HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- A new interactive exhibit highlighting the 8th Air Force was recently added to the Hill Aerospace Museum’s extensive and informative display collection.
“Our mission here at the museum is to tell the history story of Hill Air Force Base, while focusing on Utah’s significant contributions to the Air Force and aviation in general, which predominately began with World War II,” said Justin Hall, Hill Aerospace Museum curator.
The 8th Air Force was activated in May 1942, and consisted of thousands of aircraft and personnel, due to the size and scope of its mission, primarily in charge of all the day time bombing throughout Europe during WWII.
Based in England, ‘The Mighty Eighth’ had a total strength of more than 200,000 Airmen, operating P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft, in conjunction with B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and B-29 Superfortress bombers.
By mid-1944 they had become the greatest air armada in history, with a large number of aircraft groups, each with multiple squadrons including ground crews and support equipment, allowing it to commit more than 2,000 bombers and 1,000 fighters to a single mission against enemy targets.
This new exhibit has allowed the museum to accomplish many pre-existing goals by consolidating previous held independent WWII artifacts, while also more clearly defining the big picture context of how Hill AFB, Wendover Field and the Utah community as a whole, played a major role in the war effort.
“We had a number of autonomous WWII displays and exhibits related to different individuals who served during the conflict, but with no real connection between any of them,” said Hall. “I started looking into how we could better utilize these artifacts and found a common theme, which was that they all fell under the 8th Air Force.”
Once this tie was made, it became much easier for the museum staff to make the connection more explicit for visitors, showing how bomb groups were associated with each other and how pre-existing individual stories and artifacts fit in to the larger picture.
Hall said this particular display allowed for an expanded narrative to include many equally important, but often overlooked stories, such as the role women played in executing the big maintenance mission here at Hill, and the 388th Bomb Group, which trained at Wendover Field during the war, and eventually transformed into the installation’s resident 388th Fighter Wing.
The original display concept is credited to a local family, who had approached the museum with the idea, as a way to honor their father Leon Packer, from Brigham City, Utah. Packer attended Weber College and then joined the Army Air Force, and proudly served four years as a B-24 pilot with a bomber group under 8th AF throughout most of WWII.
The exhibit center piece is a B-17 wing panel with more than 180 veteran signatures, which were donated by the 384th Bomb Group History Association.
The majority of display's expense was covered by generous private donations and artifact contributions, from the Packer family and 384th Bomb Group History Association.
“We are very excited to have this exhibit completed and it’s kind of fun to see and hear people’s reactions,” said Hall. “Watching visitors who are really engaged with genuine interest in the artifacts and stories, is extremely rewarding.”