IT was an honour for those brave men who waged war in the skies over Europe, attacking key targets across the continent while their Allied colleagues fought on the ground below.
But more than seven decades after two US B-17 bomber crews were awarded a trophy for their efforts in the Second World War, the search is on to return the glittering prize to its rightful owners.
The memento has been unearthed in an Edinburgh antique shop, sparking a mystery as to how it ended up there.
One of the Second World War’s most formidable units, the 388th Bomb Group carried out missions as far afield as Germany, Norway and the former Soviet Union.
Its fleet of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress planes struck key military installations, field batteries and coastal guns, as well as factories, airfields and supply depots.
David Price stumbled across the silver-plated wine cooler in DL Cavanagh in the capital’s Cockburn Street. An aviation enthusiast, his curiosity was piqued by the US Air Force insignias on the item. Only after arriving home and logging online, however, did he come to appreciate its historical significance, discovering a photograph of the men in question holding the trophy.
The men had been involved in some of the most notorious missions of the war, including D-Day bombing raids. “I nearly fell off my chair,” Mr Price said.
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The 51-year-old established that of the 18 men whose names are engraved on the trophy, two are still alive – 1st Lieutenant Jonnie Colburn, now 96, and technical sergeant Morris Fleischman, 90, and tracked them down.
Unfortunately, illness and the passing of time meant neither man could shed light on the story behind the trophy, but Mr Price was able to piece together the remarkable war records of those involved.
1st Lt Colburn, who led his crew, flew on 30 missions, while his counterpart on the other crew, 1st Lt Dong Ong, a Chinese national, flew on 50 missions as a bomber pilot over the course of two tours.
Veterans group the 388th Bomb Group Association has no record of the missions that led to the award, but Mr Price, from Carlisle, said that between August and September in 1944, 1st Lt Ong flew around 30 missions, with his aircraft, sustaining damage on several occasions.
“The crews saw a lot of action and it was a very intense time for them,” he said. “It may well be that they were recognised for the sheer amount of missions they took part in over a short period. What’s notable about these crews is that they started their flight career on D-Day. Colburn’s crew was one of the first to drop bombs on the beaches, supporting the ground action.”
Over the course of the war, the 388th as a whole received two Distinguished Unit Citations in recognition of extraordinary heroism in action.
The first acknowledged its role in the attack on an aircraft factory in Regensburg in August 1943, during which it lost just one aircraft. The second came after three separate raids – an attack on a tyre and rubber factory in Hanover; and hits on synthetic oil refineries in Brux and Ruhland in May-June 1944.
Between 1942 and 1945, the group completed 333 missions, during which time some 40 of its members were killed in action and five were posted missing in action.
Mr Price is now researching the story of the crews. A key part of the narrative is yet to be told, however – the circumstances which led to the trophy ending up in Edinburgh 71 years later.
It is known some members of the 388th used their leave to visit the city. In 388th Anthology, a 2001 compendium of veteran’s accounts, officer Edison D Jeffus spoke of the city’s “beautiful scenery, pretty lassies and friendly people”. After the war, 388th ground staff returned home via Clydebank, raising the possibility that some of them visited Edinburgh en-route.
Staff at DL Cavanagh said the trophy came from a house clearance north of the city. Mr Price hopes to trace its former owner. If you can help e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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