CHELVESTON, United Kingdom —
The skies over Chelveston, U.K. were darkened every morning in the early 1940's with thousands of B-17 Flying Fortresses taking off heading toward war with the Nazi’s.
Seventy-five years ago the 305th Bombardment Group started work out of a small grass airfield in the countryside of England. Their mission was to fly into enemy controlled areas and drop bombs on targets. During their three years of flying they lost nearly 800 men and hundreds of aircraft.
To this day, the Chelveston community celebrates the men who sacrificed for them, arriving in a foreign country, fighting and dying to protect them from an advancing force of German’s set on occupying the country.
The villagers erected a memorial for the bombardment group and the fallen American Airmen in middle of their village.
"For 100 years now, including the 75 we are commemorating here, stretching back to the first World War, our two peoples have chosen to stand shoulder to shoulder during times of great conflict, face common enemies and prevail," said Col. Zumbrunnen, 305th Operations Group commander about the bond between the United States and United Kingdom. "Our countries have a special relationship and this commemoration celebrates those who gave much to help forge it."
This year marked the tenth anniversary of the memorial, and Chelveston held a rededication ceremony inviting families of the veterans who served there, members of the 305th Air Mobility Wing and a surviving crew member who flew missions from the field.
The Airmen and the families were given a tour of what used to be the airfield now taken back by nature, only a few bomb dumps remain.
The tour was given by Englishmen who restore World War II era military vehicles. Some saw the alert cells in staff cars, others saw the bomb dumps in jeeps while others drove past the new fire station, used for training firefighters from around all of England, in old troop transport trucks.
During the tour of the new firefighter training center that now sits on a part of what used to be the airfield, the group was informed the conference rooms were named after the two Medal of Honor recipients from the 305th BG and one of the roads was named "Can Do Way," sharing the name with a road on JB MDL.
"Since we have taken over the site, we got in touch with the 305th memorial group and learned what happened in the past here," said Karl Crocker, Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service. "We want to commemorate and remember what was done here."
Throughout the different stops of the tour the Airmen were able to visit with Douglas Ward, 94, a B-17 Ball Turret Gunner that flew 23 combat missions out of the very field they were standing on.
"It was a touching experience [to meet Doug] and to see how committed he was to his country and everything that he gave with no hesitation," said Capt. Jaime Martinez, 305th AMW pilot. "At one point I mentioned the movie "12 O'clock High," a film that features actual footage from the 305th BG, Doug’s eyes welled up with tears, it was a moving moment."
“During the war I flew countless combat missions,” shared Doug. “When I got home my friend owned an airplane and asked if I wanted to come for a ride, I said sure, he told me i should probably ask my mom for permission first.”
When asked how it felt to be back in Chelveston, Doug said, "Oh it's wonderful."
Much of the history of the 305th BG and many of the other WWII units wasn't kept as well as it is today, much of it was lost, said Jamien Parks, 305th AMW historian.
"With the rate we are losing WWII veterans, those stories aren’t written, if we don’t get their stories now we never will," said Capt. Kyle Schemenuar aircraft commander. "In order to preserve the history of our wing, and properly honor their service, it’s something we need to do now so it's not all forgotten."
Today the skies over Chelveston are quiet and clear with the sight of wind turbines rotating in the distance.
“This trip was important to connect the Airmen of the 305th to the heritage and the people that preceded them,” added Martinez. “They get a sense of why we do the things we do today, we saw many parallels of what we do today, and what those guys at the 305th BG did 75 years ago.”