Fighter pilot relives war heroics

THE memories came flooding back for William Overstreet as he visited the Suffolk airfield where he was stationed in the Second World War.

Richard Smith

THE memories came flooding back for William Overstreet as he visited the Suffolk airfield where he was stationed in the Second World War.

It is more than 60 years since the American pilot was based at Leiston Airfield and this week he was back for the first time for a special visit. Today, the Cakes and Ale caravan park is situated on some of the site and much of the rest of the land has been returned to farmland.

But part of the main runway still exists, there is a memorial dedicated to the 82 men who gave their lives while flying out of Leiston, and there is a memorial hut featuring an exhibition about the 357th Fighter Group, part of the Eighth Air Force.

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There is also a 1/3 scale model of a North American P-51, a tribute to the men and women of the 362nd Fighter Squadron and the 357th Fighter Group who were known as the Yoxford Boys and used Leiston Airfield from January 1944 to July 1945.

Capt Overstreet, 87, stood side by side at the model plane with Col Bud Anderson, 86, who also travelled over from the States for the visit, as he recalled how he had commanded nearly 50 missions, taking part in escorting the big raids to Berlin, Frankfurt and Leipzig.

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On one occasion his plane was crippled and he was brought down in Germany where he was held captive for two days before he knocked out two soldiers, took their vehicle and escaped to freedom.

The American-born pilot famously pursued an Me109 through Paris, finally shooting the plane down after chasing it under the Eiffel Tower. Capt Overstreet ended the war with five air victories but he said he was luckier than some of his colleagues and one night two of the crew in his four-bunk room never returned.

Capt Overstreet said: “It is great to be back after all these years and see what has been done to the airfield.”

He has kept in contact with Col Anderson, who had two tours at Leiston and was regarded as one of the most natural and instinctive fighter pilots of the war with 16 confirmed air victories to his name.

Col Anderson has returned to Leiston on several occasions and he remains fascinated that the parking area where he put his plane still exists.

“It was an exciting time being here and then in our free time we drank whisky and chased girls. I was only 22 and I was a fighter leader, leading four aircraft and sometimes the squadron. I think it is great that these guys are keeping the place alive,” he said.

The trip was organised by Aces High, and the Eighth Air Force Historical Society. The Society's president, Mark Copeland, presented a picture by Robert Taylor to Peter Saunders, a founder member of the Friends of Leiston Airfield Association.

The Friends was formed in 1995 after a group of people with holiday caravans on the Cakes and Ale park became worried that a small memorial erected on a hardstand in an area hidden from view from the public, had become neglected and rubbish strewn.

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