RAF MILDENHALL, England --
RAF Thorpe Abbotts is a quiet, idyllic patch of farmland.
What was once miles of concrete, hastily-constructed structures and B-17 Flying Fortresses is now wheat fields. Only a few World War II-era buildings remain.
Still, the view above the old airfield from the control tower allows one’s imagination to see and hear B-17 bombers starting their engines, taxiing to the runway and taking off into uncertainty.
The once-bustling RAF base has returned to its pre-World War II serenity, but the 100th Bomb Group Museum has kept the memory of the Bloody Hundredth alive.
I visited the home of the original 100th Bomb Group with a group of Airmen, 75 years after the inaugural combat mission.
It was June 25, 1943, and the Bloody Hundredth took to the skies over Bremen, Germany, its first mission in Europe.
I can imagine the emotion of this mission. Twenty-four men died for their country on the first day of battle as three aircraft were lost to German defenses. Five more Airmen were captured, but most likely feared dead. It was only the beginning of a long and tiresome air campaign, where hundreds more would sacrifice themselves for freedom.
The first mission isn’t the most significant piece of the story to me. These men overcame their fear of death and mounted their aircraft to fly over France and Germany again, with the reality of never returning home.
According to the 100th Bomb Group Foundation, 27 of the original 35 crews of the Bloody Hundredth had been killed or captured within the first 109 days of combat flying.
Even through loss, the Bloody Hundredth persevered, completing 306 combat missions in World War II, and dropping over 19,000 tons of bombs to thwart the Germans.
Their resilience was part of a larger warrior ethos, and today’s Airmen must remind themselves that they answer that same call—to be ready to place themselves in danger for the sake of humanity.
We pride ourselves on being the most lethal Air Force in the world, but that means our job is inherently dangerous. Just like the Airmen who flew, fought and won before us, we have to accept the nature of our business, and do whatever it takes to establish air dominance and ensure international peace.
We are surrounded by buzzwords and phrases like “Warrior-Minded Airman,” “Never leave an Airman behind” and “Prepared to give my life in their defense,” but have we really internalized what it all means?
I challenge every Airman to think about their role as an American Airman, and draw courage from the legacy of the Bloody Hundredth. We are cut from the same cloth as those who fought before us, and our mission is as important as ever.