Friendly-fire case hasn’t spoiled ties in Bury St. Edmonds
European edition, Saturday, September 1, 2007
BURY ST. EDMUNDS, England — Air Force Tech. Sgt. Randy Simon first came to this small English town 10 years ago, and he has no intention of leaving.
A 20-minute drive from RAFs Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Feltwell, the idyllic community couldn’t have been more welcoming, said Simon, who is stationed at Lakenheath with the 48th Fighter Wing.
“It’s definitely a very American-friendly town,” Simon said. “In fact, I have a couple neighbors who were in [U.K.’s Royal Air Force], and another one is in the RAF in the same career field I am. We get on very well.”
After retiring in a few years, Simon said he plans to stay here with his British wife.
But this town and surrounding area of approximately 35,000 has found itself at a tragic crux involving two of its military pillars. On Aug. 23, three soldiers from the British army’s Royal Anglian Regiment, based in Bury St. Edmunds, were killed when a U.S. F-15 fighter accidentally dropped a bomb on their position in Afghanistan.
That fighter jet was based at Lakenheath, a short drive from the British regiment’s headquarters.
Despite the awful coincidence, people in town said this week they don’t think the deaths of British army Pvts. John Thrumble, Robert Graham Foster and Aaron James McClure will affect relations between the two communities.
“It’s a shame, but it’s not their fault,” Mark Hammond, a bartender in Bury, said of the Americans’ part in the friendly fire.
“It’s war,” Murray Thexton said flatly. “[Expletive] happens.”
‘We welcome them here’It’s not clear just how many Americans live in Bury, but there are enough that the town’s Web site has its own “American connections” link.
Representatives with the Air Force housing office for the area would not disclose the number of Americans living in Bury, citing operational security. Town officials said they didn’t keep formal track of such numbers either.
John Griffiths, leader of the St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, said he hoped the friendly-fire incident last week doesn’t affect how everyone gets along.
“We have very close relations with the American forces based here, whom I sure will be as sad about this tragic accident as everyone else is,” he said. “We welcome them here.”
But while British residents said they didn’t expect any change in American and British interactions in town, that doesn’t mean they support all U.S. policies or practices.
Because of views of the U.S. as a gun culture, and the fact that the U.S. did not give up evidence in the 2003 friendly-fire death of a British soldier in Iraq by American forces, there can be a view that the Yanks aren’t the safest bet in tense situations, Thexton said.
“There is a preconception that Americans can be a bit trigger happy,” he said half-jokingly.
Cockpit footage in the 2003 friendly-fire case was not released by the U.S. despite demands from British investigators. It eventually was leaked to the British media. A separate U.S. investigation exonerated the involved American personnel.
Even if America has nothing to hide, not cooperating in such investigations only deepens suspicions, Thexton said.
This week, U.K. investigators expressed outrage over news that the U.S. as a rule will not supply military witnesses for friendly-fire investigations.
“That makes a huge difference,” Thexton said. “The Americans will never put their hands up. If you make a mistake, put your hand up. But they don’t do that. Because they don’t do that, you get all the conspiracy theories. It just makes it worse and worse.”
Outside The Nutshell, billed as the smallest pub in the U.K., Nick Clark said he loved America and was looking forward to a trip there in a few weeks, when he will drive coast-to-coast with friends.
Many airmen come into the pub, he said, proudly brandishing a Dallas Cowboys jersey an American customer had given him.
Standing next to Clark, Dave Seager said he has no problem with Americans.
“But I don’t like President Bush,” he said. “Bring back Kennedy!”