On hallowed ground

  • Published
  • By Col. Kent Laughbaum
  • 48th Operations Group commander
As an Air Force fighter pilot in England, I’ve been afforded a special perspective of America. Yes, America. On every mission I fly here I am literally surrounded by our American history. What I see are beautiful green fields, small English villages and hundreds of airfields. It is truly an amazing sight ... an absolutely unique view of this Earth.

As I fly from Lakenheath towards the coast and North Sea, I cannot set my eyes anywhere without seeing an American airfield from World War II. Some names might be familiar to you, such as Watton and Sudbury. Others most of you have never heard of, such as Old Buckenham and Grafton Underwood. In total, there are hundreds of airfields across the East Anglian countryside. Today, they are quiet, rural and peaceful. This has not always been the case. For our forefathers here, just over sixty years ago, these airfields were weapons of war, places of sacrifice, ultimately hallowed ground.

It is difficult for us in 2006 to imagine the American Airmen’s experience in East Anglia during WWII. In late 1942 the war was going poorly for the Allies. The Nazis ruled continental Europe; the Japanese had conquered most of the Pacific and East Asia. Defeats were more common than victories. Death was ever present.

In Europe, the lone Allied hope was airpower, specifically in the form of an American and British bombing offensive against Germany. The risks were incredibly high, and as the statistics now show, the risks were proven accurate. The bombing offensive began with small steps in early 1943, and the losses were staggering.

Each aircrew was given the goal of reaching 25 combat missions over Germany, and for the first year virtually none survived the challenge. American Airmen flew thousands of missions from airfields that surround us here at Lakenheath.

According to Roger Freeman, the famous Eighth Air Force historian, the skies over East Anglia were never absent of the sound and sight of American warbirds.

Today, we are again a nation at war. Ours is a dangerous war, against a ruthless and utterly evil adversary. This war will demand the best of America’s Airmen, and I absolutely believe it is the great challenge of our generation.

Therefore, I think it important for us to reflect upon the sacrifices of our forefathers. In the years 1943-45, more than 37,000 American Airmen died flying from airfields here in Suffolk and Norfolk. Each of these men had parents, brothers, sisters, wives or children back home, across the Atlantic. Was their sacrifice in vain? Absolutely not! Their struggle in the skies over Germany reversed the course of the war, and ultimately earned victory for the Allied cause.

Their sacrifices changed history, brought liberty to untold millions, and made the world a far better place for you and me today.

Theodore Roosevelt captured this noble spirit when he said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure ... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Every time I strap into a jet and launch for the skies above East Anglia, I scan the countryside for an American airfield. When I find that familiar landmark, I say a small prayer of thanksgiving for the sacrifices of our forefathers, and ask that I might always have the same courage, determination, and sense of sacrifice.

My hope is that living here in this special part of England, on Hallowed Ground, that you feel the same.