A Visit to Horham

Horham Airfield
Horham Airfield in Horham, England – B17s lined up and ready to go

On my first trip to England, after visiting Cambridge American Cemetery, I drove two hours east to Horham, a sparsely populated ancient village in the county of Suffolk, in the East Anglia region of eastern England. I was fortunate enough to meet Frank Sherman, who was given a ride on a B-17 when he was 15 years of age on the base.  Can you imagine that happening today?

Frank very kindly showed me around where my brother served, and there were many things still identifiable on the old closed airfield.  The most obvious thing that stood out was portions of the original main runway. Some of the 60 year old concrete (made from rubble from the bombing of London) were still in place at one end. This was where the B-17s would line up while waiting for their takeoff command for another dangerous mission over Nazi Europe.

As I walked down that old runway and imagined what had transpired there more than 60 years ago. I can picture those huge B-17 Flying Fortresses begin their take-off roll and roar down the runway fully loaded with crew, ammunition, bombs and fuel, then finally lift off the runway on their way to the front lines of a bloody war, day after day. I tried to imagine the anxiety and thrill the young American crews must have felt as they experienced this sendoff day after day. Many did not return, with the 95th losing over 600 men during their two years of war.

Frank asked me if I wanted to actually take a flight off on the old runway and I jumped at the chance… so we got into his friend’s single engine prop plane and took off down the old runway, up into the wild blue yonder.  What a thrill that was!

I tried to imagine how my brother would have felt as a 30 year old from Long Beach, California heading out on his first combat mission from which he and the crew had witnessed many did not return.  What I felt was beyond what words can describe as we flew around the old base. In the distance I could see other bases and even a very straight ancient Roman Road. Afterwards, Frank took me to the Red Feather Club (RFC), the old NCO club where the noncommissioned officers could try to relax, have a drink, talk, laugh, and prepare for the next day.

In October 2000, the RFC had become rundown. The roof was falling in, chickens and other farm animals ran around, it was like walking back into time, and I could only imagine my brother and his crew hanging out in there.  Despite the damage to the place, there were some magnificent murals painted by a 95th airman on the brick walls of the RFC that are still there today and were saved from the elements.

But now, after 15 years, the local English people, through very hard work, have transformed the RFC into the most amazing living educational museum. With regularly scheduled open houses, people can relive the incredible days of WWII when their country was nearly destroyed. There are WWII dances, visiting student classes and tourists, film nights, and campouts where many old restored US trucks, jeeps, cars, and tractors were shown.  Many people show up in WWII American and British uniforms, and it’s easy to imagine what this busy base was like 70 years ago.

Each year, there are open house days where hundreds of locals visit. Several 95th US veterans and their families also join in. In addition, active US military personnel visit and take active parts in the activities.

These reunions have taken on a life of their own, and it is a delight to witness it as I have for 15 years now. There is a very close bond between the local English people, the American Veterans who flew from this base, the nearby US American military personnel, and of course the many descendants of the veterans. However, the true heroes are the old veterans, who from this and many other nearby air bases, took the fight to the Nazis and won the war.  I am so grateful for all the help that the local English people have been for me in my search for my MIA brother Eugene and two other crewmates.  This was the starting point of my search for the missing and now extends from that runway up into the wild blue yonder.

There is even a softball team called the 95th Wallopers, and an excellent big band playing Glenn Miller and many other similar tunes for dancing and singing. Yes, life has returned to this old 95th Bomb Group at Horham, England. One could only imagine what the 600 young Americans who served in the 95th Bomb Group would think seeing all this 70 years on.  One thing appears obvious is that the sacrifice they and those who survived made will never be forgotten and this means a lot to their families and their crewmates.

 

Photo sources:

Taken from: By British Government [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Darter is an Emeritus Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an international authority in design, construction, rehabilitation, and management of highway and airfield infrastructure. He has spent the past 15 years in a dedicated cold case investigation trying to find out what happened to his only brother.  Please see www.gonewiththewindhe said.com for details and a short video.

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