KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Veterans Day Blessing.
When Robert Elliott heard that his uncle’s plane had been discovered in 2007, he was thrilled. Now, his uncle’s memory not only gets to live on but has officially been declared a protected site in the United Kingdom.
An American fighter plane that crashed during the Second World War has recently been scheduled by Cadw, the Welsh government, making it the first legally designated military aircraft crash site protected for its historic and archaeological interest in the UK.
“They have worked for a long time to get this airplane declared as a protected site, and it’s very significant because it’s the only aircraft in the United Kingdom that’s ever been given this designation,” Elliott told News Channel 11 Monday in Kingsport. “Today’s announcement was very significant in getting this designation because they’re now responsible and in charge of what’s going forward.”
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter aircraft crashed off the Northern coast of Wales in September 1942 and is the best-preserved military aircraft crash site in the county, according to a news release from Cadw.
Elliot said his uncle’s aircraft is buried around 3 meters, or 10 feet, below the sea sand. The plane has officially been uncovered three times since it crashed – the first sighting being in the 1970s, in 2007 and most recently in 2014.
The Pilot, Elliott’s uncle, at the time of the incident was Second Lt. Robert F. Elliott, 24, of Rich Square, North Carolina, who flew from Llanbedr on a gunnery practice mission and encountered difficulties — resulting in the crash-landing.
The pilot walked away safely from the incident but was reported missing in action a few months later.
“It’s an honor and it’s also very emotional because my uncle was shot down later, he survived this crash very handily, but later in Tunisia, he was shot down by some German Messerschmitts and he’s never been recovered,” said Elliott.
Elliot now lives in Kingsport and is a retired US Navy Captain and a member of the 49th Fighter Squadron Association.
He and his wife Cathy visited the site of the plane crash in 2016.
“My visit to the site with my wife Cathy in 2016 was very moving and emotional,” he said in the release. “The 49th Fighter Squadron, to which this aircraft was assigned, has a rich and storied history dating back to 1941 and is still active today as the 49th Fighter Training Squadron. I look forward to returning to Wales and offer my support of this historic designation.”
According to the Cadw release, the aircraft is rare, comprising one of only 28 airframes known to survive from the 10,038 built. It is also known as the oldest surviving USAAF 8th Air Force combat aircraft of any type, and the sole surviving ‘F’ model to have seen operational service in Europe during the Second world war.
“I’ve been an advocate for the preservation of historic military aircraft crash sites in Wales for over twenty years I’m thrilled to see the Harlech P-38 scheduled as an historic monument by Cadw, as I feel it not only acknowledges the significance of this particular aircraft in a historical context, but also the important role played by Wales in the air war against Nazi Germany and the thousands of aircrew from many countries who trained here, many of whom lost their lives either in accidents during training or subsequently in combat,” Welsh aviation historian, Matt Rimmer, said in the release.
The release also stated that the aircraft is illustrative of the American operational build-up in Wales during the Second World War, and the rapidly developing advancements in technological capabilities and material science. It is also representative of the losses associated with typical training activities.
The United States celebrated Veterans Day Monday, but the United Kingdom celebrated Remembrance Day.
Fittingly, Remembrance Day has been observed since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.
“This site is of international significance and I’m delighted that this designation underlines its special qualities as well as protecting it for the benefit of future generations,” Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis Thomas, said in the release. “As we have seen following Remembrance events over the weekend, sites such as this represent events which must not be forgotten, Wales will always remember and respect all those who contributed to securing the peace we are so fortunate to enjoy today.”
Elliott hopes that this significant step by the Welsh government will spur future plans to move the aircraft to a museum for future generations to remember the sacrifices made by great veterans like his uncle.