Museum honoring Americans who worked at airfield is planned in England
July 30, 2003
The family that purchased the abandoned airfield in England where thousands of Americans once lived and worked plans to open a museum dedicated to those visiting Yanks.
The museum may open next summer at the former RAF Bentwaters, which was an American base throughout the Cold War. It closed in 1993.
“We want to have some sort of memorial to the U.S. Air Force members who were here,” said Sarah Kemball, who grew up on the farm next door to the base near Woodbridge in eastern England.
Her family bought the 1,000-acre base from the Ministry of Defence two years ago and still farms the surrounding land. She said Americans at the base mixed easily in the social fabric of the surrounding area and have been sorely missed in the 10 years since they left.
The base was home to the 81st Fighter Wing for many years during the Cold War. Kemball said 22 hardened aircraft shelters are still on the base, as well as many other buildings, including weapons storage sites and the “hush” house, where aircraft engine maintenance was done.
But it is all quiet and empty now, almost spooky, said Kemball.
“I think it’s quite upsetting when the servicemen [once stationed at the base] come back and remember what it was like,” she said.
Plans for the museum began about six months ago and has reached many former airmen once stationed at RAF Bentwaters or nearby RAF Woodbridge. They have donated uniforms, photos and other memorabilia.
Kemball said she met an American recently who gave her his dress blue uniform, saying he wanted it returned to the base where he once wore it.
The museum will be built in the base’s former command bunker, where, Kemball said, plans were hatched for Operation El Dorado Canyon, the attack on Libya in April 1986 in retaliation for terrorist attacks on Americans in Germany planned by Libya’s president, Moammar Khadafi. The attacking fighters left from RAF Lakenheath.
A date for the opening has not been set, she said, but next summer sometime is likely.
“We certainly don’t want to open it until it’s ready,” she said.
To help raise funds for the museum, a dance will be held in a base hangar at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30, featuring the Memphis Belle Swing Orchestra. Tickets are 17.50 British pounds, about $30.
Tickets are available by calling 01394 460655. More information about the museum and the base can be found at Web site: www.bentwatersparks.com.