Wheaties planes still find use

I could hardly wait. I found myself checking the mailbox every day in eager anticipation. How many years has it been? Seventy-two?

Finally, it came. There it was – a hand-addressed white envelope about 8 by 11 inches and about a half inch thick. I hurriedly but carefully opened it and slid out its contents. They were just exactly as I remembered – 14 full-color exact reprints of the Jack Armstrong card model airplanes that I had so eagerly anticipated coming in the mail nearly three-quarters of a century ago (1944).

However, these had been packaged by the handicapped kids at Lutz School in Mount Clemens, Mich. The other difference was that, back then, I could order (read afford, or eat enough Wheaties to get) only one card model at a time, and that each order had to be accompanied by two Wheaties cereal box tops and, I think, a dime.

Back in 1944, the kids in the neighborhood – and some adults – carefully cut out these color-printed card models. What it took was to fold the fuselage and glue it, making sure that tab A fit into slot A, and so on until you had made the fuselage of a World War II fighter plane. A penny had to be glued into the nose for proper aerodynamic balance. After the details of the fuselage were completed came the tail feathers and the wing – both made of heavier stock.

There it was! It was a flyable, pretty decent-looking fighter plane that I couldn’t wait to take down the street to show off my feat of craftsmanship and airmanship to the other kids.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my model look as beautiful as the four-years-older Bill Rigsby could. He would shellac his model, and he would proudly show off his glistening model. Right across the street, Mrs. Hunter beautifully and expertly made her Wheaties models. Sons Billy and Gary were a little too young to build one.

Because I didn’t have shellac like Bill had, I decided to coat my model with LePage’s mucilage instead. The result was that the glasslike mucilage cracked into hundreds of little alligator skin patches that spoiled the appearance but not the flyability of my plane.

Throughout the time they were offered, I ordered as many of these little World War II models that I could. In all, 14 models of American, British, Russian, German and Japanese single-engine combat planes from World War II were produced. What I didn’t know until quite recently was that “in 1944 the General Mills Company, sponsors of the Jack Armstrong Radio Show, introduced this series of card models The makers of Wheaties gave thousands of these models to our servicemen while they recovered from their wartime injuries. The models flew so well that National Championship Contests were organized …”

These are the words of a Mr. Robert T. Fudold, who took it upon himself to make these wonderful old models available now, so that sentimentalists like me could once more go tripping down memory lane, and build all 14 of these warplanes of World War II.

By the way, I have built a couple of these models just recently, using the required heavier pre-1983 pennies and have sent packets of all 14 models to my sons in California and China to share with their kids.

My son in China said, “We didn’t have any American pennies minted before 1983, so we used a one jiao coin instead. Judging from the way the plane flies, this coin is a little too light, but that doesn’t stop Ming from enjoying the plane, much as you did 70 years ago and 10,000 miles away.” (Ming is my grandson.)

I just wonder, Mr. Fudold (or your successor), whether we could in some way make these Jack Armstrong Wheaties card models available to our disabled American veterans now. I believe these models could have the same therapeutic value to today’s disabled vets as they did so many decades ago.

columns@tribtoday.com