The Mighty Eighth

B-47 Stratojet at the 8th AF Museum

If you are driving down to Florida along Interstate 95, you might see something amazing near Savannah, GA.  As long as you are not sleeping, it is hard to miss the Boeing B-47 Stratojet parked next to the highway.

The Stratojet sits in a garden as an exhibit at The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, one of the finest aviation museums in the nation.  The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum is not an average aviation museum; yes, it has airplanes, aviation hardware, and maps telling the story of World War II in Europe.  This museum, however, is very different from other aviation museums.

Chapel of the Fallen Eagles

For you see, this museum not only presents aircraft and aviation memorabilia for display, it tells the stories of the men and women who built, maintained, and manned the bombers.  As it turns out, their stories are more powerful than the airplanes they kept flying and flew into combat.

The Eighth Bomber Command became a living entity 53 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Army Air Corps officially activated the command in the National Guard Armory on Bull Street in Savannah.  First based at Hunter Field under the command of Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker, the command headquarters moved to England in February of 1942 to begin bombing missions against the Nazis in occupied Europe.

During the Eighth’s tenure in England, the name changed from the Eighth Bomber Command to the Eighth Air Force in February 1944.  The size of this numbered Air Force swelled to 200,000 and the estimate of all who served with the Eighth exceeds 350,000.  During its strongest, the Eighth Air Force was able to place more than 2000 B-17s and B-24s into the air with more than 1000 fighters to give them cover.
In the museum one can find accounts of the 17 men who won the Medal of Honor while serving in the Eighth Air Force.  There are other stories, too, such as accounts of the Eighth Air Force members who became prisoners of war after the Germans shot down their aircraft.  In addition, there are narratives of those who evaded capture and the reports of the civilians who risked their lives to help them.    

Stained glass window in the Chapel of the Fallen Eagles

The stories of all these men and women are very moving.  These are the people who literally saved the world.  Contained in the walls of this museum are the chronicles of how they accomplished this seemingly impossible objective.

Today, when you walk into the 90,000 square foot museum complex, you may find yourself greeted warmly by an elderly gentleman.  He will ask all about you, your family, and your visit to Savannah and the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum.  Then he will start telling you all about the Eighth Air Force and the exhibits.  A moment later, you will acquire the feeling he is doing more than reciting from a memorized script.

Today, many of the elderly gentlemen serving as docents in the museum once served as the mechanics, navigators, pilots, clerks, cooks, gunners, and bombardiers of the Eighth Air Force during World War II.

"Coming Home"

If you have a chance to visit the museum, you need to do so as soon as possible.  As time marches on, these wonderful guides of The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum are slowly leaving us to join their squadron mates who have already made their final post. 

© 2010 J. Clark

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