Making friends 235 years later
By Senior Airman David Dobrydney, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 05, 2011
ROYAL AIR FORCE FELTWELL, England -- Much has changed in the 235 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Back then, the newly declared United States of America didn't want anything to do with the United Kingdom.
Today, however, Americans and British have a unique friendship, one so strong that the two communities can come together to celebrate America's Independence Day on a military base owned by the Royal Air Force.
The annual Independence Day event draws thousands of people, and every person comes for a different reason.
For instance, Master Sgt. Nora Lerner came with her two children, Jonathan and Lea. Lerner was only in England temporarily on her way to an assignment in Norway, therefore this year's event was particularly important to her.
"Since we're going to a small unit, this is the last Fourth of July we'll get to celebrate with a bunch of other Americans," she said.
While Lerner only has a brief time to spend in England before she moves to her new assignment, Bonnie Correa is an American expatriate who has lived in the U.K. for nearly 30 years. She originally came as a civilian employee with the Air Force at RAF Mildenhall.
Having been away from the United States for so long, Correa said coming here and hearing so many American accents in one place always makes her feel homesick.
However, Correa still came and this year brought a guest, a young British woman with Down syndrome who enjoyed the American food and rides.
"I think it's very, very important we help each other," she said, "because at the end of the day it doesn't matter where you're from."
While Independence Day gives people like the Lerners and Correa a taste of home, it was also an opportunity to build relationships with the British public.
The meaning of Independence Day wasn't lost on Kim Ellingham, who is a British citizen whose father is an American who retired from the U.S. Navy.
"The Fourth of July has always been a big part of growing up for me," said Mrs. Ellingham, who has been coming to the Independence Day celebration for the past five years.
"It's a real friendly atmosphere," said Ellingham.
The connection Americans and Britons share was even stronger to Stanley and Margaret Deller, a retired couple from Littleport, a village near RAF Mildenhall.
Mr. Deller served in the Royal Air Force during World War II as an aircraft mechanic. He remembered his first exposure to American Airmen when he was sent to repair an unusual aircraft at RAF Alconbury. At the time, Alconbury was one of the many airbases used for American bombers.
"I was sent there to repair an Airspeed Oxford, which is a little light English airplane," said Deller, "and I thought 'What am I doing where the Flying Fortresses are, repairing an Oxford?'"
Years later, Deller found a book that answered his question.
"It was the [American commanding officer's] plane for getting from aerodrome to aerodrome," he said.
Deller would work with the Americans again later in the war, learning about gliders in preparation for the proposed invasion of Japan.
"They were brilliant to be with," said Deller of the Americans, adding that while the public at the time saw Americans as "good time boys", there was another side of the story.
"They didn't see the other big percentage who stayed in the huts at night and wrote to their wives," he said.
Back in the modern age, the Dellers continue to think highly of Americans. As they sat on the grass watching everyone having a good time, they were able to speak to some of the Airmen and families who are continuing to cement the Anglo-American relationship.
"It's lovely to see the people mixing," said Mrs. Deller.
"Such nice guys, they're so polite," added her husband.