Mildenhall honors World War II B-17 crew chief with building dedication
By CHRISTOPHER DENNIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 24, 2019
RAF MILDENHALL, England — Days shy of his 96th birthday, Oklahoma native Dewey R. Christopher was honored for his World War II service as a crew chief working on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers, as Air Force officials at RAF Mildenhall named a building after him.
Christopher cut a ceremonial red ribbon outside Mildenhall’s Professional Development Center, which now bears his name, as Col. S. Troy Pananon, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, called the former master sergeant an inspiration to young airmen and praised his exemplary service.
“To hear … him recount what he went through during those days is just awe-inspiring,” Pananon said at the dedication ceremony Friday. “It’s a bit of motivation, a bit of inspiration, and reminds us of what excellence can do for our nation.”
Christopher was honored for his behind-the-scenes contributions to the allied war effort and the community around RAF Thorpe Abbotts in Norfolk, England, where he helped keep the B-17s of the 100th Bombardment Group mission-ready.
“We could have recognized a hero that we all know, but we really wanted to focus on someone that we don’t know, but should,” Chief Master Sgt. Kristina L. Rogers said at the ceremony.
The 100th Bombardment Group flew 8,630 missions and lost 732 airmen and 177 aircraft in the 22 months between its first combat mission on June 25, 1943 and its last on April 20, 1945, earning it the nickname, the “Bloody Hundredth.” Christopher said in interviews prior to being honored at Mildenhall that he never lost an aircraft and that one of the planes he worked on flew more than 60 consecutive missions without a maintenance report, “which meant there weren’t any discrepancies on my airplane.”
Christopher had recently finished high school and was struggling to find work when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. He joined the Army Air Forces, hoping to become a pilot. But after an eye injury prevented him from achieving that dream, he put his mechanical skills to use and began working as a maintenance crew chief on B-17s.
In addition to having a building named after him, Christopher was given a cake to mark his 96th birthday on Sunday. The scores of civilians and servicemembers at the dedication ceremony, some of them less than a quarter of Christopher’s age, sang a rousing version of “Happy birthday” to the former master sergeant.
“I’ve worked with some great people and they’re not with us anymore, but they’re remembered,” Christopher said in a short speech. “And I’ll always remember the reception I get when I come to Mildenhall.”
The newly christened Dewey R. Christopher Professional Development Center at RAF Mildenhall provides airmen with resources and tools to develop job skills. It also conducts courses for airmen coming to RAF Mildenhall as their first duty station.
Dewey R. Christopher, center, walks toward the new sign, bearing his name, for the Professional Development Center at RAF Mildenhall with Chief Master Sgt. Kristina L. Rogers, left, Col. S. Troy Pananon, second from right and Master Sgt. Curtis Brown, right, on June 21, 2019.
CHRISTOPHER DENNIS/STARS AND STRIPES