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Retired general promotes Eighth Air Force Museum

Posted: September 9, 2014 9:55 p.m.
Updated: September 10, 2014 6:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Gen. Ellie G. “Buck” Shuler Jr., retired, speaks to the Kershaw County Golden Club on Sept. 4 about the Eighth Air Force and its national museum in Pooler, Ga.

 

The Kershaw County Golden Club welcomed a special guest to its meeting Sept. 4.

Gen. Ellie G. “Buck” Shuler Jr. is a retired U.S. Air Force 3-star general who now serves as a volunteer spokesman for the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Ga., near Savannah just south of the South Carolina state line.

Club member Bob Clithero gave a brief rundown of Shuler’s military history as part of his introduction.

“He started out as a B-52 pilot, then flew fighters, F-4s, in Vietnam. He’s got several advanced degrees from The Citadel and numerous other colleges and was a distinguished Eagle Scout,” Clithero said.

Shuler now lives in Columbia and said he is well acquainted with Camden. From a military family, he was schooled in Caracas, Venezuela, and had a schoolmate who was from Camden. He came with his friend for a memorable vacation trip to Mulberry Plantation. Shuler said he later played football for Orangeburg High School.

“In 1953 or 1954, I was a left end on the Orangeburg High School football team and we came over here to play Camden. In those days, Camden ran out of the single wing. They would sweep around the end and being a defensive end I did all I could to try to subdue them. I was pretty bruised up after that game,” Shuler said. “I’m pleased to report that Orangeburg won that game. My mother and father were regulars at The Carolina Cup for many years.”

Shuler talked about the accomplishments of the Eighth Air Force from World War II through the present.

“The Eighth Air Force got so large that it could launch 2,000 four-engine bombers and 1,000 fighters in a single day of operation. A numbered Air Force is like an air army,” Shuler said. “World War II started September 1, 1939, and it was pretty obvious to our leadership, both civilian and military, that sooner or later we were probably going to get into that war. Of course, that came about as a result of Pearl Harbor.”

Shuler said the Eighth Air Force was activated in Savannah in January 1942, and was designed to provide air support to combat troops on the ground. Its first mission was on July 4 of that year, an air strike against a Dutch airfield held by the Nazis.

The Eighth Air Force suffered one-half of the U.S. Army Air Force’s casualties in WWII. That was before the U.S. Air Force was its own branch of the military. The Eighth Air Force endured more than 47,000 casualties, including 26,000 deaths in the war. Its personnel were also highly decorated, with 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, 850 Silver Stars, 7,000 Purple Hearts and 46,000 Air Medals.

Noted aviator Jimmy Doolittle commanded the Eighth Air Force for a time, combating the famed German Luftwaffe and helping to clear the way for the D-Day invasion in June 1944.

“Doolittle made a critical decision. He freed up the fighters (planes). Yes, they continued to escort the bombers, but he freed up the fighters to entice the Luftwaffe fighters to come up and fight or they went down and strafed and killed all the airplanes they could on the German fighter bases,” Shuler said. “This was critical and a very courageous decision that really helped shorten the war. It was so effective that when D-Day occurred, only six German fighters showed up in the landing area.”

The Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum opened in May 1996. The 90,000 square-foot facility houses vintage aircraft, hundreds of artifacts and theater presentations to tell the story of the history-making unit.

“Our museum is doing very well. Our big project right now is the refurbishment of a B-17 bomber that we received from the National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian,” Shuler said. “I encourage you to take the time to go visit the museum. If you do and you’re a serious history buff or museum buff, you’re going to need all day or the better part of two days. Conveniently, the museum includes a restaurant and gift shop. You can go in the morning, go through the museum, have lunch there and then complete your tour that afternoon or the next day. It’s worth your time and you’ll learn about the sacrifice of the World War II fighters.”

The museum is just off I-95 Exit 102. It is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and Easter. More information can be found online at www.mightyeighth.org or by calling (912) 748-8888.

 

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