Thursday, June 5, 2014
Exactly 70 years after a wartime tragedy which claimed 12 lives, the family of a lost US airman arrived in a quiet Norfolk village to pay their respects in the field where his plane crashed.
S/Sgt Harry Wensel, 24, was a waist gunner in the Liberator bomber which crashed in Garveston, near Dereham, with the loss of all 10 crew. Two firemen also died trying rescue them.
They became known as The Garveston 12 among the memorial group of the parish council, who have painstakingly traced their history and their surviving relatives.
And at 5.30pm yesterday, two of Sgt Wensel’s nephews, accompanied by their families, made their first visit to the UK to be at the memorial which now stands behind the village hall, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the crash.
The Rev Tim Weatherstone led a short service before the Wensels unveiled a commemorative oak bench for the occasion.
Dan Wensel, a 65-year-old insurance agent from New York state, said he had also been honoured to visit his uncles grave earlier in the day, at the US military cemetery at Madingley in Cambridgeshire.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” he said. “We went out to Madingley this morning and I said it was like we were going to his funeral.
“He died five years before I was born and I heard stories about him, but he never seemed real to me until the people here started finding out about him. Talking to the people here has been wonderful.
“If we had any illusions of whether they were appreciated after crashing and losing their lives, then the people of Garveston have really laid that concept to rest. We can see what it means to the people here, even after 70 years, and it is wonderful to be a part of it.”
Mr Wensel’s 63-year-old brother Steve, who lives in Florida, said: “I remember we had pictures of him (Sgt Wensel), but we would not have known the full detail of where he was and the whole circumstances of the crash if not for this group.
“We have all the pieces of the puzzle now, and it makes it totally real. It is just amazing what the people here have done.”
Parish council chairman Michael Garrod said the 70th anniversary had lent an extra significance to the family’s visit. “They are just so grateful to be here,” he said.
“We have opened a door for them – some of these families didn’t even know where these men crashed, and now we have two families talking to each other in the States because of what we have done here.”