Thursday, November 3, 2005

A Day with the Mighty Eigth

We spent the better part of the day walking through the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. If you ever saw the movie “12 O’clock High” and who hasn’t, then you’ll know what this museum is all about. The movie was filmed on location with the Mighty Eighth and just about all the film footage in the movie is actual footage of the air battles. Probably 75% of the movie was taken from the experiences of the crewmembers of the Mighty Eighth. They have tons of exhibits and five different movies, the best part is a big room that is designed like the airfield in England that they flew out of. You start by entering the Nissen Hut (now called a Quonset hut) here you get a pre-flight briefing for your bombing mission in a B-17. They will also teach you the difference between a B-17 & a B-24. Then you go out with the maintance crew to make sure the aircraft is ready for flight, then it’s off you go into the wild blue yonder. They have what they call the “immersion theater” which has about 6 different screens and you’re right in the middle of them, flying a bombing mission to destroy the oil refiners in Germany. Other then a flight simulator this is as close as you’ll ever come to being Gregory Peck on his 25th mission. In another part of the building the have it set you where you’re a waist gunner with a 50 caliber trying to shot a bunch of MIG’s out of the sky. The guide we had was 8 years old when the war started, but his big brother was old enough to join up and he did. He was one of the original pilots and flew his plane and crew from the USA to England; he was also one of the first to fly 25 missions just to have them raise the number to 30 for rotation home. He flew his 30 missions and only lost two aircraft but also a few crew men, After his 30 missions (which he flew in 52 days) they told him if he flew 5 more missions they would promote him to Captain, which would have made him the youngest Captain in history, he had just turned 19. He declined their offer and rotated home to enjoy life until he died in 1989.

The other thing that we found fascinating was the Memorial Garden, It’s kind of set up like an old English garden with some broken gates and small brick walls, each plane had it’s own name and logo painted on it, pretty much whatever the Pilot wanted. In the garden the have carved stone, granite or marble plaques with the name & logo of the aircraft and names of the crew members for most of the planes, also listed behind the name is whether they were, KIA, MIA or POW. During WW II the Mighty Eighth had over 24,000 killed in action & over 28,000 taken as prisoners of war.
When the museum opened in 1996, General Jimmy Dolittle’s son had his tombstone moved from Arlington to a place in the garden here, he said it’s what his dad would have wanted.
They have a nice little English pub style restaurant in the corner of the museum for lunch.
Admission is $10.00 a head but well worth it, we’ve already decided that we’re going to stop again next year.

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