Archives of 'The Mighty Eighth' collected at Penn State

September 28, 2006

By Bill Campbell
For Penn State Live

University Park, Pa. -- The legendary Eighth Air Force is alive and well at Penn State.

But, there is a sense of urgency among University Libraries' archivists in the Special Collections Library, where records and history of the exploits of "The Mighty Eighth" are being collected.

"The interest in archiving this material has intensified because the World War II veteran generation is growing older and we are losing these veterans at an alarming rate -- estimated at 1,000 a day," said James P. Quigel, head of Historical Collections and Labor Archives.

"We are losing history at a rapid rate. The opportunity to honor what Tom Brokaw has referred to as 'The Greatest Generation' is dying. These veterans, for the most part, kept their experiences to themselves. However, in light of the groundswell over World War II with the dedication of the monument in Washington, D.C., there is a sense of a need for them to tell their story.

"The remaining veterans have a chance now to share their experiences. They want to be remembered and want to share their memories and treasures of that generation. The Eighth Air Force Archive is here to help them do that."

During World War II, under the leadership of such generals as Ira Eaker and Jimmy Doolittle, the Eighth Air Force formed the greatest air armada in history. By mid-1944, it had a total strength of more than 200,000, and could send, from its bases in England, more than 2,000 bombers and 1,000 fighters on a single mission against enemy targets in Europe.

"The Mighty Eighth" planned and executed America's daylight strategic bombing against Nazi-occupied Europe, compiling an impressive war record. That record, however, came at a high price. The Eighth suffered about half of the Army Air Force's casualties, including more than 26,000 dead.

Interest in the Eighth Air Force continues today on a national scale. There are organizations in 48 states, including the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society. The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum is located near Savannah, Ga., where the unit was first activated in January 1942.

The Eighth Air Force Archive, located in a small room in the Special Collections Library, "landed" at Penn State through the efforts of James Hill, a former Penn State faculty member who served as editor of the Eighth Air Force News. Hill, who died in 1998, had retained manuscripts, books and photographs submitted to the newsletter that he felt needed to be preserved for historical research and posterity. He contacted the University Libraries and the archive was formally established in 1991.

It is supported by two endowments. One was established by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society. The other, the Albert M. Petska Libraries Endowment, was established by donors Sherry Petska Middlemas and George Middlemas Jr. to honor the memory of their fathers, both Air Force veterans. Income from the endowments is used to support acquisition of materials for the archive.

"As an archive in an educational institution, our task is to preserve records," Quigel said. "We have some memorabilia, but we are not a museum. We are trying to fill in the gaps in our collection on World War II aviation and currently are seeking information on bombing groups for which we don't have histories. And we plan to expand our oral histories collection as much as resources will allow."

Eighth Force Archivist Paul Dzyak said the bulk of the existing collection has been donated by veterans, and includes papers, correspondence, diaries, including one of a captured aviator from Pennsylvania who kept it while confined in a German Stalag, military records, and newsletters from various veterans organizations.

Also in the collection are framed lithographs, maps, aerial combat footage, an extensive photo collection and oral histories from Centre County veterans in interviews conducted by students of Maria Baukus, senior lecturer in communications in Penn State's College of Communications.

"The archive is accessed by visiting researchers, military aviation historians, veterans and family members, many of whom are trying to determine what happened to their loved ones," Dzyak said. "The collection is open to everyone. We receive requests from researchers from all over the country. With the help of the endowment funds, we continue to expand our book collection."

Quigel said plans are being made to provide more outreach to veterans and their families though such efforts as updating the archive Web site, http://www.libraries.psu.edu/speccolls/hcla/eighthairforce online.

"We want to be available as a resource for family members and for future generations," he added. "We want to keep connected with families so that they know that this resource is here for them."

For more information, contact James Quigel at jpq1@psu.edu or (814) 863-3181; or Paul Dzyak at pjd106@psu.edu or (814) 865-2123.

  • The Eighth Air Force Archive, located in a small room in the Special Collections Library,

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010