Fighter ace returns to former airbase

A LEGENDARY fighter ace has flown thousands of miles from his Florida home to visit his former airbase for the first time since the Second World War.Retired colonel Frank Klibbe shot down seven enemy aircraft while flying his 'Little Chief' P-47 Thunderbolt out of the Halesworth (Holton) Airfield in 1943 at the age of 23.

A LEGENDARY fighter ace has flown thousands of miles from his Florida home to visit his former airbase for the first time since the Second World War.

Retired colonel Frank Klibbe shot down seven enemy aircraft while flying his 'Little Chief' P-47 Thunderbolt out of the Halesworth (Holton) Airfield in 1943 at the age of 23.

Now eighty-four, the grandfather-of-seven and former member of the 56th fighter group returned to north Suffolk yesterday from Tavers, near Orlando, to meet old friends and admirers at the starting point of his 63 missions and 201 hours of combat.

He said: “It's very gratifying to be back and have the memories of these days of the war flood back. I spent 31 years in the military, but here I got to know some fantastic military leaders and flew as part of a team of four where we all depended on each other.”

Col Klibbe once stared death in the face after coming across a German fighter pilot who could have shot his plane down.

“I was fortunate not to get shot down and although I lost a lot of buddies, as a young man, it was the most exciting thing a man can ever do - getting into a plane, knowing you're going up into the skies and going to have combat with another pilot and try and shoot him down but not necessarily kill him,” he said.

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The 56th Fighter Group, part of the 61st Fighter Squadron, is one of the celebrated fighter units of the Second World War with pilots flying their Thunderbolts into the enemy heartland, escorting heavy bomber missions and destroying 1,000 Luftwaffe aircraft.

Nicknamed 'Wolfpack', the group's apt motto was 'Beware the Thunderbolt' and this became reality for one Bungay farmer one evening after Col Klibbe was forced to make a crash landing in his freshly-ploughed field after he ran out of fuel during a warm-up session in a new aircraft.

“I could see the farmer on his tractor and had to land quite near him as I needed the maximum area of the field. As I approached he ran off and I slid across the field into a forest and made tooth-pickings of all the trees!”

He was fined $75 - a lot of money in those days but nothing compared to two return air fares for himself and his wife, Bebe, from the United States for their 10-day stay in Britain.

Richard Pymar, secretary of the Halesworth (Holton) Airfield Memorial Museum, was honoured to play host to Col Klibbe.

He said: “It's great to have a hero to see us all. I'm very humbled in his presence. It's fantastic to have someone of his stature to come back.

“I'm very proud to have him amongst us for the short time he is here. He came here to defend our island and was obviously very brave to do that so many miles from home and to come back at his age - this must be a special place for him.”

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