December 18, 2005
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 and a B-24. Then you go out with the maintenance crew to make sure the aircraft is ready for flight. After that, it’s off you go into the wild blue yonder. They have what they call the Immersion Theater, which has about six different screens, and you’re right in the middle of them, flying a bombing mission to destroy the oil refiners in Germany. Other than 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 they have it set 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 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 five more missions they would promote him to captain, which would have made him the youngest captain in history, as he had just turned 19. He declined their offer and rotated home to enjoy life until he died in 1989.
Another thing we found fascinating was the Memorial Garden. It’s set up like an old English garden with some broken gates and small brick walls. Each plane had its own name and logo painted on it, pretty much whatever the pilot wanted. In the garden they have carved stone, granite, or marble plaques with the name and 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.
In 1996, General Jimmy Dolittle’s son had his tombstone moved from Arlington to the garden.
From journal A Day with the Mighty Eighth