The respiratory tract poses a substantial challenge to the immune system due to its large surface area, an extensive vasculature that is in very close proximity to the external environment, and repeated exposure to potentially pathogenic organisms in the air. Yet many lung pathogens are controlled by appropriate immune responses. The underlying mechanisms of the adaptive cellular immune response in protecting the respiratory tract are poorly understood. Recently, it has emerged that memory CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells are present in the lung airways, and evidence is mounting that these cells play a key role in pulmonary immunity to pathogen challenge by immediately engaging the pathogen at the site of infection when pathogen loads are low. For example, in the case of respiratory virus infections, there is evidence that both CD4(+) and CD8(+) memory cells in the lung airways mediate substantial control of a secondary respiratory virus infection in the lungs. Here we address recent developments in our understanding of lung airway memory T cells and their role in infectious disease.