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RAF Feltwell Community Activity Center renamed after WWII hero

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Photo of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (Courtesy photo)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Photo of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (Courtesy photo)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Photo of Sgt. James A. Ward, in front of a church at Hockwold, England, was the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (Courtesy photo)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Photo of Sgt. James A. Ward, in front of a church at Hockwold, England, was the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (Courtesy photo)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Members from the Friends of the No. 75 New Zealand Squadron Association, help unveil the new Ward Community Activity Center sign during the building dedication ceremony on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Members from the Friends of the No. 75 New Zealand Squadron Association, help unveil the new Ward Community Activity Center sign during the building dedication ceremony on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Guest speaker Wing Commander Ian MacPherson, Air Advisor-Defence Staff, Royal New Zealand Air Force, London, speaks during the dedication ceremony of the newly renamed Ward Community Activity Center on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Guest speaker Wing Commander Ian MacPherson, Air Advisor-Defence Staff, Royal New Zealand Air Force, London, speaks during the dedication ceremony of the newly renamed Ward Community Activity Center on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Guest speaker Col. Cassie Barlow, 48th Mission Support Group commander, speaks during the dedication ceremony of the newly renamed Ward Community Activity Center on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Guest speaker Col. Cassie Barlow, 48th Mission Support Group commander, speaks during the dedication ceremony of the newly renamed Ward Community Activity Center on May 14, 2011. The building was named in honor of Sgt. James A. Ward, the first New Zealander awarded the Victoria Cross; the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Ward was stationed at RAF Feltwell with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No. 75 Squadron during World War II. He was awarded the medal for his heroic actions on July 7, 1941, when his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Connor Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- As American Airmen, we are "faithful to a proud heritage." Our heritage is not solely bound to, or strictly rooted in, our own country's history. One remarkable feature about being stationed at RAF Feltwell is learning the multi-national role the base served during World War II.

On May 14 2011, Friends of the No. 75 New Zealand Squadron Association, representatives from four nations and guests spanning five generations dedicated the community activity center at RAF Feltwell in honor of Victoria Cross recipient Sgt. James A. Ward.

The Victoria Cross is the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor and according to the Ministry of Defence website the medal is awarded for "gallantry in the presence of the enemy."

The Aug. 5, 1941, edition of the London Gazette reported that Sergeant Ward was the first New Zealander awarded the VC for heroic actions over the Netherlands on July 7, 1941, after his Wellington bomber caught fire from an enemy attack. The fire quickly spread from the right engine to the entire wing as the crew prepared to abandon the aircraft.

In spite of this, Sergeant Ward volunteered to climb out on the wing to extinguish the fire himself.

With a parachute on his back, rope around his waist, and engine cover in hand; Sergeant Ward made the dangerous trek across the wing successfully extinguishing the fire. His bravery and success brought the entire crew and aircraft back to its home base - RAF Feltwell.

Speaking at the dedication ceremony, Col. Cassie Barlow, 48th Mission Support Group commander, noted it was fitting to dedicate the community activities center in honor of Sergeant Ward.

"As most of you know, we're standing at a historic site today," said Colonel Barlow. "The community center was one of the two buildings that served as the sergeant's mess during World War II."

For this momentous occasion, Wing Commander Ian MacPherson of the Royal New Zealand Air Force was the other honorary speaker. "It's really nice to see so many people here at RAF Feltwell and to realize the New Zealand name, our country and one of our heroes is going to be here for many years to come," he said. "He was a special man and he deserves this sort of recognition."

The next time you find yourself at RAF Feltwell, I encourage you to stop by building 94, the newly named Ward Community Activity Center. Inside you will find a replica of the VC, a memorial plaque, as well as a painting depicting Sergeant Ward's bravery. I'm sure you'll agree, our "proud heritage" is truly multi-national.