The Museum of Aviation at Robins AFB, GA held a special occasion to mark two significant and relevant events. Simultaneously, the museum was celebrating their B-17 and the 483rd Bombardment Group Association; an aircraft and a regiment connected by their past in WWII. One was being celebrated for its restoration completion, and the other for its dissolution after many decades. The occasion was marked by limited-time access around the museum’s B-17, reenactments by members in uniform, and a speech at the end of the day that featured Dr. Donald Miller, author of the book “Masters of the Air”.
Throughout the first part of the day in Hangar 3, also known as the WWII Hangar, visitors to the museum were greeted with demonstrations by reenactors in uniform. Visitors were also given the chance to view the B-17 up close, a unique experience that attendees might not otherwise come in contact with outside of this opportunity. The aircraft itself was part of the day’s celebration as its lengthy restoration process has finally reached its conclusion. While the exterior looked pristine and like it had just landed, the interior will still require attention in some areas with only a portion of the internal restoration being complete. Restoration team members were nearby during the day to provide insight and answers to questions.
Alongside the B-17 was a row of tables forming a line upon which sat countless pieces of memorabilia and artifacts from the War period, some of which belonged to the late Lt. Joseph Roberge. Roberge was one of many men who flew a number of bombing missions during the war with the Mighty Eighth Air Force under the 398th Bombardment Group. One of the most chilling pieces was a piece of navigator dome fractured by flak during battle. Other artifacts included newspapers from the War, medals, awards, pamphlets, letters, a uniform, and footlocker. The event gave everyone who visited a rare glimpse at pieces that would otherwise be sitting in the dark in storage.
The day was also a commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the first Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid. It was the Eighth Army Air Force’s first raid against Nazi Germany in the war starting on August 17, 1943. The mission’s target was aircraft production in Regensburg and ball-bearing production in Schweinfurt. The plan was to simultaneously strike two targets at the same time on the same day with the hope that the Luftwaffe’s attention would be split between the two raids. Between both, a total of 376 B-17s were launched. The path of the first Schweinfurt raid took bombers over towns and cities like Antwerp and Eupen (Southwest of Cologne). The results of the raids were initially thought to be significant, though didn’t prove to be as effective as hoped. Following the raid, German production and resources shifted, as needed, and became more resilient during the remainder of the war until Germany’s surrender in Spring 1945. The casualties were also less than desired, as several hundred men were lost in the raids. It was a big lesson for the Allied Air Forces for battles going forward. One of the biggest lessons learned by this raid the need for escorts on all bombing raids.
Finally, the end of the day marked a rather somber event, the deactivation of the 483rd Bombardment Group Association. For the last few decades, the association has been gathering for reunions preserving the history of their work and passing memories on to the next generation. The association, however, is finally coming to an end as their numbers continue to dwindle with the passing of members each year. During the presentation, a slideshow was played which featured several photos from reunions over the years. It was easy to note that each subsequent photo possessed fewer and fewer members; either because some couldn’t make it or others had flown west, figuratively speaking.
The members who could attend the event sat in the front rows of the seating of Hangar 2, the Century of Flight hangar, located next door to Hangar 3. At one point, the members were asked to raise their hands, and approximately 10 were raised. During the ceremony, four individuals in uniform came onto the stage and rolled up the 483rd Group’s banner, signifying the end of the association and the bombardment group after so many years.
The capstone of the event was Dr. Donald Miller, author of “Masters of the Air”, who gave a lengthy speech, recounting different stories of 483rd members as well as tales of his own travels while visiting England doing research. One noteworthy story he told was that of an orphan who had more or less been adopted by an English family during the war. He flew off on a mission, didn’t return, and was presumed dead, only for him to return some years later after the war had ended. He had crash-landed during his mission and was in a POW camp until liberated by the Allied Forces. The ceremony came to an end with a Q&A with Dr. Miller.