ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England --
Seventy years after the end of World War II, there is still history buried in the forests of England, just waiting to be found.
The American Veterans Archeology Recovery Program joined in a dig for U.S. and U.K. veterans and active-duty service members Sept. 6 at the former RAF Thorpe Abbotts near Diss in Norfolk.
The dig itself was organised by the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia, which invited the veterans program to participate.
The program is the creation of Stephen Humphreys, a veteran U.S. Air Force aircraft maintenance officer. His goal is to build camaraderie among past and present service members through the teaching of archeological skills. Training is provided on site by professional archeologists, and all of the participants on the dig receive a skills passport for the training they receive. This passport can be shown at future digs to show their experience.
“The digs are something you can jump right into, just like you may have done as a kid playing in the sandbox looking for cars or the army man that you lost,” said Master Sgt. John Melendez, 727th Air Mobility Squadron program manager for standardization and modernization, one of the amateurs who participated.
The site chosen for the dig was the location of the former 100th Bombardment Group base. Although most of the facilities have been demolished and the land returned to the original owners, there are still some intact structures. A few have been restored to become the 100th Bomb Group Memorial Museum.
“Being able to touch a piece of history is such an amazing feeling,” said British Army Lance Cpl. Keanie Trick, another amateur archeologist.
“The most rewarding part is being with other people,” she said.
In addition to the Airmen and veterans, local residents came out to talk with the amateur archaeologists, asking questions about what was found and recalling their memories of the once-busy airfield.
“It gives them a bit of their history back,” Trick said. “They remember the base being active and I think that’s quite rewarding to see them with smiles on their faces knowing that their history isn’t just being left in the past, and that it’s still being remembered today.”
By the end of the day, the group had unearthed a grate from a wood-burning stove and a piece of window from a B-17 Flying Fortress. More significantly, a pair of dog tags were recovered. According to Humphreys, finds like this make the effort that goes into the digs worthwhile.
“It’s really rewarding to bring people to life again by discovering more about them and recapturing who they were,” he said.
The group now plans to return the tags to the original owners or their descendants with the help of the 100th Bomb Group.