World War II Vets Visit Former Home
(June 6, 2009)
|ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England (6/2/2009 - AFNS) -- A group of veterans, college students and faculty members were joined by members of the 100th Air Refueling Wing to honor the heroes of World War II, particularly those who participated in the allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day June 1 at Thorpe Abbots, England.|
|American and British World War II veterans on a tour of significant sites in the European theater render honors during the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" June 1, 2009 at Thorpe Abbots, England. A small ceremony at the airfield included eyewitness accounts of the D-Day invasion, some given by the veterans themselves and some read from interview notes by college students, and the laying of a memorial wreath at the site.|
|The airfield at Thorpe Abbots was once the home of the 100th Bomb Group, whose legacy and "Box D" tail marker are carried on by the Airmen and aircraft of the 100th ARW today. |
The Royal Air Force Mildenhall honor guard, along with Bagpiper Dave Harper, opened the small ceremony with the posting of the colors while the guests of honor took their seats in the shadow of the old airfield control tower.
The 14 American and British World War II veterans listened to the stories of their fellow servicemembers, read by students from Missouri's College of the Ozarks. The college, along with the Greatest Generations Foundation, escorted the vets on an 11-day tour of key locations of the Atlantic theater of World War II. The trip coincided with the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Former Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Homer Goodman, who was assigned to the 100th BG at Thorpe Abbots, served as a B-17 Flying Fortress ball-turret gunner during the war. He turned 18 June 3, and three days later flew his first mission over France on D-Day. He was the youngest person in the 100th Bomb Group, he said.
Mr. Goodman enthusiastically told his story to the group on the tour, explaining how while they might only see an empty field, he could still envision an active aerodrome with airplanes and people busily working on them.
The veteran smiled as he recounted how Gen. Curtis Emerson LeMay approached him as he prepared to get on his plane before the June 6, 1944, invasion and told him to, "Give 'em hell!"
"We did," he said, chuckling.
"Being back here is something I'll remember for the rest of my life," Mr. Goodman said, fighting back tears. "This is where I lived. This is where I almost died. A lot of my friends almost died here."
Without missing a beat, he added, "A lot of them did die."
The former sergeant expressed his appreciation for the people who keep Thorpe Abbots in such good condition as a museum and honoring the sacrifices of the men who fought in World War II.
"I'm proud to be a part of it," he said. "I'm proud to have been a part of a war that kept America free."
Following Mr. Goodman's speech, former 9th Air Force fighter ace Capt. Harold Steinberg told about being woken up on June 6, 1944, at around 3 a.m. and being told by his commander, "This is it. This is the invasion of Europe."
He and 35 other fighter pilots listened as they were assigned to a mission to strafe the Normandy beaches and "help in any way" as the allies prepared to come ashore.
"All of the pilots we had there, each one wanted to be on that flight," he added. "We knew it was going to be a monumental flight; something that we would never forget, and it was true. When we got over the invasion area, you absolutely could not believe what you were seeing."
When the fighter ace finished speaking, he and Mr. Goodman laid a wreath of poppies beneath a memorial plaque on the building while a trumpeter played "Taps," followed by "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes while the entire group stood paying their respects to the fallen.
After the ceremony, the visitors roamed the airfield museum, pointing out things they remembered and explained them to their younger compatriots. They also shook hands and spoke with current members of the 100th ARW.
Mr. Goodman smiled as he talked about how the 100th BG's legacy lives on with the 100th ARW.
"When you do something good, and it lasts for a long time, that's a pleasure," he said. "Whatever you do, if you do it right, and it comes out good, it'll last forever!"
The Greatest Generations Foundation, which helped sponsor the trip, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the stories of combat veterans by providing them the opportunity to revisit the sites of their battlefield campaigns at no cost to them.
Article and photo by USAF SSgt. Austin M. May
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Reprinted from Air Force News Service
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