Hundreds of spectators, including World War II veterans, current military service members and museum volunteers, crammed into The Mighty Eighth Museum on January 28 as the museum dedicated the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber that’s been dubbed the City of Savannah.
Donated by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in January 2009, the aircraft arrived at the Museum in assorted pieces. It was the Museum’s goal to restore the bomber so that it would become the finest static display of any B-17 in the world. Finally restored to its full World War II combat configuration (complete with three working gun turrets), the B-17 City of Savannah now sits at the center of the institution’s Combat Gallery
More than 200 volunteers dedicated over 45,000 hours to restore the bomber; enlisting the help of aviation experts from local organizations, including the Georgia Air National Guard’s 165th Airlift Wing, Gulfstream Aerospace and Flight Safety International.
The Eighth Bomber Command was activated as part of the United States Army Air Forces on January 28, 1942 at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia. Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker took the headquarters to England the next month to prepare for its assignment of conducting high-altitude, daylight precision bombing missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Re-designated the 8th Air Force in February 1944, and under the leadership of such Generals as Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, the 8th Air Force became the greatest air armada in history.
By mid-1944, it had reached a total strength of more than 200,000 people, and it is estimated that more than 350,000 Americans served in the 8th during World War II. At its peak, the 8th Air Force could dispatch more than 2,000 four-engine B-17 and B-24 bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission. For these reasons, the 8th became known as “The Mighty Eighth”. The Mighty Eighth compiled an impressive record during the war, however, this achievement carried a high price. The 8th AF suffered one-half of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ casualties in World War II (47,000-plus casualties with more than 26,000 deaths; more than the entire Marine Corps).
It is our duty to remember.
Each year on February 8, a ceremony is held at the B-17 Susan Ruth Memorial to remember and honor its crew. This coming February 8th will commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Susan Ruth being attacked and shot down by two German Focke-Wulf fighters; crashing at La Distillerie (The Distillery Farm) in Macquenoise, Belgium just north of the French border.
This annual event is organized by the Association du Devoir de Mémoire de Momignies – Belgique (Duty to Remember Association of Momignies, Belgium). The Association was originally named the Fondation Belgo-Américaine (Belgian-American Foundation) when it was founded by the late Dr. Paul Delahaye in the mid-1980s. His eldest daughter, Christel, is now the President and carries on his legacy.
In the picture below are relatives of four of the crew members ( pilot Howard Snyder, co-pilot George Eike, bombardier Richard Daniels, and ball turret gunner, Louis Colwart) in front of the Memorial. Last fall, they traveled from the U.S. to attend the 70th Anniversary Celebrations of the Liberation of Belgium.
The story of the Susan Ruth crew and of the courageous Belgian patriots who risked their lives to help them are contained in my book, SHOT DOWN.
Discover the extraordinary true events of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth, that was shot down over the French/Belgium border on February 8, 1944. Buy the book today in our gift shop and bring it in on January 10, 2015 to have the author Steve Snyder sign it!