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The Wings that Circled and Returned

303rd Bombardment Group - Capt. Flowers

Archival photo of air crew from the 303rd Bombardment Group, located at RAF Molesworth, England in the 1940's. United States Army Air Corps Captain Selwyn D. Flowers (top right center) wearing a baseball style cap and flight jacket served as a bomber pilot during World War II, flying over 30 combat missions in 6 months. (Courtesy Photo)

Capt. Selwyn Flowers Wings

United States Army Air Corps Captain Selwyn D. Flowers’ flight wings at RAF Alconbury, United Kingdom, July 31, 2018. During World War II, Captain Flowers flew multiple missions out of RAF Molesworth as part of the 303rd Bombardment Group. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sergeant Aaron Thomasson)


Wings flashed in the sun over RAF Molesworth, as the B-17s of the 303rd Bombardment Group turned towards the heart of Europe, on a bombing run targeting a railroad bridge in France. Among these 39 aircraft, was copilot Selwyn D. Flowers, a young 2nd Lieutenant beginning his first combat mission. Lt. Flowers would go on to fly 30 combat missions over Europe in the next 6 months. As the 303rd continued to suffer losses in the skies through 1944, Lt. Flowers was rapidly promoted, finishing his time in the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) as a Captain. When he separated from the USAAC at the end of the war, along with his memories, he took with him tangible items  such as his uniforms and his silver pilot’s wings as reminders of his time serving his nation.  

Years later, in the early 1950’s, Capt. Flowers met David Austin, a young friend of his son, Jimmy Flowers.

“Ever since I was old enough to know what an airplane was, all I've wanted to do is fly. When I first saw the movie, Twelve O'Clock High, my ambition was to be an officer and pilot in the Air Force.  When I met Capt. Flowers and found out that he had flown B-17's, he immediately became a ‘hero’ to me,” said Austin as he described the formative years of his life. It was those experiences that led him to follow in his hero’s footsteps and join the Air Force.

“I entered the USAF in December, 1959 as a member of one of the last Aviation Cadet classes (61-F) that the Air Force had. Class 61-F graduated, was commissioned, and awarded our wings in March, 1961,” said Austin. At this time, Capt. Flowers had given his own pilot wings that he had worn over his years of service to Austin, after graduating pilot training and commissioning. Austin would go on to honorably serve his nation both on Active Duty and in the Air National Guard for 26 years before retiring as a Major.

When asked why he was given these wings by Capt. Flowers, Maj. Austin (ret.) said “I'm not really sure that I know why he gave me one of his wings. Friendship, recognition of my completing pilot training, seeing those wings returning to active duty, or because Jimmy never did serve in the Armed Forces. Who knows?  For whatever reason, I have always been honored that he saw fit to have me wear them.”

It was a desire to see the places that had shaped Capt. Flowers which inevitably led Maj. Austin (ret.) to visit England this fall. While in England, he visited RAF Molesworth, the Cambridge American Cemetery, and other locations that told the story of the brave men of the 303rd Bombardment Group.

And now, thanks to Maj. Austin’s efforts, Capt. Flower’s pilot wings have returned to their original home in England where Capt. Selwyn Flowers had flown so many missions wearing them in to battle over the skies of France and Germany.

The wings have been donated to the RAF Alconbury Library for display in the historical section, where everyone who visits will have the opportunity to view a part of Capt. Flowers, Maj. Austins (ret.) and 303rd Bombardment Group history.