While waiting for the parade to arrive at The Green on our Star Spangled Carnival day, I noticed that the daughters of two of our American visitors from the 67th Special Operations Squadron had climbed onto the base of the town sign to obtain a better view.
At my request, Captain Luke Lagace, a member of the 67th SOS, kindly took this photograph of ten year-old Isabella DeCarlo and twelve year-old Courtney Downs, both of whom were clearly enjoying the occasion.
Also in the picture, and apparently using his mobile phone to send a text message, is Mark Service, the former RAF Flight Sergeant who for many years has been the Historian of the 67th.
As soon as the photograph arrived from Luke, I realised just how fitting it was for Mark to be in the background, because this is exactly where he has been since 2011, quietly orchestrating several high profile events, and prompting a decision, taken by the town council as long ago January 2013, to grant the Freedom of Hunstanton to the 67th in recognition of the part played by former squadron members, including Reis Leming, during the floods on January 31, 1953.
It was not, as one or two people have suggested, the tidal surge in December 2013 that led to a renewed interest in the 67th SOS. It was, in actual fact, a decision by Squadron Commander, Lt Col Shelley Rodriguez to act on Mark’s suggestion to include Hunstanton in events marking the 60th anniversary of the Squadron on November 10 2012, and to visit the town for the 60th anniversary of the floods on January 31, 2013.
Seeing the two young Americans in front of the town sign reminded me of another idea, discussed at length with Mark Service on several occasions, involving a unique sign reading: “Welcome to Hunstanton a Victorian seaside town - twinned with the USAF 67th Special Operations Squadron”.
Whether or not this will ever happen could depend to a large extent on the recently appointed Commander of the 67th SOS, Courtney’s dad, Lt Col Bradley Downs.
I am really looking forward to hearing his views on developing our ‘special relationship’ in this way, because his wife, Emma is English and, his great grandfather, Samuel Bown, was born in Bilston in Staffordshire and emigrated to the US at the age of 16.
In the meantime, I am certain we can look forward to seeing members of the Squadron exercising their right, not only to enter the town on an annual or biannual basis, with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating and colours flying, but much more frequently on informal occasions, even if it is with buckets and spades at the ready; or simply to enjoy just being here as much as Isabella and Courtney obviously did at our Star Spangled Carnival, when they rounded off the day by playing on the beach and running into the sea with their other American friends at Old Hunstanton.