Veterans' emotional return to airfield

By David GreenIT was an emotional moment for two pilots and the widow of a third when they attended a memorial service on an airfield from where many Americans flew aircraft during the Second World War.

By David Green

IT was an emotional moment for two pilots and the widow of a third when they attended a memorial service on an airfield from where many Americans flew aircraft during the Second World War.

Joe Black and Joe Shea survived the war and returned to the site of the old Leiston Airfield yesterday to see a special Battle of Britain flypast by a Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane and a display by a P51 Mustang, a Harvard and a Yak 11.

Also there was Claudeane Sublett, whose husband, John, also flew from the airfield during the war.


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Mrs Sublett said she and her husband, an ace pilot with the 357th Fighter Group, had visited the site of the former airfield 25 years ago and again 12 years ago.

But, following her husband's death at the age of 81 last year, she had been determined to attend this year's memorial service for his memory and honour. "I wanted to be here for him," she said.

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Mr Shea was making his first return to the airfield and to Europe since he returned home to America in 1945. "It feels quite incredible to be here again,"he said.

The 79-year-old from Florida said when travelling by rail to the airfield he had been reminded, when going through Ipswich, of a training accident that had led to the death of his fellow pilot and good friend, Holsey Johnson.

"We used to practise attacking a barge moored out of Ipswich Harbour. It all went wrong for Holsey and the aircraft's wings just peeled off," he recalled.

Mr Black, 79, from Philadelphia, said he had first returned to Leiston Airfield in 1999 and was glad to back once more.

He remembered cycling down the coast with a friend during off-duty hours, visiting local pubs. "I learned to play darts, but not very well," he said.

Both he and Mr Shea had arrived in Leiston as 20-year-olds, having just completed their training as pilots.

"It was one of the most beautiful and peaceful spots I'd ever been to, but it was to take part in one of the most violent episodes in world history," said Mr Black.

The 357th Fighter Group arrived in Leiston in July 1944 and departed in July 1945 after carrying out many missions to protect bombers on their flights to and from Germany.

The Friends of Leiston Airfield (FOLA), which organised yesterday's event, was formed in 1995 by Peter Saunders, Chris Betson and the late Peter Barker because of increasing concern that a small memorial to the fighter group had become neglected.

Mr Saunders said: "The person who provided the motivation to do something was Gus Clutten, who lived adjacent to the airfield and had worked there for the duration of the U.S. Air Force occupation.".

FOLA is dedicated to preserving and developing the history of Leiston Airfield and forging and maintaining links with former military personnel.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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