• Plage Bonaparte à Plouha (Côtes d'Armor) - Haut-lieu de la Résistance

  • Sacy-le-Grand (Oise) - Mémorial en souvenir du F/O H. H. MacKenzie (RCAF)

  • Supermarine LF Mk.Vb Spitfire EP120 - G-LFVB - (The Fighter Collection)

  • Le Cardonnois (Somme) - Stèle à la mémoire de l'équipage du Boeing B-17 #42-31325, 452nd Bomb Group

  • B-17G-85-VE 44-8846 - F-AZDX - (FTV)

 

30th October 2016

Mello (Oise)

 

Visit of Joy ETIENNE

niece of T/Sgt. John H. LEAHY

445th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force

                                                                                                           
                                                                                                           Copyright © 2016 - Association des Sauveteurs d'Aviateurs Alliés - All rights reserved -

                                                                                                           En français france

 

 T/Sgt. John H. Leahy   T/Sgt. John H. Leahy

Sunday 30th October. On this beautiful sunny fall day, the municipality of Mello and our Association paid tribute to the crew of the B-24 “Liberator" bomber "Square Dance" of the 445th Bomb Group which was shot down by flak on the heights of the village on 27th June 1944 during a bombing mission over the marshalling yards of Petit Therain, near Creil (Oise, France).

Mello - The castle

The castle of Mello

In this village, dominated by its magnificent castle, we had the great honour of welcoming Mrs. Joy Etienne and her husband, who came from Seattle, Washington, (on their own initiative, Joy and her husband had already discreetly visited Mello last year). Her uncle, T/Sgt. John H. Leahy, from Chicago, was a radio operator aboard the aircraft. He was one of the four crew members who lost his life in action during this tragic mission.

Welcomed by Mrs. Gauvin, Mayor of the village and her councillors, all those present were invited to gather around the memorial decked with American flags. At the base of this structure, a marble plaque recalls the sacrifice of Lts. Arlee Reno and Walter Strychasz, T/Sgt. John Leahy and S/Sgt. Walter Schum, crew members of the "Square Dance" as well as 2nd Lt. Joseph Stone, an American fighter pilot, all of whom fell for our Freedom.

Mello - Tribute to the airmen
Tribute to the crew at the war memorial
 
Mello - The plaque at the war memorial

The plaque which bears the names of the five American airmen.

After words of welcome, the ceremony began with a speech by Mrs. Gauvin.
"71 years ago ended the worst tragedy of the 20th century, probably the worst in the history of mankind. The French people found the way to hope and France that of its History. In the streets of our towns and in our countryside a great joy was spreading. A joy only matched in intensity by the pain and the tears that had marked the six years of suffering that was coming to an end. The pain and the tears of an occupied people which had taken away its freedom. The pain and the tears that had punctuated the daily lives of families, here and elsewhere, amputated by the loss of a father, a brother, a son or an uncle.

An uncle, like that of Joy, Sergeant John Harold Leahy, 32, a radio-operator, who would lose his life at Mello ... "

Mello - Speech of Mrs. Gauvin

Speech of Mrs Gauvin, Mayor of Mello

Mrs. Gauvin then spoke with great emotion about the tragedy which occurred above the village on 27th June 1944 and the fate of each of the ten members of the bomber crew. Her speech ended with these words :

"Those of us, here, have not experienced this war, so we have a duty not to forget. We must continue to honour, to remember and to testify. But we must also convey a message of peace by maintaining our vigilance and constantly acting in compliance with these principles. This is our History, the History of France ... The next few years promise to be decisive for the future of our country and the whole world. We must ceaselessly hold high the republican and democratic values that our elders have bequeathed us ...”

Mrs. Joy Etienne then took the floor and traced with passion and emotion the past of her uncle, T/Sgt. John Harold Leahy. Born in 1911, he was the second son of a family of four living in a working class area of Chicago. An epidemic fever carried off his younger sister Hazel in 1926 at the age of 14. A few months later, his father died.

“…John, who went by the name ‘Bill’ after a movie hero, was a sickly boy. The fever weakened his heart, too. It affected his ability to play sports and he tried several times to join the military… He did not consider himself weak. Both brothers, Walter and ‘Bill’ were business men together and had a small business on LaSalle Street in the financial district of Chicago…”

Mello - Speech of Mrs Joy Etienne

Joy retracing her uncle's life

John H. Leahy married in the early 30s the daughter of the neighbourhood baker. The couple had no children.

"... The family read two or three newspapers daily. They could see the war coming… On 15th September 1941 the Army doctors listened to Bill's heart and accepted him as a volunteer. But the doctors knew Bill had to have a job that was not too physically taxing. A radio operator was good because he could sit down on the long flights. He learned to fire a gun. He also learned first aid”.

T/Sgt. John H. Leahy, 445th Bomb Group

Chicago – 27th November 1943 - John H. Leahy and his wife Helen

After several months of training, John H. Leahy was assigned to the 445th Bomb Group. He left the United States and joined the airbase at Tibenham, Norfolk, in December 1943. After that the dangerous bombing missions over occupied territories began. In his letters home, he always reassured his family, saying that all was well and that he would soon be back home.

“…The Hollywood movie star Jimmy Stewart was a pilot on the same aerodrome. This fact has been important in finding out where my uncle was because my family never knew. The family only knew that Bill had been killed in action in France. The 27th June 1944 was my uncle’s 35th mission. He was going to return home to become a radio-operator instructor qualified for the new replacements if he had landed at Tibenham, England... I feel very honoured today that our village and you remember this group of courageous airmen and all your heroes... Please don't ever forget. The greatest gift we have is Freedom”.

This evocation of the life of T/Sgt. John H. Leahy by his niece was simultaneously translated by our friend Mauricette Gallego, born in Maysel, a neighbouring municipality of Mello, a few months before the crash of the plane and therefore very attached to the history of this aircraft for many years !

This ceremony continued with a laying of wreaths followed by a respectful minute of silence and the national anthems.

All present were then invited to a drinks reception.

IMG 1689

 Laying of wreaths

IMG 1704
 Joy and Mrs. Gauvin surrounding Mrs Genevieve Le Berre,

convoyeuse of airmen within the "Burgundy" escape network, who did us the honour of attending this tribute.

IMG 1711

 A moment of fraternity !

The next day was spent visiting the place where the B-24 "Square Dance" fell. The site, now so peaceful where nature has taken over again, shows nothing of the tragedy which occurred 72 years ago except for a small stone monument erected many years ago. Small bunches of flowers were laid in front of the monument interlaced with Joy’s multitude of small Stars and Stripes flags. Then followed an emotional minute of silence in memory of the crew of the bomber.

IMG 7079

 

 IMG 7085

 The stele on the crash site

 

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