The “Last Hurrah” – A Full Report

Time passes quickly when you are having fun and it hardly seems as if the “Last Hurrah” for the 353rd Fighter Group can be over already. The weekend events were a stunning success and here is a full report of all the activities and celebrations.

The events began with a drinks reception and briefing for the twenty-three family members attending at the Rose and Crown Hotel in the town of Colchester on the evening of August 21. We were very lucky to have 350th Fighter Squadron pilot John Madson in attendance with his family and the families of Glenn Duncan, Gordon Compton, Frank King, Tony Rosatone, Galen Bevington, John Davenport and Bayard Auchincloss.

We chose Colchester as the base camp for the weekend as it was a popular destination for group members when they were on leave from their duties. The 353rd made a special friendship with the people of Colchester during World War II so we spent Friday August 22 touring the town. First call was the town hall where we met our guide Mr Ian McMeekin. He gave us a very knowledgeable tour of the building and escorted us to the Mayor’s Parlour to see the 17th Century Rose Bowl given by the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups to the town to commemorate the friendship in 1945.

Colchester Town Guide Mr Ian McMeekin describes the Council Chambers to the 353rd Families (353rd FG Archive)

Colchester Town Guide Mr Ian McMeekin describes the Council Chambers to the 353rd Families (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families explore the 'Moot Hall' at Colchester Town Hall (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families explore the ‘Moot Hall’ at Colchester Town Hall (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson with Mr Paul Lind the Town Sergeant in the Mayor's Parlour. The Rose Bowl is on the table (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson with Mr Paul Lind, the Town Sergeant, in the Mayor’s Parlour. The Rose Bowl is on the table in front of them (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families in the Mayor's Parlour, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families in the Mayor’s Parlour, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

The original presentation in 1945

The original presentation in 1945

The inscription from the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups on the silver Rose Bowl (353rd FG Archive)

The inscription from the 353rd and 55th Fighter Groups on the silver Rose Bowl (353rd FG Archive)

After our visit to the town hall, Ian McMeekin continued the tour around central Colchester and included a very welcome visit to Timperleys Tea Room. The party then were able to have some free time to explore Colchester’s sights and shops. In the evening Graham Cross, 353rd Fighter Group Historian, gave a presentation to the party on the history of the unit.

Saturday August 23 dawned bright and sunny and the party left the hotel for a 10 am appointment at the Raydon Memorial. Here we were joined by the Peacock family (owners of the former airfield site), an Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall, the Revd Rosalind Paul, Councillor Jim Lowe and other local representatives for a special service of remembrance. The Raydon Airfield Memorial Group (Mark Manning, Steven Silburn, Mervyn and Maynard Pizzey, Chris Elsey, Janice Rumsey, Bob Gooding and many others) had been working hard to brighten up the memorial and to create a new information board for visitors to the site. The Group installed the board in memory of the late Mr. Jack Peacock who was a good friend of the 353rd Fighter Group and the memorial project.

John Peacock and John Madson unveil the new airfield information board, August 22, 2015 (353rd FG Archive)

John Peacock and John Madson unveil the new airfield information board, August 22, 2015 (353rd FG Archive)

The moving ceremony included an Honour Guard of current serving USAF personnel from RAF Mildenhall and words from Glenn Duncan Jr (the son of the 353rd’s Commanding Officer), Revd Paul and Councillor Lowe. The Peacock family, the Raydon Memorial Group and Raydon Parish Council then laid wreaths at the memorial. Members of the 353rd families helped place the wreaths (Glenn Duncan Jr with Mr Tom Peacock, Gary Bargerhuff with Cllr Jim Lowe, and Lou Rosatone with Bob Gooding). A highlight of the ceremony was the joint unveiling of the new information board by John Madson (350th Fighter Squadron) and Mr John Peacock. There was then an opportunity for some photographs before a flypast by Maurice Hammond and Rob Davies in P-51 Mustangs “Janie” and “Marinell.” It really was quite a surprise for the 353rd families as they grouped for a photo around the memorial while the Mustangs approached from behind them coming along the course of the old runway. As an end to the memorial service, 16-year-old Maia Elsey sang ‘We’ll Meet Again’ beautifully to the assembled families with few dry eyes among her audience.

Glenn Duncan Jr at the Raydon Memorial 9353rd FG Archive)

Glenn Duncan Jr at the Raydon Memorial (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson at the Raydon Memorial with the USAF Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson at the Raydon Memorial with the USAF Honour Guard from RAF Mildenhall (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at the Raydon Memorial - with Mustangs en route! (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at the Raydon Memorial – with Mustangs en route! (353rd FG Archive)

After the service, the 353rd families headed to Raydon Old Hall for a tea reception as guests of the Peacock family. The Peacocks have welcomed returning veterans, and their families, back to the former airfield many times over the years and it was such a pleasure for the group to reaffirm this friendship. The weather and surroundings were beautiful and the Peacock family had many photos of past reunions to share making the visit especially enjoyable.

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Tea with the Peacock family (353rd FG Archive)

Then it was back on the bus to visit the afternoon air show as guests of Mr John Anderson and family. With perfect flying weather, the afternoon promised to be a memorable event. As the 353rd families arrived, John Anderson welcomed them personally and the Wattisham Military Wives Choir treated them to songs. Following a superb lunch, Graham Cross presented the families each with a print of a pencil sketch depicting 352nd Fighter Squadron aircraft gifted by renowned local artist Geoff Pleasance. The families then presented copies of Jonah’s Feet Are Dry‘ that they had all signed to Maurice Hammond, Rob Davies and John Anderson in thanks for the huge contributions they have made to making this event and those in the past possible and so successful.

P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang “Janie” represents the aircraft of Bill Price, 350th FS, 353rd FG (353rd FG Archive)

P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang “Marinell” of the 339th FG (353rd FG Archive)

The group were then able to tour the show site to view a superb historical display put together by members of the memorial group, military vehicles, classic cars and even a steam engine! The highlight of the afternoon was, of course, the static and flying aircraft displays kindly arranged by Maurice Hammond of Hardwick Warbirds.  Maurice Hammond and Rob Davies then performed a superb flying display in “Janie” and “Marinell” and it really was a treat to see two Mustangs flown and displayed so skilfully to honour the 353rd Fighter Group. When the Mustangs landed, we were all able to get an even closer look at the aircraft with the opening of the safety fences. As a special treat, John Madson was able to sit in the cockpit of “Janie” and had the biggest grin seen on the airfield that day! Sadly, the day had to end and a tired and contented group headed back to the hotel.

John Madson seated in the cockpit of

John Madson seated in the cockpit of “Janie” by kind permission of Maurice Hammond. Surely the biggest grin on the field that day! (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson in the cockpit of

John Madson in the cockpit of “Janie” (353rd FG Archive)

Sunday August 23 saw the group join local people at a special service in St Mary’s Church, Raydon. Revd Rosalind Paul led proceedings and we heard from Revd Josefa Mareira (Chaplain at RAF Wattisham). Revd Paul then rededicated the Memorial Vestry Doors donated by the 353rd in 1984. After the service, there was a very enjoyable social occasion where the families could talk to local people. The party then boarded the bus and headed to lunch as guests of the Raydon Airfield Memorial Group at the ‘Case is Altered’ Pub in Bentley. By this stage, the weather had closed in and after a brief stop at the old airfield, the group headed to Dedham to visit craft shops and the very fine church there. Sadly, due to the worsening weather, a trip to Metfield by some of the party had to be cancelled.

Post-service reception at St Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Post-service reception at St Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson and Lou Rosatone talk near the book of remembrance at St. Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson and Lou Rosatone talk at the book of remembrance at St. Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at St Mary's Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

The 353rd Families at St Mary’s Church, Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Is this the same country? The heavens open as the 353rd Families explore the old briefing and ready room complex at Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

Is this the same country? The heavens open as the 353rd Families explore the old briefing and ready room complex at Raydon (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson back at Raydon after 70 years - after the war he pursued a successful career as an architect (353rd FG Archive)

John Madson back at Raydon after 70 years – after the war he pursued a successful career as an architect (353rd FG Archive)

Monday August 24 saw the heavens truly open and the rain descend in a way it only can in England. Undeterred the party headed to the Cambridge American Military Cemetery for a very moving visit. The group were able to tour the brand new visitors centre at the cemetery and visit some of the graves of 353rd Fighter Group. There are six 353rd men buried at Cambridge and a further ten commemorated on the walls of the missing. The Superintendent had also kindly arranged to have the 353rd graves marked United States and British flags. The party then split with some choosing to visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and some heading into Cambridge for lunch at the ‘Eagle’ Pub (famous for the aircrew signatures on its ceiling and walls) followed by a tour of King’s College Chapel and Queens’ College.

353rd Families watch a presentation at the new visitors centre at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery (353rd FG Archive)

353rd Families watch a presentation at the new visitors centre at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery (353rd FG Archive)

Jane Joseph and Katy Carter, daughters of G B Compton, sought out William Maguire's grave at Madingley. Maguire and their father were great friends (353rd FG Archive)

Jane Joseph and Katy Carter, daughters of G B Compton, sought out William Maguire’s grave at Madingley. Maguire and their father were great friends (353rd FG Archive)

In the evening, there was a farewell dinner at the Rose and Crown for the families and local people. We were also lucky to have Jean Freeman (wife of the late Roger Freeman) attend. Gary Bargerhuff read a very moving poem by Galen Bevington entitled ‘The Cause’ and particularly poignant as Galen was killed in action November 25, 1944. Proceedings closed with a toast to the men of the 353rd Fighter Group.

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

Farewell Meal at the Rose and Crown, Colchester (353rd FG Archive)

With the events now at an end, we can reflect that it really was a very successful visit. It involved a good deal of hard work by many people, but every bit was worth it. The new experiences and friendships formed in remembering the 353rd together are something to truly treasure. To our new American friends we say safe journey and ‘Haste ye back!’

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5 Comments

Filed under 353rd Fighter Group

5 responses to “The “Last Hurrah” – A Full Report

  1. ashley353

    Absolutely gutted that I wasn’t able to join you but a sincere ‘well done’ to all involved in making this happen. I know all of you put in a tremendous amount of work to make this a success and glad that the weather held for you on the day. Although billed as ‘A Last Hurrah’ maybe it marks the beginning of a new chapter for the 353rd. Hope to catch up with some/all of you in the near future; you can be proud of yourselves.

  2. I can’t put into words how wonderful and special this event was for me. I can’t help but think of my father and his brother, 1st Lt. Anthony R. Rosatone of the 353rd FG/352nd FS both looking down at all of us and smiling. Many Thanks to all of you for making this such a special event.

    • Sandy

      I subscribed to the 353rdfightergroup emails about 6 months ago, and truly admire the way these brave fighter pilots are honored and remembered by their comrades and families. Because my father and many uncles served in WWII, I have a special interest in reading old local (Pittsburgh/Bridgeville) newspaper clippings and articles about the war. My mother met Sam and Tony Rosatone when she worked in Midland as a housekeeper/cook/nanny for a family there who had a small store. (I don’t know the name of the family, but I believe they lived above their store.) She told my sister and I about the time she spent in Midland, and of the acquaintances she had made, including Sam and Tony. We remember her telling us that Tony never came back from the war. About 10+ years ago or so, my mom said that she wanted to revisit Midland, so my sister drove her there. During that afternoon trip, they took a chance and went to Sam’s home for a visit. I believe he was quite surprised at seeing my mom after all those years! They had a great visit. I’m glad she took that little road trip when she did. She passed away in January 2010 after her health began to fail. Sorry to ramble on, but when I saw your post, I just had to reply. It is wonderful of you to honor your dad and your uncle through the 353rd Fighter Group events.

      • Louis Rosatone

        Hello Sandy. What a surprise! My dad, Phil, was the middle brother. Sam the younger and Tony who flew in the 353rd FG was the older. My dad and Tony were very close and my dad never got over losing his brother. I also grew up in MIdland (now living in Florida) and over the years always heard stories about Tony and how everyone liked him. I am so happy to hear your mother had good memories of my uncles Sam and Tony. I wonder if she ever met my dad? My dad passed away about 6 years ago. He was 88. My uncle Sam passed away a couple years after my dad.
        I started my research into my uncle Tony a few years before my dad passed and my dad was so happy I found out so much about his brother. Tony was MIA on his 52nd mission. His group was retruning from a bomber escort mission over Germany and they hit terrible weather over Belgium. Neither he or his plane were ever found to this day. But I have some contacts in Belgium and France that are still search and finding planes. In fact, a P-47 was found in Germany about 5 weeks ago with the pilot still in the plane. So I guess you never know. Getting to attend the Last Hurrah was truly a very special event. All the people there were wonderful. I can’t thank them enough for all they did. And thank you for your note and story about my uncles.

  3. Heidi Bargerhuff

    I couldn’t agree more with Lou. Words are inadequate to express what this event meant to my father (who relived memories of his uncle, Clarence “Galen” Bevington) and me. The sharing of memories between 353rd family members, the new friends made in England as well as new American friends found, the special, poignant events to honor our loved ones and visit places they visited….all these things and many more left an indelible mark on our lives. Thank you to those who made this event so memorable for all of us. You are now part of our extended family.

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