The Mighty Eighth Army Air Force began on 19 January 1942 and was activated on 28 January 1942 at the Chatham Armory in Savannah, Georgia. Located at Hunter Field, Colonel Asa N. Duncan was the first commander. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed about a month and a half earlier.
Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker took the Eighth Air Force Bomber Command Headquarters to England the next month and located at High Wycombe, about 40 miles west of London and on the road to Oxford. In May 1942 Command of the 8th Air Force was assumed by Major General Carl A. `Tooey' Spaatz. He established the 8th Air Force Headquarters at Bushy Park (Teddington, Middlesex), 15 miles west southwest of the center of London on 25 June 1942.
Shortly after the birth of the 8th AAF at Savannah, one of our own, Joseph A. `Joe' Stenglein, 1st Lieutenant and pilot, in the 8th Bomber Command was on the way to the United Kingdom and in charge of 1,000 officers and men making the transition from Georgia into the United Kingdom as staff for the 8th Air Force . Joe knew the High Wycombe Abbey well as the main Headquarters building of the 8th AAF. There were times when socially he was over at Maidenhead in the home of a British governmental minister with Joe's friend, Pleasant J. McNeel. McNeel later, as did Joe, joined the staff of the 325th Recon Wing. Joe served at the Widewing headquarters in the London area and then became Commanding Officer of the organization which was to become the 25th Bomb Group at Watton, north of London.
General James H. Doolittle assumed command of the 8th AAF on 6 January 1944.
Before 1945 rolled around and the war in Europe was over (May 7, 1945) with the surrender of the Germans, approximately 350,000 officers and men had served in the 8th AAF during the three year or so period in which the Americans participated in the European Theater of Operations.
The British had suffered the war many more years, having had various degrees of involvement from 1939 on. Many of their men had gone overseas to distant lands, while the Americans had left the United States which had directly seen little war and were now seeing overseas duty in the British homeland. Some of the children took to the Yanks with their familiar comeon of `Any gum chum?' The older Britons complained that the Yanks were `Overpaid, over-fed, oversexed and over here'. As the Americans fraternized with the British women, they also retaliated by saying to the Britons, `Britons are underpaid, undersexed and under Eisenhower'.
Our brash warm beer drinking, cigar smoking and gum chewing G.I.s were basically a friendly bunch even as they communicated with the hungry Britons living with rationing, war weariness and a longing for their own troops away in the wars. The Britons eventually felt the Yanks to be less of a threat and invited them into their homes. Their daughters dated them and many married them, 50,000 to be nearly exact!
General James H. Doolittle left the U.K. Base for Okinawa with the 8th Air Force flag in July of 1945 with the intent of bringing the 8th Air Force there for the final thrust on Japan. Various combat crews returned to the States following their prescribed number of missions for their tour of duty. The ground crews remained from the time of their arrival to the United Kingdom until it became possible for them to return home. The dropping of the atom bombs (August 6 and 9) on Japan brought the war (Japan accepted terms of surrender on September 2) in the Pacific to a close and the 8th AAF personnel did not have to transfer en mass to the Pacific Theater of Operations.
Major General William E. Kepner, relatively little known probably to many G.I.s was the 8th AAF commander 10 May 1945 and Major General Westside T. Larson assumed command on 21 June 1945. General James H Doolittle returned on 19 July 1945 to assume command.
Units were sent to the States for deactivation, officers and men were temporarily assigned to some units going home as an official means of moving them from the UK to the Zone of the Interior (Army talk for the United States), some stayed for purposes of closing bases or carrying out other assignments, such as housekeeping of base closures. Some units and individual officers and men were sent to the Continent for follow-up chores, such as bomb assessment surveys and photographic details, reproduction and interpretation.
Many 8th AAF officers and men were missing in action and never accounted for as to their whereabouts. The 8th AAF suffered 26,000 deaths out of the 350,000 officers and men. (The U.S. Navy suffered 37,000 deaths out of the 4.1 million in the WW II Navy.) Many bodies were exhumed and returned to the U.S. at the request of families and many families opted to allow their loved ones to remain in U.S. Military and other cemetaries in the United Kingdom and the Continent. A number of prisoners of war from the 8th AF needed medical treatments both in the European Theater and then in the United States. A considerable number needed various kinds of rehabilitation. Many of the veterans of the ETO chose to remain in the service, some chose to remain in Europe, some with the women they had married and others were employed in that Theater.
Whereas probably the bulk of the living from the original 350,000 chose civilian life, many chose the military as a career. Some upon entering civilian life, opted to return to the military service.
The 8th Air Force just did not quit. When the Army Air Force became a separate service from the Army on 18 September 1947, the 8th Air Force continued and currently remains an effective strategic force . It did not quit. It just changed hands! An estimated 650,000 have served in it since WW II!
Today men and women continue the fight for ilberty and peace serving in the 8th Air Force now headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.
The Eighth Air Force Historical Society, founded in 1975 by an original 8th Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. John Woolnough, serves as a central organization for its individual State Chapters and Wings.