Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum Anniversary - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/19/03

Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum Anniversary

The Mighty Eighth Air Force Heritage Museum celebrated its seventh anniversary to coincide with Armed Forces Day this Saturday. The day started with a stirring memorial service in the new Chapel of the Fallen Eagles. People came to remember the men and women of the military who faithfully served and made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

The day's celebrations didn't end there. Events took place all day as dozens of veterans and their families visited the museum. WTOC spoke with the founder of the Mighty Eighth, Maj. Gen. Lew Lyles, about the museum's beginnings and his experiences in World War II.

"I finished flying school the day before Pearl Harbor and was commissioned two days later," he recalled.

Starting as a cadet, he was assigned to the Eighth Air Force, which had the greatest loss of any unit in the war. But he was so busy fighting he didn't even know how many men had been lost.

"I didn't realize what the sacrifices were during the war," he told us.

When the war was over, he was in charge of giving out the awards and medals to all of the men who did not stay to receive theirs.

"It became such a horrendous task, I had a terrible time," he said.

So he wanted to find a way to recognize these fighters and inform people about the Eighth Air Force, which is why he worked hard to found this museum. Maj. Gen. Lyles was such an integral part of founding the museum, his touch is everywhere. There's even a rotunda named after him. Over the past seven years, the museum has become a huge success among vets and current military.

"It's not a mausoleum, it's not a dank, dark place, it's alive and vibrant and tells a wonderful story," said Col. Ed Wexler with the 165th Airlift Wing.

And Maj. Gen. Lyles says he is pleased with its progress.

"it's meeting its responsibilities now and growing," he said.

Lyles says the Mighty Eighth was recently chosen as the premier place for children around the country to learn about World War II.

Reported by: Kim Angelastro, kangelastro@wtoc.com

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