Cretingham/Video: Poignant service in memory of tragic Second World War US pilot

A US airman killed when his plane crashed in a Suffolk field has been remembered during a poignant wreath laying ceremony.

First lieutenant Preston McKeon’s Mustang came down in 14 Acre Field on Chapel Hill, Cretingham, near Framlingham, on June 18, 1945.

Yesterday, to mark the anniversary, a small crowd of people gathered at the crash site to pay their respects and lay a wreath in his memory.

The service was conducted by reverend Graham Vellacott, assistant vicar for Cretingham and also chaplain of the local Royal British Legion.

It was the idea of Terry Betchley, a member of the Wattisham Airfield Heritage Group, who has been researching the crash for the last two years.

The 53-year-old, from Needham Market, said: “I came across the crash while doing some research at Ipswich Records Office when I found the original police report. Although it’s got nothing to do with Wattisham it did happen in the local area and I was keen that it should be recorded - especially the more human side of it. There were a great number of American pilots who gave up so much and it’s important they should be remembered.

“It’s all very well putting an airplane on display but I wanted people to know about Lt McKeon and the person he was.

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“I’ve been in contact with his daughter in America and although she wasn’t able to make it I’m hoping that she - or some other relatives - will come over in the future.”

Mr Betchley, who used to be in the Army Air Corps based at Wattisham and in 1998 was awarded a MBE, said he would like to thank everyone who helped him with the project.

Among those watching yesterday was Robin Williams, 77, who was cycling home from the village primary school when he heard about the tragedy in 1945.

His father, Robert, owned 14 Acre Field and, along with his brother and cousin, the youngsters went along to see what had happened.

Mr Williams, who now lives in Bury St Edmunds, said: “I was ten years old at the time. The milkman told us there had been a plane crash in our father’s field. We went along to the site and even got some bits of the crash - cockpit glass, bullets. The Americans would always let you on to the site. It’s nice to be able to come back and remember the pilot.”

First lt KcKeon, originally from Bedford in Texas, came to England in the summer of 1944 after his training in the Army Air Corps.

He flew 30 missions with the 427th Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group but later transferred to the 361st Fighter Squadron of the 356th Fighter Group based at Martlesham Heath, learning to fly the P51 Mustang fighter.

He died on June 18, 1945, when on a training flight he encountered a B17 Flying Fortress returning to Snetterton Heath in Norfolk after a practice bombing flight over Orford Ness.

After simulating attacks he pulled up alongside the larger aircraft and flew in formation for a short while.

However when he attempted to cross underneath the Fortress disaster struck when his vertical stabilizer and rudder clipped the nose of a propeller.

First lt McKeon’s Mustang was doomed and crashed into the field - although the Bomber was able to carry on with its own flight.

He received his promotion to captain following the fatal flight and is buried in the Cambridge American Cemetery at Madingley.

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