398th Bomb Group

Old Glory Flies at WW II airbase

By Gail Fisher
June 12, 2004

Gail Fisher, a 2nd generation 398th Memorial Association member, wrote the following article that appeared in The Arizona Republic (a Phoenix-based newspaper) on June 12, 2004. She is the daughter of Bill Fisher, a former 398th 603 Squadron B-17 pilot. Gail is a community columnist and her column runs in the East Valley edition of The Arizona Republic covering the cities of Ahwatukee, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe and Queen Creek, Arizona.

Next Monday, June 14, is national Flag Day. It’s a special day to celebrate this national symbol. President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress on August 3, 1949, designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.

The DTC (Downtown Tempe Community) will place extra flags downtown on Mill Avenue and no doubt other East Valley communities will do the same. Since 9/11, it seems that many East Valley residents have expressed their patriotism by daily displaying the flag.

More flags were recently visible marking Memorial Day, dedication of the National WW II Memorial, the 60th anniversary of D-Day and flags are currently flying at half mast to honor the late President Reagan.

You may be surprised to know that across the Atlantic Ocean in a village south of Cambridge, England, a British woman has voluntarily flown the American flag every day for some 16 years. Peggy Wells, a child during WW II and a life-long resident of Nuthampstead, tends a flagpole in the middle of a barley field at the site of a former WW II air control tower and airfield. She remembers the planes that took off, some never to return, and has chosen to honor those airmen who saved her country.

I first met Wells four years ago when I accompanied my parents, Bill and Fran Fisher of Mesa to Nuthampstead for a WW II reunion of Dad’s 398th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, 1st Air Division, Station 131. Dad, now 84, was a B-17 pilot, 603 Squadron, who flew 33 bombing missions from the Nuthampstead airbase.

Wells still lives near her family’s “Gypsy Farm” in Nuthampstead. Agriculture, grazing land and sprays of yellow and red wildflowers fill the landscape with little, if any, hint that the site was a strategic airbase. Nearby, St. George’s Church Anstey has served the community since 1290 and the 17th century Woodman Inn remains a popular pub for locals.

Wells belongs to the UK Friends of the 398th, started by her now deceased husband, David Wells. The group was organized some 25 years ago when U.S. military veterans began turning up in Nuthampstead for a look at their old base. As visiting veterans stopped by the Woodman Inn, one conversation led to another and the Friends group was organized. They are the counter-part to the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association based in the U.S.

In September 1982, the two groups dedicated a memorial to the 398th that stands outside the Woodman Inn. An ebony granite monument depicts a B-17 Flying Fortress and the reverse side is engraved with a topical outline of Station 131. The memorial honors all who served there and is flanked by two flagpoles that fly the British Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes.

Since the early 1980s, on the second Saturday in June, every other year, a commemoration service is held on the Woodman Inn grounds. I’ve attended two such events. The local band plays, schoolchildren place flowers on the memorial, and a box lunch follows prayers, hymns and speeches. That’s where I first met Wells and learned about the flag program.

The UK Friends installed a flagpole on the airfield site to honor the memory of those who served there. The Friends consider the flying of the U.S. flag as a symbol of their reverence and appreciation.

Wells flies donated American flags representing those killed during the war or flags sent to her by widows and families from the military funerals of 398th veterans. Some families of deceased veterans bring flags with them to the reunions to personally raise the flags. Wells and the 398th Memorial Group keep track of the honorees and a special plaque is presented to the families.

As I display our flag on Monday, I’ll think of Peggy Wells displaying the same U.S. flag in the rural English countryside. I’ll also be thinking of all the veterans and those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

Gail Fisher has lived in the Southeast Valley for over 40 years and is a Tempe resident. Reach her at fisher.readers@cox.net. The views expressed are those of the author. 

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