National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force recounts history, honors fallen members

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 6:04 AM EDT|Updated: May. 29, 2023 at 11:53 AM EDT
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POOLER, Ga. (WTOC) - Memorial Day weekend is all about remembering those that have lost their lives serving our country, whether that be in the Army, Navy, Marines Air Force, or the Coast Guard.

And for many in the Savannah area, this day holds a particular significance because one of the most influential Air Force units in World War II originated in Savannah.

You’ve probably heard the name Mighty Eighth at some point if you’ve lived around here, or even been to the museum off Highway 80. But just the name doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Mighty Eighth went from a grassroots military organization to helping pave the way for victory in World War II, with thousands of men giving their life in the process.

“Seven men, one jeep, and no airplanes got together at an armory in Downtown Savannah to map out the plans for the strategic bombing of Germany during World War II,” said Pete Nichols, Communication Manager for the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.

Those men, who met at what’s now Betty Bombers, didn’t know it yet, but they were forming the very strategy that would take out Germany’s Luftwaffe, and would also be the precursor for modern precision bombing.

But things didn’t start off without some issues. Conditions in the planes were very dangerous.

In the early days, Nichols says there was about a one in four chance that you wouldn’t return from a mission.

The planes were also not pressurized, so men would have to take oxygen and wear heavy coats and gloves to withstand the negative temperatures.

It was brutal, Nichols says, but the men were able to find silver linings.

“They would take powdered milk, mix it up with water, mix it up with a little bit of chocolate, put it in a bucket, bring it up on their flights, that would freeze it and they would have ice cream. It was kind of ingenious.”

Through the rough conditions and high numbers of casualties, the men of the Mighty Eighth persevered and were eventually able to strike a fatal blow to the Luftwaffe, crippling the Nazi’s air power.

“It helped win the war. It helped pave the way for the invasion of D-Day, and then by the time the Battle of the Bulge came out, they just wiped the Luftwaffe into non-existence.”

Nichols says that at it’s height, the Mighty Eighth Air Force had 350,000 men, but lost 26,000. The majority of those were men between the ages of 18-21.

To honor them, the museum has planted 26,000 48-star flags, a sea of red, white, and blue.

“You have to honor their sacrifice and what they did, so that’s why we plant these flags.”

The Museum will also be having a Memorial Day Wreath Laying Ceremony at 11 a.m. All are welcome to come and honor those that passed away while serving.