US airmen's gift of thanks to church

A PLAQUE has been presented to a Suffolk church on behalf of the American airmen who used it as a landmark as they approached the runway at RAF Bentwaters.

A PLAQUE has been presented to a Suffolk church on behalf of the American airmen who used it as a landmark as they approached the runway at RAF Bentwaters.

In a ceremony held at Iken Church, near Orford, the plaque was presented to the Rev Canon Robert Clifton on behalf of the 81st Fighter Wing.

The 81st Fighter Wing of the United States Air Force was based at the twin bases of RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge for more than 40 years from its arrival in 1951 until its departure in 1993.

The plaque was the idea of General Ben Cassidy who was a young operations officer in 1951 and his proposal was supported by the 81st Wing Association members.


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After being made in the United States the plaque was presented to Norman Rose, of Martlesham, during a USAF reunion held at Dayton, Ohio.

Mr Rose, a former senior civilian administrator at RAF Bentwaters, had organised a similar reunion for the Americans in Suffolk in 2001 and has been made an honorary member of the 81st Fighter Wing Association.

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"The Americans have very fond memories of their time in Suffolk and wanted to say thank you to all the local people who helped them over many years.

"They wanted the plaque to be placed at Iken Church as it was used as a navigational aid for flyers returning to Bentwaters," said Mr Rose.

The ceremony was attended by Lt Col Park Sims, Lt Col Al Brown and Sgt Bob Hale, former American servicemen from Bentwaters and now living in Suffolk.

Lt Col Sims said that Iken Church was well known to early American flyers stationed at Bentwaters as there were few navigational aids and the church was a prominent feature in direct line with the runway a few miles away.

"Those Americans who lived in the area also attended the church for services throughout the years," said Lt Col Sims.

American servicemen and women and their families will be able to see a report and pictures of the presentation on a website run by Linn Barringer.

His site at www.Bentwaters.org contains pictures and articles covering the history of the former base in east Suffolk along with details of many reunions and other special events. He was at the ceremony to record the presentation.

The plaque to be kept at Iken Church reads: "In appreciation of your kindness and your gracious acceptance of our people in your church, we present this little memento.

"This is late in concept but heartfelt by all of us from our arrival in 1951 and our final departure in 1993 - 81st Fighter Wing."

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