Splasher 6 Newsletter
RAF MILDENHALL, England – Some of the men standing on the RAF Mildenhall tarmac Friday stooped a bit. They had gray hair and faces lined like old maps.
With them were young folks, men and women in uniform, standing straight and moving with an energy and vigor largely missing from the older visitors.
Behind them, on the tail of a KC-135 Stratotanker, was the link between the two.
The Box D – or Square D, s it is sometimes called – first decorated the B-17s flown from Britain by the 100th Bomb Group during World War II.
It still flies from this island, now as the insignia of the 100th Air Refueling Wing, the descendent of the highly decorated wartime unit.
Friday’s visitors were veterans of the Bloody 100th, a nickname it earned for some particularly nasty missions over Germany, and they were pleased to see the old Box D.
"Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful," George McLeod, one of the silver-haired veterans, said as he gazed up at the D. "All the different groups in the Eighth Air Force had letter designations. They were all on the tail just like that."
The 100th ARW received permission to pull the Box D from mothballs when it stood up at RAF Mildenhall 10 years ago. The link to the past is evident on every one of the wing’s refuelers. Nose art pays tribute to the 100th Bomb Group, which activated 60 years ago in June 1942.
"We think it’s great," veteran Ray Miller said of the decision to put the Box D back on aircraft in England. "We thought it was appropriate."
About a dozen veterans, accompanied by wives, children and grandchildren, are in England for a reunion. After spending Friday at RAF Mildenhall, they planned to visit their old airfield at Thorpe Abbotts, south of Norwich, over the weekend.
"I love this unit because of that Box D," Staff Sgt. Jonathan MacManus, a crew chief with a love of history, said as he escorted veterans and their family members through a KC-135.
"This is the reason why most of us got in the Air Force," he said, a reference to its tradition.
Within the shadow of the airplane, old vets talked with young active-duty airmen. Hands moved through the air, re-creating long-ago flights. Everyone was smiling, and it was hard to tell who was having the best time.
"It’s in our mission brief, our linkage back to our World War II heritage," Col. Tony Mauer, commander of the 100th Operations Group, said of the veteran’s unit.
The Air Force is a young service, he pointed out, unlike the Army, which has been around for more than 200 years. "The Bloody 100th is about as far back as we can go," he said.
Miller, a former navigator now living in Dayton, Ohio, has visited England several times. The group has a museum at its old airfield.
"They’re doing a great job," he said of the active-duty airmen he met. "These are the people protecting our nation."