, where old planes are repaired before they go on display.
"There she is," Kurtz murmured almost to himself as he spied the battered iron gray hulk of the B-17. He lovingly patted the body of the ship, then stood, silent, staring at a point on the plane where he and his crew had long ago signed their names.
"It was a very special plane," Kurtz said, explaining that the ship had taken part in a record transpacific ferry flight of 35 bombers from the U.S. to the Philippines just two months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Swoose, along with a fleet of other B-17s, was severely damaged when the Japanese attacked Clark Field in Manila. However, it and several other planes were reassembled from the damaged parts of other ships. After that the plane was called "The Swoose," a reference to a popular song called "Alexander the Swoose" and the lyrics "He's half swan and he's half goose."
Kurtz now lives in North Hollywood where, as an executive with General Telephone Co. of California, he gives "nostalgia talks" on aviation and the Olympics.(He was on two Olympic diving teams during the 1930s.) He reminisced yesterday about what it was like to fly during the war against German pilots.
"We would be flying in a group of hundreds of planes and then you'd see these little, black planes come up behind you," he said. "They'd be coming fast. Then they'd swing around in front of us and come stright at us, dipping their wings in and out of our planes, firing all the time. Anybody who said he wasn't scared at that moment must have been psychotic."
Kurtz's numerous missions made him and the Swoose's crew famous. And when his daughter was born in Omaha, newspaper and wire reporters, noting that "the second Swoose has landed," wanted to know what kurtz's wife, Margaret, had planned to name her.
The reporters suggested "Swoosie."
"Some long-eared nurse overheard them and put "Swoosie" on the birth certificate," Kurtz said. "We decided to keep it."
Swoosie, who is performing in the Arena Stage production of "A History of the American Film" (the reason her father was in the town in the first place), said the name never bothered her.
"It didn't help in school, though," she said, explaining that because her father was in the Air Force, she attended 17 schools before she got to high school. "I always arrived right in the middle of the school year and a name like Swoosie didn't exactly make you friends right away."
She said the name is now an asset since she is beginning to be known professionally. There are only occasional moments when having the name Swoosie is a handicap.
"On telegrams and talking to people on the telephone, it gets mangled," she said. "I've taken to answering to "Susie" rather than explain my name. And for some reason, people always want to spell it with a "z".
"Maybe I should do a song like Liza Minnelli. You know, "Liza" with a 'z' and Swoosie with an 's'."