Eighth Air Force members coming in for reunion

Published 5:00 am Friday, September 15, 2006

The Eighth Air Force will land in Brookhaven this weekend tocelebrate achievements both post and present.

Millard Smith, a charter member of the Mississippi Chapter ofthe Eighth Air Force Historical Society and one of the hosts of theBrookhaven event, estimated 50 to 75 state veterans of the historicWorld War II bomber squadron will descend here for a series ofevents honoring their service and reinforce the bonds that helpedsurvive numerous flights over Nazi Germany.

“We’ve been meeting for years in the spring and fall, but thisis the first time it’s been here,” Smith said. “We had it plannedhere last year, but it was around the same time, only two weeksafter Katrina, and we had to cancel.”

The fall reunion will be held Sept. 15 to 17. Most of the eventsare private as members tour historic locations and the MilitaryMemorial Museum. They will also attend the Ole Brook Festival,Smith said.

However, Saturday at 2 p.m. First Baptist Church will host aspecial public Organ Concert by Dr. Roy Daughdrill and one of theearly performances of the newly-formed Studio Ensemble.

A special presentation has also been prepared, Smith said.Bonnie Thornhill will tell the story and provide information aboutthe 22 feet high and 24 feet wide handwoven tapestry depictingChrist in the Garden of Gethsemene that has hung in the churchsince 1996.

The tapestry was handmade in a small village near Beijing,China, and includes more than 7.6 million knots. There were as manyas 18 weavers working on the tapestry at one time, and it tookalmost two years to make.

The Chinese made the tapestry by referring to an oil painting byAsem Zeini, a local painting contractor and artist.

The reluctant Chinese agreed to accept the project only afterlearning the man in the painting was a spiritual leader and thetapestry would be hung in a place of worship.

“It doesn’t really have any tie to us, but I thought it might beinteresting to our members,” Smith said.

The Mississippi chapter of the Eighth Air Force formed inFebruary 1991 in Jackson.

The organization still maintains approximately 150 members, butage is taking its toll, Smith said. Its numbers, like those of allWorld War II veterans, are steadily decreasing.

Originally limited to veterans of the Eighth Air Force and theirfamilies, membership has been expanded to all who are interested inpreserving the history of the historic unit and educate the publicabout its accomplishments.

The unit was the first armed force to attack Germany, nearly twoyears before D-Day. They targeted factories, oil refineries, airfields and rail yards from their B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24Liberator bombers.

The Eighth Air Force grew to more than 350,000 men, the largestmilitary unit in World War II. There were more than 40 heavy bombergroups and 20 fighter groups. Bombing missions of more than 1,000heavy bombers, escorted by fighters, became common in 1944.

More than 26,000 airmen were killed in action and more than20,000 became prisoners of war.

Following WWII, the “Mighty Eighth” has struck targets in Korea,Vietnam and Desert Storm, and continues today in the war on terrorwith missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.