After much fruitless research to find surviving relatives to attend the unveiling of the B-17 memorial in the village, relatives of eight of the brave young US airmen who lost their lives in the crash have now been in touch with us and the 95th Bomb Group Heritage Association.
The most recent to get in touch were Karen O Walsh, whose uncle was Sgt Julius William Torok, and Patrick Flynn, a relative of S/Sgt Gordon V Sorensen, and the crewman's niece Jennifer Sorensen Flynn.
When Tracey Mogan Googled the name Richard Diete - her grandmother's brother - she was “shocked and honoured” to find the memorial had been set up for the ten airmen who died in the Redlingfield crash. She wrote: “My great grandmother (Richard's mom) would be so honoured and proud”.
Robert Czarnecki, whose wife is S/Sgt Kenneth Cosby's niece, had passed the pictures and information on to author Rob Morris, whose untoldvalor.blogspot.com website had featured the Redlingfield crash. He then passed them on to James.
This website has now put the village in touch with relatives of eight of the crew - Sgt Julius William “Buddy” Torok, waist gunner; S/Sgt Gordon V Sorensen, radio operator; 2nd Lt Kenneth B Rongstad, pilot; 2nd Lt Warren Franklin Mansfield Strawn, co-pilot; 2nd Lt Richard E Diete, navigator; S/Sgt Gail A Richmond Junior, top-turret gunner/flight engineer; Sgt Charles E Phinney, ball turret gunner; and S/Sgt Kenneth Cosby, tail gunner.
Linda Rongstad Shepherd, niece of the pilot, 2nd Lt Kenneth Rongstad, and the brother of Staff Sgt Gail A Richmond Junior, the top-turret gunner/flight engineer, Robert 'Bob' Richmond and his wife Connie also tracked us down online.
They join Ralph Schimmel, a nephew of Sgt Charles E Phinney, from Schenectady in New York who found out about the memorial, landing on our website, while researching his uncle. His younger brother, a commercial airline pilot and former military pilot, visited the accident site several years ago while in the UK.
Marcia A Moyer, the niece of 2nd Lt Warren Mansfield Strawn, also landed on our site. Marcia's mother, Reynolda S Clegg, and two other siblings of 2nd Lt Strawn are still living, Martha M Scott, and L B Strawn.
Thanks to Marcia we now have a wealth of material about her uncle and pictures of the crew.
It is hoped some of the relatives will be able to visit the memorial to the Flying Fortress which crashed in the village on November 19th 1943 killing all ten crew.
Thanks to Marcia we now know that six of the crew were originally buried in a “group” grave in the US Military Cemetery in Brookwood, England. They were: 2nd Lt Strawn; S/Sgt Kenneth Cosby, tail gunner; S/Sgt Gordon V Sorenson, radio operator; S/Sgt Gail A Richmond Jr, top-turret, gunner/flight engineer; Sgt Phinney; and Sgt Julius W Torok, right waist gunner. They were returned to the US for burial in a veteran's cemetery in Indiana.
Letters from 2nd Lt Strawn to his family in the States written just days before the crash tell of the crew's earlier ditching of their aircraft in the North Sea and of his leave to recuperate. He tells in a matter of fact way of how over the course of a mission all their B-17's engines failed, crew members passed out and came close to death and finally they ditched in the North Sea. He says: “We only floated about 10 hrs which is not at all bad.”
And in a letter written on November 16 1943, three days before the fatal crash in Redlingfield, he writes of the seven days leave the crew were given to recuperate.
He ends the letter by talking about the first formal dance of the winter season in Southport, where there was a large Red Cross facility: “I took a very pretty little English girl to the dance ... She is the prettiest thing I've seen since I left the US I'm going to see her again some time.”
The 95th BG Heritage Association in Horham has updated its display on the crash and the pictures, letters and many moving poems written by Lt Strawn's talented family are on this website.
Many thanks to Marcia A Moyer, proud niece of 2nd Lt Strawn.