This year is the 25th anniversary of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler. That is but one of the many reasons the organization, along with other Savannah-area veteran’s groups, is honoring service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice in a number of commemorations and ceremonies slated for Memorial Day weekend.
The centerpiece of the weekend is Flags of the Fallen: 26,000 Flags | One Mission. This unique flag garden displays a 48-star American flag for each of the 26,000 lives lost by the Mighty Eighth during World War II. The experience is open to the public from May 27, until Memorial Day, May 31.
The use of flags to commemorate war casualties originated in Boston for a unit with ties to that city akin to Savannah’s bonds with the Mighty Eighth. The practice spread from there, often used to salute Viet Nam War casualties. In this version, the “One Mission” is in reference to victory, which the unit played a profound role in despite such heavy losses. As many know, the Mighty Eighth was activated in Savannah. Additionally, many of the bombers flown by the unit were built at Hunter Army Airfield.
On opening day Thursday, honored guests include two of the oldest living members of the Mighty Eighth. Both Lt. Col. Crawford Hicks, 100, who spent a year as a POW after his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down over enemy territory, and his junior counterpart Maj. John “Lucky” Luckadoo, 99, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight, will appear and address the crowd. Others scheduled to speak include National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force President and CEO Scott Loehr and John O’Neil, the museum’s chairman of the board.
On Friday at the museum, the day begins at 9 a.m. with an assembly of prayer, the national anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance. From 10 a.m. to noon, and 1–3 p.m., all 26,000 names of the fallen members of the Mighty Eighth will be read aloud by four groups of volunteers simultaneously. This practice has been used during Holocaust and 9/11 memorial services, and many attribute its roots to the quote, “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?” by British author Terry Pratchett.
Saturday will feature a speech in the museum rotunda by U.S. Army veteran Jerry McLaughlin, author of “D-Day + 60 Years” and “B-17 Flying Fortress Restoration.” McLaughlin, a Savannah resident, retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2003 after thirty-years with the Federal government. He ended his career as a member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service. In 2005, McLaughlin began volunteering at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force and was selected as project manager for the refurbishment of a retired 1945 B-17 sitting in storage for more than 20 years. The history of the aircraft and the story of the extraordinary men who flew it, as well as those involved in the six-year effort to restore it to its original glory, are detailed in his second book. The B-17 is one of several airplanes on display at the museum.
The Saturday speech will reflect upon a change that altered the trajectory of the war when the original B-17 Flying Fortress was replaced by the superior B-24 Liberator. The upgraded plane had longer reach and could carry more bombs, but it initially had fighter support far inferior to the Germans. The deployment of the P-51 fighter, which could fly as high and as long as the bombers, began to rout the Luftwaffe. The combination of the new fighter-bomber strategy profoundly decreased the Fighting Eighth’s casualty rate and allowed the unit to change the war.
In the museum’s chapel, Gold Star families will be recognized on Sunday. Like the Friday event, names of the fallen with connection to attendees will be read aloud. Additionally, Cmdr. O.C. Fowler, a retired U.S. Navy aviator will speak about the Gold Star Program. A multi-denominational spiritual service replete with bagpipes will also be held.
On Memorial Day itself, the museum will host a morning ceremony for the first time ever. Later in the day in the rotunda, retired Lt. Col. Douglas Andrews, a member of the museum board, will deliver remarks on the meaning of Memorial Day, “What it means to the living and the dead.”
For information, visit mightyeighth.org