Major reunion festivities for American World War II veterans are being held this summer in East Anglia, in southeast England, once the site of numerous U.S. Army Air Force bases.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the first arrival of thousands of American planes and more than 100,000 Air Corps troops. Most were in the Eighth Air Force.
Special air shows featuring vintage aircraft, plus parades and film and jazz festivals, USO-type shows and more than 100 other events are set to welcome back Air Force veterans and their families.
One of the major events will be the opening of a new American Air Museum in Duxford, during a big USAAF Reunion Show set for July 4-5. It will feature air flybys and ground exhibits of U.S., British and German aircraft, and is purported to be the largest gathering of vintage airplanes ever held in Europe.
In addition to the fun and festivities planned, somber moments are expected as well. Almost every tour and most veterans traveling independently make a point of stopping at the American Military Cemetery in Madingly, site of the "Wall of the Missing," which lists the names of more than 5,000 Americans missing in action, most of them air crews shot down in action.
Among the missing listed is Maj. Glenn Miller, the American band leader still fondly remembered in England. His music will be featured at many of the festivities.
Three tour operators, specialists in veterans' tours and reunions, are planning trips to East Anglia area this summer.
Galaxy Tours, based in Wayne, Pa., originally planned just one one-week reunion trip, taken earlier this month and called the "50th Anniversary Tour," but interest has spawned four more departures: July 1-8, Aug. 12-19, Sept. 9-16 and Nov. 4-11.
Priced at $1,967 per person, based on double occupancy, including round trip from Los Angeles, the reunion trips offer a stay in London and tours of air bases such as Duxford, and sites of former bases at Essex, Bedford, Suffolk and Norwich.
Sausalito, Calif.-based Valor Tours offers its biannual air show tour of England Sept. 10-20, which draws aviation buffs as well as veterans.
This year's "Salute to the Mighty Eighth" tour includes many events for Air Corps veterans as well as the big International Air Show at Farnborough. It's priced at $2,700 per person, double, air fare not included. The tour will be escorted by Valor Tours president Robert Reynolds, who will offer special insight as a former Royal Air Force bomber commander who once flew in the area.
British Pride Tours, based in Oakland, offers a "Return to England" tour led by John Moreno, who served in the area with the Eighth Air Force.
Moreno's tour, set for July 3-13, also stops in London and visits the former bases, taking in the USAAF Reunion Air Show and other festivities. It's priced at $1,990 per person, double, plus air fare.
For more information: Galaxy Tours, P.O. Box 234, Wayne, Pa. 19087-0234, (800) 523-7287; Valor Tours, P.O. Box 1617, Schoonmaker Building, 10 Liberty Ship Way, Sausalito 94965, (415) 332-7850, and British Pride Tours, (510) 839-9874.
For veterans or others who prefer to travel independently, the East Anglia Tourist Board has prepared a "Return to England" brochure that lists all the special events this summer as well as notable museums, memorials and other World War II attractions, plus tips on accommodations, dining and sightseeing. The brochure is available free from the British Tourist Authority, 350 S. Figueroa St., Suite 450, Los Angeles 90071, (213) 628-3525.