A pensioner who has spent much of his life looking after a war memorial to 10 airmen broke down in tears as he was told there will be a flypast to honor their memory – after a social media campaign by BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker.
The broadcaster was walking his dog in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, earlier this month, when he bumped into 82-year-old Tony Foulds.
Mr Foulds was just eight when he witnessed the B-17 Flying Fortress, the American plane which was carrying the men, crash in the park on February 22 1944, killing all 10 of them.
The aircraft, nicknamed “Mi Amigo,” was returning from a bombing raid, and the then-schoolboy believes it deliberately steered out of the way of him and his friends.
Ever since a memorial to the men was erected in the park in the 1970s, Mr Foulds, who suffers from a severe tremor that makes his hands shake uncontrollably, has devoted much of his time to keeping the area clean and planting flowers.
He told Mr Walker the touching story, and explained how it would be his dream to see a military flypast in the park to pay tribute to the men.
The presenter then started a Twitter campaign to pay tribute to the men, telling users about Mr Foulds’s story and saying: “He doesn’t want a medal. All he wants is a flypast on the 75th anniversary on the 22nd Feb 2019. Can anyone help?”
On Tuesday, Mr Foulds broke down in tears as Colonel Will Marshall of RAF Lakenheath, which houses a US Air Force unit and personnel, told him live on BBC Breakfast: “It gives me great pleasure to say: Look to the skies on February 22 for a very special flyby.”
The pensioner, who was visibly emotional, said: “That’s everything to me. That’s everything I wanted.”
The special tribute will take place on the 75th anniversary of the crash, and Mr Foulds said on BBC Breakfast: “They’re my family, my family.”
“It’s not a memorial, to me. The actual memorial is mine, apart from one day a year when it’s the 22nd [of February]. Every other time, it’s mine.”
He added: “It’s the tribute they deserve.
“It was only when I was in my teens that I really understood what a terrible thing had happened, and what an enormous sacrifice the young Americans made.
“I could have not been here if the lads hadn’t given their lives.”
Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the United Kingdom, appeared alongside Mr. Foulds on the show, and said: “It is an amazing moment, and, Tony, it takes amazing people to have an amazing moment.
“Now, millions of people will know about these 10 men, and all the other men that died on that day too.”
Mr Walker said: “I was so moved by Tony’s story that we had to help.
“We were inundated with messages of support and the video has been seen three quarters of a million times.
“Within 48 hours I had spoken to the US embassy and top-ranking officials at both the US Air Force and the RAF.”
He added that the story has “struck a chord” with many people, and said the Breakfast team had been working “flat out” to make the flypast happen.
Twitter was moved as well.
Yes I cried into my porridge, butthere is a bigger story here, you spoke to a stranger and made the difference in a massive way. Just a hello, a cup of tea with a neighbour or spending time with our elderly relatives makes a difference and get stories out there👍❤️ Well done Dan.
— Joanne Hague (@Johague) January 22, 2019
Got something in my eye ❤️😭 Well done, Dan. pic.twitter.com/DCQKGB5mR2
— 👑The Princess and the Pea 🇪🇺❄️ (@mrsspanner) January 22, 2019
Been following this story from here in Uganda. Dan, after the horror of the memorial-vandalisms this week, this is utterly marvellous. Massive well done for using your position in such a wonderful way, and deepest respect to the amazing Tony. A delightful story.
— Chris Howles (@ChrisHowles) January 22, 2019
Serious lump in throat stuff … I appear to have something in my eye. Excuse me a moment.
— colin briggs (@colinb13) January 22, 2019
Dan – thank you, you've proved to be more than just a face on TV you're a true human being! Thank you for using your influence so positively. I hope others in the media spotlight will follow your lead.#TonyGotHisFlypast #dogood #Trailblazer #EmotionalIntelligence
— Andrea Redpath~Art (@GloopsydaisyArt) January 22, 2019
I definitely had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat! Well done Tony, and you Dan…👏👏👏⭐️⭐️✈️
— kate maddock (@katemaddock1) January 22, 2019
We look forward to watching the flypast in all its glory.