Seventy-five years ago, on the morning of February 22, 1944, sixty American B-17 bombers of the 305th Bombardment Group took off from their base, RAF Chelveston, England (52°18’22.9″N 0°31’37.3″W).
It was the 15th mission for the crew of Mi Amigo. Their target was a Luftwaffe airfield near Ålborg, in northern Denmark. While the airfield was an important part of the Nazi air defenses against Allied bombers and thus a high priority, the mission was essentially a ruse to draw more German fighter aircraft north and away from the principle objective. The main target that day was much further south, in Germany, which was attacked by a larger American bomber formation. It wasn’t a good day for the U.S. Army Air Force. A total of 43 aircraft, and 430 airmen, were lost.
The northern target, and the Danish city of Ålborg, were obscured by a heavy overcast. The 305th BG made three attempts to find the target, each time flying straight through intense flak (anti-aircraft fire). Many aircraft were badly damaged, including Mi Amigo.
Unable to see the enemy target, and unwilling to risk accidently bombing Danish civilians, the group decided to return to base. They turned west toward England and dropped their bombs harmlessly into the North Sea, which was standard operating procedure. In those days, landing with a plane full of high explosives was extraordinarily dangerous.
As the group headed for home they were pursued by German fighter planes. Badly damaged bombers, including Mi Amigo, fell behind the main group and became easy prey for the fighters to further pummel. Somehow, Mi Amigo managed to survive the fighters and made it across the North Sea to England.
Their navigation equipment must have been damaged by enemy fire. When Mi Amigo descended and broke through the heavy clouds, they weren’t over their home airbase. They were about 80 miles too far north, over the city of Sheffield. Witnesses said only one of the big bomber’s four engines was still running and large holes in the aircraft, created by flak and enemy fighters, were clearly visible from the ground.
We don’t know how many of Mi Amigo’s crew were killed or injured in the air over Denmark. Survivors couldn’t have bailed out over the North Sea. They would never have survived in the frigid winter waters. We do know no one attempted to bail out over Sheffield. Perhaps the survivors were too badly injured to get themselves out. In any case, the pilot, Lieutenant John Krieghauser, circled low over the city a few times, looking for a place to land.
Krieghauser saw an open field on the west side of the city. Maybe it looked like the best choice to get the aircraft on the ground and avoid civilian casualties. Or, with the poor condition the still descending plane was in, maybe it was the last and only choice. The open field was part of a city reserve called Endcliffe Park (53°22’09.0″N 1°30’27.6″W).
February 22 was a Tuesday. It was about five in the afternoon. Schools had let out for the day, and a group of schoolboys were at that moment meeting on the field of Endcliffe Park to fight and settle a score. The sight and sound of Mi Amigo got everyone’s attention.
One of the boys was eight-year-old Tony Foulds. As Mi Amigo approached the field, Tony could see the pilot waving at them, although he could not see the co-pilot or anyone else on the plane. The boys thought the pilot was simply waving, and they waved back, not understanding that Krieghauser wanted them to run for their lives.
Krieghauser pulled up. According to witnesses, Mi Amigo overflew the field, groaned, and went down in the trees at the far end of the field. The remaining fuel on board went up in a ball of fire.
The groan that witnesses heard just before the crash may have been the sound of bending metal – maybe a shot-up wing or some section of the battered airframe could take no more of the aerodynamic forces of flight, and simply folded or broke mid-flight causing the bomber to drop into the woods.
Tony Foulds was a teenager when the realization of what had actually occured hit him; John Krieghauser, 23 years old, had saved the lives of the boys on the field, but it cost him his life as well as the lives of any of the crew who might have still been alive prior to the crash.
Since that realization, Tony has worked to honor and memorialize the crew of Mi Amigo. Even before a permanent memorial marked the site, he kept plants watered, planted fresh flowers, and visited the site on most days of every year for his entire adult life.
In 1969, on the 25th anniversary of the crash, a permanent memorial and plaque was erected at the site. Tony has kept it neat and tidy for fifty years, despite having had Parkinson’s for the last twenty-one years.
Recently, Dan Waler, a well-known BBC presenter (or host), was walking by the memorial one day and stopped to talk to Tony. He told Dan all about the day of the crash and how he owes his life to the crew of Mi Amigo. Tony also mentioned the one thing he has dreamed about for decades, but had been unable to arrange, despite his best efforts: a “flypast” (flyby) of military aircraft to honor the crew of Mi Amigo.
Mr. Waler was able to contact the right people to make a flypast happen. And he invited Tony to be a guest on his BBC show where he surprised Tony on-the-air with the announcement that there would be a flypast to mark the 75th anniversary. The flyover will include aircraft from the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force. Inspired by Tony’s story and dedication, tens of thousands of people are expected to attend to pay homage to the American crew that sacrificed their lives to save British schoolboys as well as to help defend the British Isles. Tony has become famous and admired by many Brits, who, in appreciation of Tony’s selflessness and service, want to present him with an award.
Tony Foulds is now 82. After decades of caring for their memorial, he considers the crew of Mi Amigo to be family. A number of the crew’s family members will be attending the day’s events. They are looking forward to meeting Tony, and he them.
RAF Chelveston was deactivated and dismantled decades ago. It is now a wind farm, fittingly enough, still in close association with the air… one might even say, allied with the air.
Why This Is Important
You may be wondering what this has to do with politics. I was absolutely compelled to write this for several reasons.
The heroics of the crew and their sacrifice in the cause of fighting and defeating a great evil is not only very moving, but a story worth remembering and retelling for generations to come – one of a great many stories that must be passed on to help maintain a memory of who and what our country was and is, and to aid in understanding where we came from and how we got here. The crew of Mi Amigo set the ulimate leadership example by putting themselves second, and the lives of young schoolboys as well as the cause of freedom from tyranny, first.
The evident gratitude, the sacrifice of decades-long devotion and faithfulness of service by Tony Foulds to a ‘family’ he never met, makes him a hero and a leader in my book. He has set a stellar example of sacrifice, putting himself second, year after year after year to honor this aircrew which has helped keep alive our collective memories of what that war was all about, and the bond between his country and ours. He is a humble and admirable example to his children, his grandchildren, his community, and the world.
Many members of our current younger generations need to understand what sacrifice is about, what it means. They grew up not knowing what it is to do without material things, what it is to live without the freedoms they take for granted, and without knowing what it is to put the well being of others first before themselves. Our culture and sense of community has withered in an age of material abundance, excessive wealth, and a widespread “me first” attitude.
Most importantly, this story underscores that Trump’s “America First” approach is a bankrupt philosophy bereft of leadership. Real leaders never put themselves first, or above their friends and followers. The United States has not been the leader of the free world for more than 70 years because we put ourselves first. No, America has led because we put our friends first. Our allies have been confident, at least until Trump’s nationalism lifted it’s ugly head, that we would come to their aid in time of war, natural disaster, crisis, or hardship. They knew we could be counted on.
The needs of our friends and allies are, in fact, our needs. To be sure, for seven decades, we have been able to count on our friends to join together with us to stand against those who would rule over us all. Free nations are strongest when we stand together with an unbreakable and lasting bond, the kind of bond Tony Foulds has with the crew of Mi Amigo.
As a resurgent Russia and a rising China, as well as lesser totalitarian challengers, threaten freedom around the world with their ambitions for dominance, the freedom-loving family of nations are looking for leadership. Although we seem to be living in a leaderless time, we can find plently of examples of genuine leadership in our rich history which we can always turn to for inspiration.
Lastly, the story of Tony Foulds and the crew of Mi Amigo gives me hope that our century-old relationship with one of our most important allies is still intact. The British people have shown they still remember and are still grateful for the ultimate sacrifice that 30,000 American airmen made, three-quarters of a century ago.
The Crew of Mi Amigo:
• First Lieutenant John G. Krieghauser (Pilot)
• Second Lieutenant Lyle J. Curtis (Co-Pilot)
• Second Lieutenant John W. Humphrey (Navigator)
• Second Lieutenant Melchor Hernandez (Bombardier)
• Staff Sergeant Robert E. Mayfield (Radio Operator)
• Staff Sergeant Harry W. Estabrooks (Engineer, Top Turret Gunner)
• Sergeant Charles H. Tuttle (Ball Turret Gunner)
• Sergeant Maurice O. Robbins (Tail Gunner)
• Sergeant Vito R. Ambrosio (Right Waist Gunner)
• Master Sergeant George U. Williams (Left Waist Gunner)
(Note: I highly recommend these articles which contain pictures, much additional information, and will likely bring a tear to your eye and warmth to your soul… you really should read a few)