A tearful pensioner has paid tribute to the 10 American airmen whose plane crashed in front of him, after a flypast to mark the 75th anniversary of their deaths, saying “They’re as happy as anything now.”
Tony Foulds was speaking after watching planes, including F-15E Strike Eagles from the USAF and a Typhoon from the RAF, fly above Endcliffe Park, in Sheffield, on Friday morning.
The 82-year-old was playing at the same park on February 22 1944, when he witnessed a B-17 Flying Fortress, nicknamed Mi Amigo, crash in front of him and his friends.
Mr Foulds believes to this day that the 10 airmen who died had deliberately steered out of his way, and has spent decades tending to their memorial, which is in the park.
Following a campaign by BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker, who bumped into Mr Foulds while walking his dog in the park last month, the pensioner’s dream of seeing a flypast on the 75th anniversary of the crash came true on Friday morning.
Speaking to the Press Association following the tribute, he said of the airmen: “They’ve done this, and they’re as happy as anything now.”
He added: “It’s taken 75 years for them to be remembered and what a day, what a day to remember them.”
Mr Foulds said his only wish now is to travel to the United States to meet some of the crew’s families.
It's taken 75 years for them to be remembered and what a day, what a day to remember them
He said he has further plans for the 75th anniversary, including flying over the memorial himself and visiting the three graves in the UK.
And he pledged to return to the memorial in Sheffield, where he has a spot set aside for his own ashes once his life is over.
“Then I shall be able to apologise for killing them,” he said.
“Which is what I did, no matter what everybody says.
“If it hadn’t been for me being on there they would have had happy lives.”
Megan Leo, whose cousin, Melchor Hernandez, died in the crash, said her family did not want Mr Foulds to blame himself.
“I don’t want him to feel guilty and don’t think my family would want him to feel guilty,” she said.
The flypast was witnessed by thousands of onlookers, some of whom had arrived at the park at dawn on Friday.
Clear skies meant that the assembled audience were able to perfectly see the tribute to the men, who were travelling back from a bombing raid on the day of the fateful crash.
Mr Foulds broke down in tears after the names of the dead men were read out at the memorial.
TV presenter Walker, who is currently in Tanzania preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief, told him on BBC Breakfast: “The last six weeks have been remarkable from my point of view.
“I know you jokingly asked everybody for a tenner who are there at the park today, but it’s not about the money, it’s never been about you.
“Tony, it’s always been about those 10 men who you think saved your life 75 years ago.”
Following the flypast, Walker tweeted: “I knew Sheffield wouldn’t let us down. Wow!
“This is the most incredible thing I have ever been involved in.”
He later added: “The next step is getting Tony an honour from the Queen. Please retweet & like this and I’ll use this in the submission.”
The hashtags #TonyGotAFlypast and #RememberTheTen were top trends on Twitter in the aftermath of the event.