It was one tragedy among thousands in a world consumed by catastrophe. It would have been barely a footnote in the history of the Second World War, but for one man.
As the US Air Force passed above him in a Sheffield park yesterday, Tony Foulds, perhaps acting on instinct, waved skyward, just as he had done exactly 75 years earlier.
He was barely eight when he watched a stricken B-17 Flying Fortress, damaged by German fire and flying over the city on its way home, fall from the sky.
Endcliffe Park had been the pilot, John Kriegshauser’s last hope of putting it down safely. But when he saw the boy and his friends waving, he banked to avoid them and hit a tree. He and all nine of his crew died.
“I don’t think they saved my life – I know they did,” said Mr Foulds yesterday. “I’ve carried the guilt all my life and it’s only got worse as I’ve got older.”
He is 82 now and has dedicated years to maintaining the memorial to the 10 airmen that now stands in the park. It had been his wish for a flypast to honour their memory on the 75th anniversary of their death.
But he had not foreseen the scale of yesterday’s tribute.
The park, almost empty but for Tony and his friends on that day in February 1944, was filled with thousands who had some to pay their respects to the crew of the aircraft they called Mi Amigo, and to him.
It was, said Jim Kriegshauser, a descendant of the pilot, who had travelled to Sheffield for the occasion, “a memorial to the human spirit – to the men but as much to Tony as to them”.
Mr Foulds brushed away a tear and said: “Its not about me – it’s about my lads” as the flypast of six RAF and US Air Force aircraft, including a wartime Dakota from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, swept over the waiting TV cameras.
It had been, he said, a sacrifice apart from so many others in the war years. “Most sacrifices were by people who had been put in that position,” he said. “This was different. These men gave their lives when they could have saved themselves. We were foreigners to them – but they put us first.
“It’s more than bravery, what they did. They saved me, and I mean saved me.”
After their names were read aloud to the crowd by a US Major, he excused himself and retreated to the sanctity of the memorial on the edge of the park that has been his life’s work.
He has a spot set aside there for his own ashes once his life is over.
“Then I shall be able to apologise for killing them,” he said.
“Which is what I did, no matter what everybody says.
“If it hadn’t been for me being on there they would have had happy lives.”
Dave Jones, of the Royal Marine Association Doncaster, was among the standard bearers for the 8.45am airborne salute.
“The Mi Amigo crew were just young men – the oldest was 24. It was self sacrifice. It was them or the children, simple as that,” he said.
“I think because of Iraq and Afghanistan, the younger generation are more aware of what others have done – that’s why so many people are here today. I think they appreciate it.”
Joan and Mike Hargreaves, who made the journey to Sheffield from Southport, added: “We have a son coming up to 22 and he’s at university. The airmen gave their lives at a very young age – I can’t believe how brave they were in such dire circumstances. And to avoid a group of children in the park and sacrifice themselves is just amazing.”
Eileen Pickard remembered it at first-hand. Now 83 and living in Nottinghamshire, she returned to her home city for the tribute.
“I saw this plane go over. I knew by the height of it in the sky that it wasn’t normal,” she said.
“It was so low. We were used to seeing planes – all my childhood memories are of wartime – but it was so unusual. It kept popping up in my mind over the years. It’s taken me 70-odd years to figure out what it was.”
Megan Leo, whose cousin, Melchor Hernanadez, was among the 10 US airman to have died, said Mr Foulds should not blame himself for the tragedy.
“What happened that day was not the fault of the children in the park,” she said. “Everyone did the best that they could.
“Tony has been amazing and loved this park and loved the crew in ways we didn’t even know about.”
Ms Leo, who is studying in London and is the same age as her bombardier cousin, said: “We have nothing but absolute love in our hearts for Tony and view him as an amazing man and part of our extended family as well.”