RAF MOLESWORTH, England --
U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth partnered with the American Battle Monuments Commission Cambridge American Cemetery to conduct Operation TORCH-2020, a memorial cleanup at six U.S. military World War II sites across England, Aug. 15, 2020. This effort commemorated the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of WWII.
“We’re calling this Operation Torch-2020, colloquially we’re calling it Blitz Clean,” said U.S. Army Col. Brian Dunmire, USAFRICOM J2-M director. “This is our opportunity to remember the 75th Anniversary of the American service members’ participation in WWII, by coming out as U.S. Africa Command and helping within our community.”
Over 50 service members and their families, U.K. nationals, and Boy Scout Troop #245 came together to preserve these WWII legacies and promote an appreciation of past American heroes among present-day USAFRICOM workforce and families stationed in Great Britain.
One of the selected locations was the Steeple Morden Memorial of the 355th Fighter Group in Steeple Morden, England.
“When you think of Africa Command, you think of operations in Africa,” said Dunmire. “We picked six different locations in the U.K., five of them were bomber bases and the one here at Steeple Morden is a fighter base. We correlated those to six major objectives during Operation Torch when we freed North Africa.”
At each location, those who attended received the opportunity to hear the history of the memorial and the commemorated military unit. Then, everyone participated in scrubbing the concrete, pulling weeds, replacing the flags and filling the vases with fresh flowers.
“I’m not generally an avid history researcher, but a lot of the information I found was just amazing about the heritage of the 355th FG,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Beil, USAFRICOM J2-M technician, who shared the history of the 355th FG. “This is the original location of RAF Steeple Morden, which was where the 355th was initially activated and flew out of. It was originally a grass airfield and once the 355th Fighter Group was stationed here they paved all the runways to be able to more efficiently fly out of the airfield.”
The 355th FG was initially activated on Nov. 12, 1942, flying combat missions during WWII. Over 2,000 Airmen served at Steeple Morden, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. The 355th destroyed or damaged over 1500 enemy aircraft by ground strafing, more than any other unit in the Eighth Air Force Group. They participated in fighter sweeps over Belgium, escorted B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators and provided fighter cover over Normandy on D-Day.
“Operation Torch was a joint U.S. and U.K. operation,” said Dunmire. “It’s a way for us to honor and understand our joint history. We have people who are in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and government civilians in our unit, and representatives of all contributed.”
A Navy USAFRICOM member shared his thoughts.
“I think being stationed out here it’s very important to give back to not only the Americans that were out here before, but also the British community,” Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sebastian Botero, USAFRICOM J2-M technician. “With this being a multi-locational effort, I think this is all a great opportunity across all branches to give back to the community that way. It not only unifies us as a command, but also our two countries.”
Two of the memorials cleaned belong to the predecessors of the current 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the 367th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, tying the past to the present.
“As time goes along the greatest generation is passing, so this community service was an opportunity for us to teach so that the next generation can appreciate the sacrifices made here,” said Dunmire.