The Friends Of Leiston Airfield Memorial Days & Visitors
Visitors to this years event were Tony Stirpe, 1260 MP Company, and his granddaughter Nathalie, Joe Black 362nd pilot and his wife Marianne. A lone P51 mustang flew over in salute and performed a wonderful aerobatic display.
During July we welcomed Robert Sirotek, 469th Support Sqn, John McDonald, 362nd Sqn, Irv Cohen, 363rd Sqn Richard Gambill, whose father William Gambill was killed in action whilst flying with the 363rd Sqn and Daniel O’Connor, 364th Sqn armourer.
This year we welcomed Joe and Ellen DeShay, last with us in 1998, Jesse Weise, 369th Support Sqn and his wife Glenna, Charles Goss, 362nd pilot and his wife JoAnne, daughter and son in law, Tony Stirpe with us last year, and Charlie Puleo 362nd Sqn office. All came for the memorial event but we had to curtail the service due to bad weather and no aircraft were able to fly.
John Cirrilo, an armourer came in June with his neice and her husband, Melvyn Hodgson, control tower staff, 70 Station Complement visited in October and the final visitor in December was Ealnor Grey from the Ohio Air National Guard who are the successors of the 357th Fighter Group.
Our first visitor in January this year was 364th Sqn pilot Osbourne Howes.
Later on in the year Joel Gilman, whose Dad, William served as a T/Sgt with a support unit, Anne Perry-Beacham, sister of Walter Perry, 362nd pilot killed inaction and Catherine Kerr whose uncle Leo D’Arcangilo served on the airfield. We also had a visit from Bud Anderson who overflew the airfield in a P51 Mustang painted to represent his P51 ‘Old Crow’, and escorted by an F15 from RAF Lakenheath.
An early visitor this year was Bill Riley whose uncle, Bill Overstreet flew with the 36rd Sqn and is also a good friend to FOLA, At our event in may we welcomed once again Dick Spicer and his daughter Penny, with us last year and nice to see them again. Arch Mooney whose brother William was killed on operations with the 362nd Sqn, and his wife Veronica, Tony Stirpe came again this time with his wife Ann. Melvyn Hodgson visited again and relatives of Bill Overstreet, his niece Rachel Riley and her daughter Margaret. Jack Kaufman who worked in the photographic laboratory on the airfield attend and Michael Olmsted and his wife Nan represented Michaels father Merle Olmsted who served as a crew chief with the 362nd Sqn. Merle is a particularly good friend to us, as the 357th historian he has assisted us in many ways and continues to do so with photos and information. Flying with us again this year were two P51 Mustangs.
In September Bud Anderson visited again but this time in person with his wife Ellie. He was accompanied by aviation photographer John Dibbs who also organised a fine aerobatic display by P51 ‘Old Crow’ owned by the Scandinavian Historic Flight.
This years event in may was attended by Dick Spicer who on his third visit to our shores was accompanied by his grandson Gary. P51 Mustangs once again flew and we were treated to a stunning aerobatic display by a YAK 52.
During July we once again welcomed Bud and Ellie Anderson who with John Kirla, 362nd pilot , were with a camera crew and film promoters visiting Duxford.
At our May event we welcomed for his first visit since 1945, Joe Shea pilot with the 362nd Sqn, Claudine Sublet, widow of John Sublet also 362nd pilot, who first came over with John a few years ago, and Joe and Marianne Black who were in 1999. This years flying display consisted of the RAF Battle of Britain Flight’s Hurricanne, Spitfire and Lancaster plus the ever popular P51 mustang, an AT6 Texan and a YAK 11.
In September Marilyn & Reed Krause paid us a short visit en route to Heathrow from Scotland. Marilyn’s father Tommy Hayes, a veteran of the Pacific war was Deputy Group Commander of the 357th Fighter Group.
Returning once again to attend this years event was 362nd Sqn pilot Joe Shea and Marilyn & Reed Krause who this year brought their daughter and her partner with them. We also welcomed Mr Stephen Long who represented the American Ambassador to the UK. Our theme this year was V.E. Day at the start of the Memorial Service the crowd heard a recording of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s famous speech announcing the outbreak of war. After the usual solemn service, wreath laying and flying display by Spitfires, P51 mustangs and a YAK 52 the event finished with a recording of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech announcing the end of the war. Many of the crowd remember listening to the speeches on the wireless [as it was then known] and the day evoked many memories some very happy but also some sad ones. But we were congratulated by many people who thought it a very moving experience.
Despite the bad weather on the days leading up to the event the sun shone for the many hundreds of visitors to the event. Once again we welcomed Joe Shea and also Arch and Veronica Mooney, last with us 2002. The proceedings kicked off with an exciting air display by a P51 Mustang and we werte treated to 3 low passes by a Spitfire of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Flight. Wreaths were laid by Joe Shea for the 357th Fighter Group, Councillor Anne Nunn Chair of Leiston Town Council for FOLA , Lt. Col. Hertz of RAF Mildenhall for the USAF and RFA Officer Cadet Stuart Smith for Leiston ATC.
The finale this year was a fine aerobatic display by two Yak 52’s led by Nigel Willson with a commentary by his partner Debbie.
The next day after 32 of us, including the veterans went to the American Military Cemetery at Cambridge for their Memorial Day service, as usual a lovely service at a very impressive place. We laid a wreath on the Wall of the Missing as well as on the two remaining 357th graves.
In July Rocco Lepore, a 364th Ftr Sqn pilot, accompanied by his son Jeff and a family friend and his son, came to Leiston. It was Rocco’s first visit to the airfield since the end of WW11 and he was surprised to be able to stand on the exact spot [now a tranquil part of the Cakes & Ale Park] where he crashed on returning from a mission. He sustained cuts and bruises but was soon back on operations again only to be shot down over Germany, and spent the last months of the war as a POW. We were also able to arrange a visit at the same time by the sister of one of the pilots remembered on the Memorial, Walter Corby. Ruth Manning was accompanied by her husband and nephew. Ruth was pleased to be able to visit the airfield where her brother flew. Rocco and Ruth were in deep conversation for some time and it transpired that Rocco and Walter were in the same squadron and were buddies. That Ruth could talk to someone who knew her brother was a great comfort to her and we had no prior knowledge that Rocco knew Walter.
In December we welcomed Nancy Devore & Joanne Lancaster, nieces of Otto ‘Dittie’ Jenkins who lost his life on the airfield after returning from a mission. It was scheduled to be his last mission and he was to return home on completion of his tour.
Russel Tompkins the manager of Harrow Farm was able to point out the tree that Dittie smashed into and the ladies were able to view a photo of the smouldering wreckage, some bits of the fuselage together with some ammunition found after the war at the crash site. This was certainly an emotional visit and it is so nice to be able to help relatives find another part of their family history
This years event had been curtailed to a wreath laying ceremony only due to unforeseen circumstances but with the appalling weather at the end of May we would not have been able to have our normal service and flying display anyway. Our old friend Joe Shea arrived the week before and on the day, after short prayers conducted by Rev’d Brooks, Joe laid a wreath as did the cadets of the ATC and TAPs were played by trumpeters of the Royal British Legion. The whole event was carried out in front of a crowd of a dozen or so supporters huddled under umbrellars and lasted just about ten minutes.
In July Linda Hansen daughter of 364th Sqn pilot ‘Bud’ Nowlin & partner Charles visited. Bud died last year and Linda was very grateful to us for showing her around the old airfield, communal, and accommodation areas where her Dad would have wandered. Leiston and the Long Shop was also visited.
Early September saw Lt. Gerald Tyler’s widow Angela visit with her present husband Gordon White. Unfortunately this was an ‘on the spur of the moment’ business visit to the UK so we were not aware of their arrival. However Gerald sent an email saying how much things have changed since Angela and Gerald’s visit in 1972 and how much they appreciated our Memorial. They also viewed a photograph of Gerald’s aircraft, ‘Little Duckfoot’ in the Long Shop Museum.
Once again we had to cancel our annual event due to lack of sufficient numbers of helpers. Having cancelled the event we did receive further offers of help around the beginning of April but it really was too late for the original date set. We then tried to find another date later in the year but it was not possible to find a date acceptable to all those involved. However, we did lay a wreath on the original date and as is customary paid a visit to Maddingly for their memorial event and once again laid wreaths. On both days the weather was atrocious but at least we paid our respects.
Sadly this year has seen the passing of several veterans the most notable being Brig. Gen. ‘Tommy’ Hayes. Even the replacement pilots, those like Joe Black and Joe Shea who came in late ‘44’ and early ’45’ are in their mid 80’s, so we have to expect that the chances of these old soldiers returning to their wartime home is dwindling. But, having said that, in November we welcomed Bud Anderson and Bill Overstreet. Bud is now 85, and over the years has visited us several times, but for Bill, who is 86, it was his first return to the airfield since he left in October 1944 at the end of his tour of duty. Bud and Bill were in the UK to sign prints by the celebrated aviation artist Robert Taylor at the Aces High Gallery in Buckinghamshire. Also there to sign the prints were two German pilots. Robert Taylor also came along to Leiston with representatives from the gallery and also the National President of the 8th Air Force Historical Association from Minnesota who organized the whole event. With the help of Joan, Ginny and Denise from the park and members Ed & Ruth Smith and Ed’s sister Joyce from Leiston, we were able to put on a buffet lunch for them. Before the visitors departed for a tour of the airfield Robert presented a copy of his print, signed of course by Bud and Bill, to the Yoxford Boys Bar and Fergus Little has agreed to frame it and put it on display. For those of you on-line just search ‘Bill Overstreet, ‘Berlin Express’ and you will find a print featuring Bill chasing a Me-109 under the Eiffel Tower.
At the end of November we also welcomed Joe Freda whose father Ray, an engineering specialist, was assigned to Group HQ. Ray, at 92, is still in reasonable health and living in his home town in Illinois. Joe told us his Dad was excited to learn how the old base has fared since he left in 1945 for Germany.
This year we were able to stage the event with a few more volunteers. The weather was perfect and our visitors for memorial day were Joe Shea and his son Mike, Brig. Gen. ‘Tommy’ Hayes daughter, son in law, two grandson and one of their girlfriends and Deputy Lt. Miss Clare Marx represented the Lord Lt. of Suffolk. The flyover consisted of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane, Spitfire and Lancaster bomber and of course the P-51Mustang. Leiston Royal British Legion Band provided the music for the service which once again was conducted by the Rev.d Christine Brooks.
This year saw the loss of Fred Church, who worked on the airfield with Gus Clutten. Fred was one of our original members and with his wife Mac represented FOLA for many years at Maddingly
Disappointingly we did not have any visitors from the USA, for this years event but Joe Shea sent a mp3 recording in which he said he would be with us in spirit. Weather on the run up to the event was not too good and on the Saturday it rained for longer than it was dry but we managed to get all the necessary jobs done in between showers. Sunday dawned and once again it was wet. But by mid morning the sun came out and although it was very windy it stayed dry for the rest of the day. The turn out was good with representatives from various Royal British Legion branches paraded their Standards, the Base Honor Guard from RAF Lakenheath posted the Colors and the local Air Training Corps attended. Rev Mary Joel officiated as Christine Brooks was unavailable. Deputy Lt Paul Cooke represented the Lord Lt. of Suffolk was accompanied by his wife and Lt. Col. Gregg L. Lyon, Marine Attachè at the U.S Embassy represented the Ambassador and was also accompanied by his wife. Wreaths were laid Mr Paul Cooke, Lt Col. Gregg, Leiston ATC, Mr John Proctor on behalf of ourselves and in the absence of anyone from the U.S’A we had two 8 year olds, Ellie Moss and Nathan Little lay the wreath on behalf of the veterans; Good to see the youngsters taking part.
In July, at the invitation of the Mayor of the village of Ida, Peter travelled to Louisiana for the dedication of the Capt. Fletcher E Adams 357th Fighter Group Museum a project that started several years ago.Joey Maddox, the son of the Mayor, had carried out extensive research into the capture and execution of Capt. Adams, wrote a book about it and convinced his father to open a disused building in Ida as a museum. Merle Olmsted, the 357th historian contributed much to the archives, as did others. We contributed by sending a laminated map of the airfield the same as we have on Gus’s Hut.
Others attending were 357th pilots Jesse Frey, Joe Shea, Frank Gailer and Chuck Yeager, pilots widows Claudine Sublet and Millie Roberson, Ken and Fred McCall nephews of Frederick McCall, pilot killed in action and Ken Hagen, nephew of pilot Kenneth Hagen. We also met Crew Chief Pat Buzzeo, his wife Audrey and their Son Michael, Arch and Veronica Mooney, brother and sister in law of Bill Mooney another of the pilots murdered by the Germans, Nancy DeVore and her son with Joanne Lancaster, nieces of Dittie Jenkins, pilot who was killed on his last mission before returning home, the nephews of Walter Perry, pilot killed in action and Michael and Nan Olmsted son and daughter in law of Merle. The ‘stars of the show’ were Aline Adams, widow of Fletcher and their son Gerry and grandson. Aline is now 92 years old, still lives in the village and has never remarried. She was pregnant with Gerry when her husband was murdered.
The two day affair culminated with the dedication but was preceded on the Friday night by a ‘Meet and Greet’ catfish supper where we all got together, renewing past friendship and making new ones and the hospitality we received from the Mayor and the people of Ida was quite unbelievable.
One of the visitors in our hotel was Len Krenzler a Canandian aviation artist from Edmonton, Alberta. Len has worked extensively with 357th pilots, one of his painting depicts Bill Overstreet flying beneath the arches of the Eiffel Tower whilst shooting down an Me 109. Another ‘ The rooftops of Paris depicts Kit Carson in Nooky Booky and Ted Conlin flying very low over the river Seine escaping from the Germans. As a ‘parting shot’ so to speak, Len very generously gave Peter the choice of a painting to bring home and he chose that one. Peter has donated it to the Yoxford Boys Bar as he felt that it is too large to show in Gus’s Hut and if in the bar could be seen by a greater number of people.