Wallace's thoughtful musing is a reminder of why we can celebrate Memorial Day with parades and cookouts.
Tony Foulds, now 82, walked out onto the grass of Endcliffe Park in Sheffield, England, last February 22 and waved at four American Air Force fighters doing a memorial fly-over.
He had also waved at a B-17 Flying Fortress on this very spot on this very date in 1944, when he was but seven-years-old. The many children who played there at the time felt safe from the German bombers that had earlier made constant raids on Sheffield’s industrial plants. Along with the RAF, bombers of the U.S. 8th Air Force had driven the enemy planes away and were now pursuing the enemy deep into the continent.
As I read about Tony, my mind returned to Ann and her family’s escaping, by congressional intervention, the Manchester area only thirty-eight miles away just months prior to the commencement of bombing. Although she was born there, her parents were immigrants to the United States still applying for citizenship. When she later wished to show me her childhood neighborhood during our first visit, she could not because the bombing had leveled it—nothing had survived.
British citizens on the home front had come to new appreciation for Americans, and even these Sheffield school children knew these airmen were flying overhead so they could play below safely. They risked their lives on every mission to save their lives. That’s why they were there, to save lives even, if necessary, at the cost of their own. Not a few paid the price as young Tony and his playmates would soon discover.
A plane, now, was circling unaccountably and senselessly low. A crew member waved his arms and the children took it as a characteristically American friendly greeting. They waved back and returned to their play.
Then, to Tony’s horror and that of the other children, the bomber dove into the nearby woods and crashed. The local paper reported all ten crewmembers were killed, but this was all they heard at the time.
When Tony became seventeen and curious, he began to read historical accounts. What he eventually learned has driven him back to this spot in Endcliffe Park 260 days every year for seven decades. He tends a simple marker that commemorates the event, but this year people he had interested worked with him to arrange this fly-over. They watched as one plane veered skyward in the traditional missing-airman formation.
What Tony learned and what the crowd now celebrated was this. The crew had named their plane “Mi Amigo,” and the pilot was Lt John G. Kriegshauser from St. Louis. Though only twenty-three himself, this was already his fifteenth bombing mission. Although none of the crew was old enough to be a father to children of his own—but the children below….
The crew had successfully completed its mission of disabling the Aalborg airfield in German-occupied Denmark. Heavily damaged, it nursed the bomber across the North Sea toward its home base near Chelveston, England. It had survived enemy anti-aircraft artillery and defending fighters, but ran into equally dangerous conditions in clouds over England. When it broke through, they found themselves over Sheffield, eighty miles from their airfield. Without enough fuel to reach it, they had to crash-land somewhere right then.
Yet, what Lt Kriegshauser saw below was a park bordered on three sides by terraced housing and on the fourth by woods. The park offered a perfect landing spot—but the children….
As Tony grew older and saw things more broadly, he recognized that crew member, probably one of the gunners, was not waving a friendly greeting but desperately waving them out of the park so they could attempt a landing. With the children returned to play and housing on three sides, the pilot, with evident concurrence of the crew, intentionally aimed for the woods.
Tony Foulds insists: “No one will ever tell me any different. I killed these lads. And that will always stay with me.”
Tony, thank you for your gratitude and all you are doing. But, no, Tony, those American lads — soldiers as they were — chose to give their lives so you and your playmates could have yours and grow up, as you have, to remember them with very great honor, indeed. And so do we.