Pensioner expects thousands at flypast to salute heroic US airmen
A pensioner whose lifelong dedication to 10 American airmen who died when their plane crashed 75 years ago prompted a planned memorial flypast believes thousands of people will turn out for the salute.
Tony Foulds was eight years old in February 1944 when he witnessed the B-17 Flying Fortress, Mi Amigo, crash and explode in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, as the pilot apparently tried to avoid him and his friends.
Mr Foulds, now 82, has spent decades dedicating himself to the memory of the 10 Americans he never met, spending up to six days a week tending the memorial to them in the park.
On Friday February 22, fighter jets and other military aircraft from Britain and the United States will mark the 75th anniversary of the crash with a flypast over Endcliffe Park.
The salute was arranged after BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker met Mr Foulds during a walk in the park and started a social media campaign.
“I can’t put into words how I feel,” the pensioner said. “I am going to be in tears all day, there’s no doubt about that.”
Mr Foulds said he has been in touch with people from around the country who will be attending the event and he expects there to be thousands in the park.
Touching the 10 names engraved on the memorial, he said: “They’ll be smiling on that day.”
Mr Foulds said he and the other children were in the park 75 years ago because boys from two rival junior schools were fighting.
He said the Mi Amigo approached low from the Nether Edge area of the city in an obviously bad way, with only one engine, and the crew would have seen the large expanse of grass as a possible landing place.
But when the pilot, Lieutenant John Kriegshauser, saw the children, he decided to circle.
Mr Foulds said that when the bomber came round again, the pilot was waving his arms as a warning.
“We did not know what that meant so we just waved back,” he said.
“On the third time, he just missed the slates of the houses, that’s how low he was.
“And, because we were still there, he had to make a decision – ‘Shall I land on there and hope I don’t hit these kids or try and get over the trees with this one engine?’.
“Of course, he tried to get over the trees. The engine failed and it dropped straight into the ground.”
Mr Foulds said the plane burst into flames and exploded.
He said he began to take more of an interest in the crash when he was about 17 years old, visiting the site every week and sprinkling flowers in the woods.
In 1969, when a permanent memorial was built, he began looking after the structure and the woods immediately around it.
“Gradually, over the years, it’s gone from half-an-hour once a week to four hours six times a week,” he said.
“I come roughly about 260 times a year. It’s now taken my life over, literally.”
Asked why he does it, Mr Foulds said: “Because they saved my life.
“I wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for them.
“They’re part of my family. They are my family.”
Mr Foulds said he talks to the men listed on the memorial.
“I tell them what the weather’s like, where I’m going, how the day’s been for me,” he said.
“They’re my family.”
He said: “It’s love, I love them to pieces.
“I pray for them every morning, every night.”
Captain Jhanelle Haag, USAF Europe-United Kingdom public affairs officer, said: “In partnership with the Royal Air Force, we are planning to deliver a unique flypast to honour the Mi Amigo crew and the incredible men and women in Sheffield that have ensured their sacrifice is never forgotten.”
Capt Haag said the aircraft expected to take part – depending on the weather – are F-15E Strike Eagles from RAF Lakenheath; a KC-135 Stratotanker, a MC-130J Commando II and a CV-22 Osprey from RAF Mildenhall, as well as a Typhoon and a Dakota from RAF Coningsby.