Two aircraft immediately command attention as they sit in front of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. The first aircraft, an F-4C Phantom, was originally designed for use onboard Navy aircraft carriers. In 1962 the Air Force adopted a ground attack version of the F-4, which was used extensively in Vietnam. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The second aircraft, a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17A, was introduced in 1951 and went into action in Vietnam and in many of the African and Middle-Eastern conflicts of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. They were originally built as a subsonic, fighter-bomber designed to intercept straight and level enemy bombers. Once the U.S. introduced supersonic bombers, the MiG-17A was rendered obsolete on the front lines. This Russian built MiG-17A bears the distinctive insignia and camouflage pattern of the North Vietnamese Air Force. This aircraft is owned by the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
Behind the Museum in the Memorial Gardens is a B-47 Stratojet, a key aircraft used by the United States during the Cold War years that could fly at high altitudes to avoid detection. This aircraft was pivotal as a nuclear deterrent as it was able to be ready within minutes to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union, if necessary. This aircraft was America’s first swept-wing jet bomber and helped lead to the modern jet airliner. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
The Prelude to World War II exhibit chronicles post World War I Germany, the conditions that allowed Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party to win the support of the German public, and his ambitions for Europe to be dominated by the Third Reich. Original uniforms and artifacts brought back by American soldiers after the war help bring this exhibit to life. The use of propaganda by all countries is also discussed as well as the essential role it played in swaying public opinion. In August 1940, once Hitler and the Axis powers conquered the majority of Europe and Northern Africa, he turned his attention to the United Kingdom – which stood alone against the formidable German war machine. The Battle of Britain exhibit highlights the fortitude of the British people who were able to “Keep Calm and Carry On” under the leadership of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A short film in our Battle of Britain Theater gives an overview of the importance of the Battle of Britain, how they were able to remain free, and why this accomplishment would have a direct impact on the United States. While Germany was wreaking havoc in Europe and Africa, its ally Japan escalated its own campaign of conquest in the Pacific Theatre. The Day of Infamy exhibit examines the events surrounding the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, launching the United States into World War II. After the Germans and the Italians declare war on the United States on December 11, 1941, the U.S. and its allies must come up with a plan to win the war with fronts on opposite sides of the globe.
The Combat Gallery houses original aircraft, engines, and scale models as well as a multitude of exhibits. Inside the gallery is the Museum’s very own B-17 Flying Fortress, which is being restored as the “City of Savannah”. The original “City of Savannah” was the 5,000th airplane to have been processed through Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah during World War II. Once completed, the new “City of Savannah” will be the finest static display of a B-17 in the world.
A second authentic aircraft is the Boeing-Stearman PT Kaydet. The PT-17 was one of the most widely used training aircraft in the United States.
The Combat Gallery is also home to the nose piece of the “Fightin’ Sam” B-24 Liberator. B-24 Liberators were flown in the Eighth Air Force’s Second Air Division. Our Second to None exhibit outlines the outstanding accomplishments of the Second Air Division.
Other features of the Combat Gallery include a P-51 Mustang model, a German Me-109 model, a Crosley CT-3 Pup vehicle, and the Ploesti Diorama, illustrating one of the most daring and dangerous bombing missions of World War II. Interactive exhibits in the Combat Gallery include a Navigator Exhibit, a Gunner Exhibit where visitors practice shooting down enemy fighters with a .50 caliber machine gun, and the Deenethorpe Diorama which illustrates how an average farm in East Anglia was transformed into an airfield during World War II.
The POW exhibit explores daily life for those airmen captured by the Germans, including an examination of their treatment and living conditions. A display case features “Sam’s Blanket” sewn by prisoner of war, Samuel Miller, while he was recovering in a German hospital. His blanket features 121 insignia patches from uniforms of different countries that he was able to stitch together while recovering. Also displayed are artifacts showcasing POWs ingenuity and craftsmanship, including pilots wings crafted out of melted cooking pots and a cup made from an oleomargarine container.
In the Honoring the Eighth exhibit, there are collections of artifacts donated from various World War II Eighth Air Force groups. Rich in stories of heroism and memorabilia, visitors view some of the personal, treasured items of men of the Eighth. Following the display cases is a brief film about the contributions of the Eighth Air Force in the Mighty Eighth Theatre.
The Hall of Valor exhibit honors a number of outstanding individuals who served with the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Included are the aces, the Commanders of the Eighth Air Force, and those awarded the Medal of Honor. These men paved the way to an end to the war.
The exhibit of World War II Cambridge American Military Cemetery & Memorial at Madingley, England is a fitting memorial to all Eighth Air Force personnel who died between 1942–1945. The 8th Air Force alone suffered an estimated 26,000 combat fatalities. The Museum’s Roll of Honor holds names of those who were killed while serving in the 8th Air Force during those years.
The Art Gallery displays paintings from the world’s leading aviation artists. Currently, the “Permanent Collection Exhibit” selected by guest curator, Keith Ferris, features 64 paintings by artists from around the world who specialize in aerospace subjects.
After the German Army surrendered at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Rheims, France, the Allies officially declared the next day, 8 May 1945, as Victory in Europe or V-E Day. The Lights Come on Again exhibit features photographs and memorabilia that show the joy in England as the Brits uproariously celebrated a return to peacetime and the end of almost 6 years of nighttime bombing of their homeland. On display is the Nazi flag that flew above POW camp VIIA in Moosburg, Germany. This flag was taken down on 29 April 1945 and replaced with the American flag when the U.S. 14th Armored Division liberated the camp. It is signed by over 100 POWs and their signatures and comments are a testament of American the spirit.
Although finished fighting in Europe, America and other Allied countries were not done with the war. It would take several more months of brutal fighting and two atomic bombs to force Japan to accept unconditional surrender.
On 15 August 1945 Allied nations around the world celebrated Victory in Japan or V-J Day and the end of World War II. Japan signed the instrument of surrender on 2 September 1945 aboard the Battleship Missouri in the presence of fifty Allied generals and other officials including General Douglas MacArthur. World War II had ended.
The Post World War II exhibit provides an insight into the role of the Eighth Air Force through the present day. Artifacts include a McDonnell ADM-20C “Quail” Aerial Decoy Missile on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, a section of a B-52 vertical stabilizer, and a MiG 21 nose section and cockpit.
The Fly Girls of World War II exhibit is devoted to women in aviation, especially the role of the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. This exhibit incorporates original artifacts, video and audio stations with narrations from oral history accounts, and photo enlargements.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are surrounded by large format images of Avenger Field and a dedication wall commemorating the lives of the 38 WASP who perished while serving their country. An introduction to the earliest women aviators, including Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, and Harriet Quimby, provides the visitor with the pre-World War II history of women and flight.
The bulk of the exhibit follows the story of the WASP, the first women military pilots in American history. As envisioned by aviatrix Jackie Cochran, the WASP organization allowed females to complete domestic military flying duties, thus releasing males to complete combat-related operations overseas.
Fly Girls of World War II follows the development of the WASP organization under Jackie Cochran and Nancy Love, the training programs at Avenger Field, and the performing of essential flight duties during the war. The latter part of the exhibition touches on the post-war lives of the WASP and other groundbreaking women aviators after World War II.
The Memorial Gardens are a quiet testament to the cherished memory of our veterans. Stone walls and granite monuments with the names of those who valiantly served their country line the winding paths around a dramatic reflecting pool; each having been designed and funded by veterans and their families. Overlooking this reflecting pool is a life size bronze statue of 351st Bomb Group navigator, Ben Love created by sculptor Simon Maxwell. Sculpted with great realism and standing in his bronze pinks, A-2 jacket, and crusher, this statue becomes a symbol for all who served in the Eighth Air Force during World War II.