Air ace takes a trip back in (war) time
FIGHTER ace Bill Cullerton took a sentimental journey on Monday. The US veteran was taken in a plane on a journey that he took almost each day while serving with the 355th Fighter Group at Steeple Morden. And part of the nostalgic flight was flying over S
FIGHTER ace Bill Cullerton took a sentimental journey on Monday.
The US veteran was taken in a plane on a journey that he took almost each day while serving with the 355th Fighter Group at Steeple Morden.
And part of the nostalgic flight was flying over St Catherine's Church in Litlington, which during the war was used as a landmark for pilots returning to the base.
It was a significant part of a journey of memories.
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A limited print of Bill in his P51D Mustang - Miss Steve - has been produced to help raise donations towards the restoration of the church tower.
Bill and two other USAAF veterans, radio operator Bob Kuhnert and crew chief Julius Moseley, had returned this week to launch the print.
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But there is a touch of sadness about the return.
Bill should have been the centre of attraction at an evening of memories and nostalgia in Litlington Village Hall on Tuesday evening.
But less than an hour before the event he suffered a mild stroke and was taken to Addenbrooke's hospital.
He could have told the packed audience of his time when he truly was a fighter ace operating out of Steeple Morden.
And the story of his crash during one mission when he escaped from German troops, but eventually walked straight into a group of Waffen SS Nazis: one of whom seemed to take great delight in shooting him in the stomach.
It is a remarkable story.
But 88-year-old Bob and 77-year-old Julius had memories themselves of the days in Steeple Morden.
It was Julius who helped prepare the planes for combat. "If you lost a pilot it was like losing a brother," he said.
A comment which showed the closeness of the ground crew and the pilots.
"It takes a lot of guts to get out there and be involved in combat," he said. "I still admire them all for what they did."
And Bob said: "A bad day for us was when someone didn't come back."
During the war there were about 2,000 US personnel at the base, which included 100 pilots who were involved in escort duty for day-light bombing raids across occupied Europe and Germany.
"When we looked into the faces of those pilots we knew they had a rough mission coming up," said Bob.
The USAAF arrived at Steeple Morden late in the war and Bob believed that the US "waited too long to come over".
He said the country at the time was "isolationist".
But once here there was great appreciation of the role played by such men.
Although as Bob told the audience: "You as a country went through so much and we were aware of that.