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A visit to Bentwaters Cold War Museum

F-86 Sabre (color), Illustration by Bob Engle

F-86 Sabre (color), Illustration by Bob Engle

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- I recently visited the Bentwaters Cold War Museum at the invitation of its curators, the Bentwaters Aviation Society.

September was the 60th anniversary of the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing, a unit that was instrumental in winning the Cold War. With six operational squadrons on both RAFs Bentwaters and Woodbridge, it was the largest fighter wing in U.S. Air Forces in Europe. The 81st TFW flew several different aircraft over a 40-year period, the last being the A-10 Thunderbolt.

The 81st TFW has a long and rich heritage, which is well chronicled throughout the museum. The Bentwaters Aviation Society is a group of devout enthusiasts who have worked hard to preserve and present the documents and artifacts that tell the Wing's story. The BAS was formed in 2002 by a group of enthusiasts wishing to keep alive the memory and record the history and heritage of both the Royal Air Force and United States Air Force activity at RAFs Bentwaters and Woodbridge. The primary aim of the Society is to preserve the history of the "Twin Bases."

I live near RAF Bentwaters and was therefore invited to the anniversary celebration as a local U.S. Airman to share my experiences of three tours on RAF Lakenheath over the last 24 years. Every decade from 1950 to 1990 was represented by retired Air Force individuals, most of them living locally. The oldest attendee, an F-86 Sabre pilot who worked at RAF Bentwaters in the 1950s, flew in from across the Atlantic Ocean for the occasion.

I was honored to be invited and tell my story to the group during the anniversary get-together. I encourage active-duty members and their families to pay a visit to the Bentwaters Cold War Museum and learn the history of an American military unit that distinguished itself over a 40-year history.