Remembering the young at cemetery in England
MADINGLEY, England — Old men honoring young boys.
That’s how one speaker at the Cambridge American Cemetery on Monday described the World War II veterans who were among the 2,000 people who spent Memorial Day under a bright English sky for the 60th such ceremony held at the cemetery.
The ceremony was enriched by the presence of a few dozen veterans of World War II, many of them on their way to Normandy, France, for next weekend’s D-Day anniversary events.
David Johnson, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in London, referred to them in his remarks.
“Men whose steps have slowed are thinking of boys they knew,” he said.
Harry Campbell, 80, was one of those old men. A B-17 navigator with the 457th Bomb Group, he flew 30 combat missions during the war and saw many friends killed.
“I’m one of the lucky bastards,” the retired New York City fireman said.
He planned to visit a few graves before the end of the day. One belongs to Maj. Ed Dozier, who commanded the 748th Squadron.
“I wouldn’t say he was strict, but he wanted everything to go right,” he said. “He was a good guy. He had been with the group since it started.”
The major died when his bomber crashed on takeoff from Glatton airfield near Peterborough, England.
“It hit me hard,” said Campbell, who also lost firemen friends in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Ed Dugan, 85, from Blue Point, N.Y., missed D-Day when a mortar round landed short during training two weeks before the invasion and wounded him and others in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division.
He did manage to make a combat jump in Holland later in 1944 and ended the war in Germany. He will go to Normandy later this week for the seventh time.
“I come back to pay tribute to all these wonderful paratroops that we lost,” he said.
The ceremony, organized by the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, Third Air Force at RAF Mildenhall and the U.S. Embassy, traces its roots to the days just before D-Day when the cemetery was still a temporary resting place for America’s war dead.
It is a popular event each year and Monday’s wonderful weather brought out a crowd estimated at roughly 2,000. More than 100 wreaths were laid along the cemetery’s Wall of the Missing. The U.S. Air Forces in Europe band played.
And four F-15E Strike Eagles from the 494th Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath performed an impeccably timed missing man formation over the cemetery, roaring past just as the final gasp of taps was played.
“It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful,” Senior Airman Ryan Bousquet of the 48th Operations Support Squadron at RAF Lakenheath said as he looked around at the cemetery.
His grandfather was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 in World War II. He was shot down and spent time in a German prisoner of war camp.
“When I found out about this, I knew this was something I wanted to do,” said Bousquet, who was one of about 200 active-duty airmen to volunteer to help at the ceremony. He did it, he said, as a tribute to his grandfather, who died a few years ago.
Hugh Duberly, the lord lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, the title given to the Queen’s representative in the county, spoke of the kinship between America and Great Britain.
The graves in the cemetery, he said, are testimony to the depth of that relationship.
“We in Britain are fortunate to have such staunch allies,” he said.
Johnson, too, mentioned the partnership formed during that war 60 years ago. For a few years, he said, the British stood alone “night after terrible night,” while Adolf Hitler threatened their country.
He called the British victory in the Battle of Britain “the turning point of the Second World War.”
“America and Great Britain worked together in a rare partnership,” he said, “one that continues to this day.”