As Europe faced the threat of Hitler and the Nazis—when much of the civilized world was at war—more than 350,000 Americans gathered on air bases across East Anglia, England. These heroic fighters—just teenagers and young adults—belonged to the Mighty Eighth Air Force. They came to join their English allies and take the fight to the skies.

Their story began in January 1942 on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Savannah, Georgia. There, the United States Army Air Corps assigned seven men, without a single aircraft, to a newly formed Eighth Air Force.

Over the course of the war, the Eighth Air Force became the largest air armada in the world, capable of sending more than 2,000 heavy bombers and over 1,000 fighter planes on a single mission. In less than three years, the Eighth accomplished its two-fold mission: 1) destroy the German Luftwaffe; and 2) cripple Nazi Germany’s war making capabilities. By doing so, the Mighty Eighth gave the allies air supremacy, paved the way for the D-Day invasion, and contributed significantly to the liberation of occupied Europe. By May 1945, the Eighth had flown more than 600,000 sorties and dropped over 670,000 tons of bombs.

The cost of ridding the Nazi scourge was staggering, 26,000 Eighth airmen were killed in action; another 28,000 became prisoners of war. Their valor was unparalleled. As the teenagers and young men of the Eighth battled the enemy at 25,000 feet, such bravery earned them 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and more than 420,000 Air Medals.