For one brief moment daily life in Sheffield came to a standstill this morning as people looked to the skies to salute the brave actions of an American bomber crew – who sacrificed their own lives to save others in the city 75 years ago.
All 10 crew on board the badly damaged B-17 Flying Fortress, known as Mi Amigo, were killed when it plummeted from the skies and crashed into Endcliffe Park during the Second World War on February 22 1944.
Thousands of people gathered at the scene of the tragedy, and millions more watched live on TV, as a flypast of military planes roared overhead to mark the anniversary of the crash today.
This was an awe-inspiring show of air power, and there has been much fanfare for the occasion, but it was the tears of one elderly man among the throng of people that proved to be the most poignant moment.
Pensioner Tony Foulds was just a boy of eight when he and his friends witnessed the plane splutter and stall over the park.
The Mi Amigo had completed a daring day time raid on the Aalborg airfield in occupied Denmark but was hit in the attack and limped back over the North Sea.
The story goes that the crew was attempting to make an emergency landing on the field but upon witnessing Tony and his friends changed course and plummeted into nearby woods to avoid landing on them.
Their ultimate sacrifice left Tony, now aged 82, with feelings of deep-seated guilt and he has tended to a memorial every week, come rain or shine, for the best part of seven decades.
He has spent a lifetime paying penance in solitary, but today’s flypast, witnessed by millions of people with him, will ensure those brave boys will never be forgotten.
When the moment came, the grandfather-of-four welled up, waved and blew a kiss to the aircraft as years of emotion was released as the powerful engines roared overhead.
The Lowedges man said: “It was unbelievable and heartbreaking. It brought all of the memories back. They will be smiling.
"If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be here with my family. It's more than bravery, what they did. They saved me.
"These are now part of my family, my ashes are going to be put by the memorial. I might as well stay with them.”
Tony also got chance to meet relatives of lieutenant John Kriegshauser, the 23-year-old pilot that fateful day who was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross for minimising loss of life.
They presented him with a piece of the plane and thanked him for his diligence in keeping the crew’s memory alive.
Tony said: “We had a hug and it was very emotional.”
However, the flypast and warm embrace from Lt. Kriegshauser’s family is still not enough to shake off those feelings of guilt that have become so ingrained in him.
He said: “It will never go away, and when everyone has gone I’ll be back at the memorial to speak to them and to talk about today.”
Tony said he was heartened to see so many people turn out for occasion and thanked everyone who helped to make it happen.
Tony’s story has captured the hearts of the nation in recent weeks and thousands of people and organisations, including The Star and BBC presenter Dan Walker, got behind his call for a flypast.
Several thousand people gathered in the park as a unique variety of planes from the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force made their way to the city from bases in Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Coningsby.
This included four F15 Strike Eagle fighter jets, which performed a ‘missing man formation’ as an aerial salute to the Mi Amigo, along with a Dakota, CV-22 Osprey, MC-130, KC-135 Tanker and two RAF Typhoons.
Former RAF ground technician Malcolm Bennett, who visited the Mi Amigo crash site several days after it happened, described the flypast as “very exciting."
The 89-year-old Walkley man said Tony is a “remarkable bloke.”
Killamarsh man Steve Hardcastle, aged 64, added: “It was marvelous, a fitting tribute.”
Couple Peter and Pauline Memmott, of Meadowhead, called for Tony to be honoured by HRH The Queen.
Pauline, aged 59, said: “He deserves an OBE or an MBE for what he has done.”
Captain Andrew Schloemer, an F15 Strike Eagle pilot based in RAF Lakenheath, praised the Mi Amigo crew for their “incredible act of courage.”
A memorial service took place ahead of the flypast led by Ian Jennings, padre for the Frecheville branch of the Royal British Legion.
There was a reading from St John’s Gospel, and a bugler played one verse of Amazing Grace, plus the Last Post and Reveille. The US and British national anthems were also observed.
Pat Davey, chairman of the Frecheville branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “These ten American boys had two choices – save themselves or choose certain death. ‘Us or the children?’ They chose to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives.”
There will also be an act of remembrance on Sunday, February 24, which will include wreath laying at the memorial from 1.15pm, followed by a service at St Augustine’s Church in Brocco Bank at 2pm.
*The crew of the Mi Amigo:- Lt. John G. Kriegshauser, of St. Louis, Missouri, pilot; 2nd Lt. Lyle Curtis of Idaho Falls, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. John W. Humphrey of Wyoming, Illinois, navigator; 2nd Lt. Melchor Hernandez of Los Angeles, bombardier; Staff Sgt. Robert Mayfield of Raymond, Illinois, radio operator; Sgt. Vito Ambrosio of Brooklyn, waist gunner; Staff Sgt. Harry Estabrooks of Mound Valley, Kansas, flight engineer and top turret gunner; Sgt. George M. Williams of Faxon, Oklahoma, waist gunner; Sgt. Charles Tuttle of Raceland, Kentucky, ball turret gunner and Sgt. Maurice Robbins of Manor, Texas, rear gunner.