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Brits and Americans come together in Sheffield to pay tribute to the Mi Amigo crew
Jessica Murray reports on the unforgettable day when Brits and Americans came together in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, to remember the Mi Amigo 10
By Jessica Murray (@JournoJess_)
As the sun rose over Sheffield on Friday 22 February, crowds were already starting to form in Endcliffe Park. A mixture of service men and women, veterans and members of the public waving UK and US flags were all coming together to pay tribute to the ten men who lost their lives exactly 75 years ago, when their bomber plane crashed into trees here.
Tony Foulds was an eight-year-old boy playing in the park on that fateful day in 1944, and he is convinced the plane could have landed safely in the field if it wasn’t for him and his friends obstructing the path. Instead, the ten US airmen sacrificed their lives to protect the children, and Tony has lived with the guilt ever since. He said: “No matter what anybody says, I killed them. I know it wasn’t intentional, but I still believe they would have been able to land on here.”
Aged 17 he began visiting the park to pay his respects to the fallen airmen, first visiting the crash site and then the memorial installed in 1969, which he has cared for and nurtured ever since. A chance encounter with BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker, who was walking his dog through the park one morning, led to the whole world to finding out about Tony’s years of loyal service and the tragic accident. Soon enough, plans were put in place for a memorial service and flypast to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the crash, something which Tony had long hoped for. He was visibly emotional during the flypast, saying afterwards of the airmen: “These lads, they’ll be laughing. They’ve been 75 years with nobody interested in them, only me.”
The story has captured the hearts of people all over the world, not least those of American expats living in and around Sheffield itself. Lindsay Wilson, 38, is from Michigan and has lived in Sheffield for six years. She said: “As an American, it means so much to me. I think the story is catastrophic, but actually heart warming and beautiful at the same time. As I have a six-year-old son, it’s a good way to show him a bit of our heritage as Americans.”
36-year-old Rebecca Fenby from Wisconsin has lived in nearby Chesterfield for 10 years: “I think it’s a brilliant display of humanity. It’s not about where you’re from, it’s about what you do. It’s about them looking out for children regardless of who they were, and it’s about him being grateful for it regardless of the fact they weren’t British soldiers.”
The day’s proceedings started with a poignant memorial service led by Ian Jennings, padre for the Royal British Legion Frecheville branch. Tribute was paid to the men’s selfless sacrifice and their names were read aloud, before a bugler played the Last Post and Reveille. Mr Jennings said: “They had safety in their grasp but relinquished it for children and people who were strangers to them. We will always remember you and the selfless gift of life you gave to these children."
The plane’s pilot, Lt John Kriegshauser, was only 23 years old when he flew the B-17 Flying Fortress back from a mission in occupied Denmark, carrying his crew of nine men; Lt Lyle Curtis, Lt John Humphrey, Melchor Hernandez, Harry Estabrooks, Charles Tuttle, Robert Mayfield, Vito Ambrosio, Malcolm Williams and Maurice Robbins. Sadly all lost their lives in the accident, but Kriegshauser received a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for minimising loss of life in the crash.
The flypast itself took place shortly after the service and featured an RAF Typhoon, RAF Dakota and F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets from the US Air Force flying in ‘missing man formation’ in tribute to the Mi Amigo. By this time there were thousands of people crowded into Endcliffe Park, listening to the rumbling of the jets as they gradually came into view against the backdrop of a low morning sun.
There were many USAF servicemen and women in attendance, and many locals keen to chat and get photos with them. Staff Sgt. Kolbow, who’s based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, said: “It’s incredible that we [the US and UK] are close enough that we can work together and pay respects to each other for these kind of actions.”
There were many faces in the crowd with their own personal experiences of the Mi Amigo plane. Eileen Pickard, 83, was wrapped in an American flag. She remembers the plane flying over Sheffield when she was a little girl living in Shiregreen, saying: “It was so low I couldn't believe it. Even at that age I knew airplanes didn't fly that low and it's taken me 70 odd years to find out what it was. I knew it was a bomber, a huge airplane, it made such a roar.”
For Laura Stepko, 38, Endcliffe is her local park which she runs through regularly, but she had never noticed the memorial before. She’s lived in Sheffield for five years, and is from California and a military family; both her grandfathers served in World War Two, as a B-29 pilot and a B-24 bombardier, her dad and uncle were both pilots and both she and her brother have served. She said: “It's particularly nice to remember World War Two and how much we worked together in that because you see so much division these days. The missing man formation was obviously very special but particularly for those who know people who've died in air crashes, airmen who have died. It made my heart go aflutter.”
Members of the fallen crew’s families were also in attendance, many of whom met Tony the day before. He told of how they presented him with a door handle off the Mi Amigo bomber and an American newspaper containing an article about himself. He went on: “We had a hug which is traditional in America, in that they don’t shake hands as much as hug.” Tony talked of how he places his hand over his heart during the US National Anthem and proudly showed off a pin badge showing the UK and US flags. Now, his biggest ambition is a trip to America.
Since the flypast there have been nationwide calls for Tony to be honoured by the Queen for his loyalty to the Mi Amigo crew over the decades. But for Tony, getting back to the memorial he calls home is his main priority. “Of course I can go back to them in the morning, have a hug and explain what’s been going on. I shall be back to normal tomorrow.”