When four American F15 fighters fly over Sheffield today, it will be something of a dream come true to pensioner Tony Foulds, now aged 82 – a moment of huge significance after a lifetime of commemorating a wartime tragedy.Foulds was just eight years old when he witnessed the American B-17 Flying Fortress crash into Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, on February 22 1944, killing all 10 of the crew on board.And when a memorial to the aircraft, called Mi Amigo, was built in 1969 he began regularly looking after it, sometimes visiting up to six times a week.He said: “I come roughly about 260 times a year. It’s now taken my life over, literally.”The pensioner added that he does it because he “loved them to pieces” and how he “wouldn’t have been here if it hadn’t been for them”.“They’re part of my family. They are my family,” he said.“I pray for them every morning, every night.”
PATony FouldsThe story would likely have carried on as little more than a local legend, until BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker met Foulds during a walk in the park and started a social media campaign.
Walker told HuffPost UK: “I met Tony walking my dog six weeks ago in Endcliffe Park, I simply asked him if he was ok and he told me his amazing story.“When he said all he wanted was a flypast I foolishly said ‘leave it with me’, even though I had no aviation contacts.“I started calling people, badgering people and – once it was on social media – and we’d interviewed Tony on BBC Breakfast the wheels started rolling. It’s been a beast to organise but it’s been an honour to be involved.”A few weeks later, Foulds broke down in tears as Colonel Will Marshall of RAF Lakenheath, which houses a US Air Force unit and personnel, told him live on BBC Breakfast: “It gives me great pleasure to say: Look to the skies on February 22 for a very special flyby.”Just met an amazing man in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield. Tony Foulds was an 8-yr-old playing in the park when a US plane crashed in Feb 1944. He has diligently maintained the memorial ever since. He was planting new flowers. Almost 75 yrs of service. What a man. I’m in bits 😢👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/DpdDmSZ0F3— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) January 2, 2019
Walker said his friendship with “amazing” Foulds had touched him, adding: “The fact that this 82-year-old had been tending this memorial quietly, diligently and without any desire for publicity or fame.“He never once asked for anything for himself – his whole focus was always on honouring the men of Mi Amigo and that is why I felt I had to all I could to make it happen.”Walker said while the quest had been emotional for Foulds, the pensioner had retained his sense of humour.“He told me this week ‘Dan you’ve sorted the memorial path, the flagpole and the flypast. I just need Angelina Jolie’s number and you’re done’.”The BBC presenter said Foulds had also taught him the importance of listening. “This all came from asking him if he was ok. It’s all a bit bonkers really. I know there is a lot of worrying stuff going in the world but Tony is a timely reminder that there are amazing people out there, quietly doing amazing things,” he added.Planes from the RAF and the American airforce will be taking part in the event on Friday. The main display will feature a formation of four F15s from the 48th squadron of the United States Airforce, which is based in Britain. Chris Zaremski, chief of current operations for the 48th squadron, said it had been in the planning since he received the request from Sheffield City Council in January, after which is had to be approved by the US Embassy in London and then the German headquarters for the US airforce.“It’s very nice for the air crew that are participating in the fly past to take a step back and execute a flyover that means so much to us to honour the comrades that came before us and who we owe so much to for where we are today,” he added.Captain Benjamin Coffey said he was “deeply humbled” to be one of the pilots flying a F15 on the day. He said they would start out in a standard “V shape formation”, before changing into a “missing man formation” where his jet will go “out of formation point it up towards the heavens” describing it as a “symbolic gesture, an aerial salute to that aircrew who have fallen.”He added: “It’s a huge huge honour, my family just like many others have World War Two vets in them and a lot of that family never made it home.”Coffey said on their return leg, the aircraft will fly over Cambridge American cemetery, where three of the Mi Amigo crew are buried.
PAThe ill-fated plane was supposed to be dropping a 4,000 lb bomb on a Luftwaffe air station in Aalborg, Denmark, but was ambushed by German fighters over the North Sea and heavily damaged.It was attempting to return to its base in Northamptonshire when it ended up off course over the skies of Sheffield before crashing.Foulds believes the team in the B-17 Flying Fortress were attempting to find a place to make an emergency landing. He said the Mi Amigo approached low from the Nether Edge area of the city in an obviously bad way, with only one engine.But when the pilot, Lieutenant John Kriegshauser, saw a group of children on the ground, he decided to circle.Foulds said that when the bomber came round again, the pilot was waving his arms as a warning.“We did not know what that meant so we just waved back,” he said.“On the third time, he just missed the slates of the houses, that’s how low he was.“And, because we were still there, he had to make a decision – ‘Shall I land on there and hope I don’t hit these kids or try and get over the trees with this one engine?’“Of course, he tried to get over the trees. The engine failed and it dropped straight into the ground.”Foulds said the plane burst into flames and exploded.“I can’t put into words how I feel,” the pensioner said. “I am going to be in tears all day, there’s no doubt about that.”
48th Fighter WingThe names of pilots who died in the crash have been printed onto one of the jets taking part in the fly overFoulds said he had been in touch with people from around the country who will be attending the event and expects there to be thousands in the park.Sheffield City Council has warned it expects large numbers to arrive in the city and advised people to travel on public transport.Councillor Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “This is going to be a truly memorable day in Sheffield’s history and we are looking forward to welcoming our friends from the US to pay tribute to this remarkable crew who gave their lives so bravely during the Second World War.”