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WW2 pilot in emotional return to airfield

PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 June 2010 | UPDATED: 09:46 01 August 2010

AN American world war two pilot who performed a miraculous crash-landing at Ellough Airfield donated his army air force medals to the base on an emotional afternoon on Wednesday.

AN American world war two pilot who performed a miraculous crash-landing at Ellough Airfield donated his army air force medals to the base on an emotional afternoon on Wednesday.

Robert McWhite, now 88, landed at the airfield in April 1944 and managed to narrowly miss a group of children after the plane had suffered damage from enemy fire over northern Germany.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the feat and this week returned to the scene of his heroics to give away the medal to the airfield, along with four others he had been given throughout his service.

Mr McWhite formed a fascinating bond with the airfield following the landing, after one of the children who had been in the field wrote an article about the experience.

Christopher Elliott, now 81, and living in Wimbledon, wrote about his experience in a school essay that was later developed into an Eastern Daily Press article that reached some of the aircraft's crew.

The crew contacted Mr Elliott, and he and Mr McWhite became friends. In 2002 Mr McWhite visited Ellough and for the first time met the three child witnesses, and also became good friends with Rainer and Marcia Forster, who run the airfield.

The couple now raise the American flag on April 11 each year to mark the crash landing.

“I'm at the part of my life where I'm giving things of value to people that I value,” explained Mr McWhite on Wednesday. “This is like coming home. Even though I've only known these people a relatively short time they have been great friends.”

Mr McWhite visited the airfield with his wife Fran and other family members, as well as Mr Elliott. It was the last time that Mr McWhite would make the journey to the airfield, and he was taken up in a plane by Mr Forster, following part of the route he would have taken on his way to Ellough.

He was given a painting from local artist John Reeve, of the United States 8th Air Force B 17 Flying Fortress “Tom Paine” aircraft he had been flying, as well as a copy of the book RAF Beccles at War by local author Malcolm Holmes.

Mr Forster said it was a massive honour to receive the medals, which include Mr McWhite's “wings,” given by the army air force to their pilots, and his Purple Heart, awarded after being wounded serving the US military.

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