A little taste of the USA - in Norfolk

The air was filled with the sweet smell of candy floss and the sizzle of grills yesterday (Monday) when up to 25,000 people gathered to celebrate July 4 in true American style.

Visitors to RAF Lakenheath's Independence Day celebrations were transported across the pond with all the traditional food, fairground rides and fireworks associated with the holiday.

The annual event, hosted by the 48th Fighter and 100th Air Refuelling Wings, was for service personnel, their families and members of the local community.

A packed programme of events and activities included a car show, live music, game booths, bird of prey demonstrations and a Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, featuring Spitfires, a Lancaster bomber and the Sally B – the only airworthy B-17 Flying Fortress left in Europe.

'It brings together the American and British communities like no other and builds on our long-standing relations,' said Lt Col Kevin Heckle, 48th Force support squadron commander.

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'It's an amazing synergy between RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall incorporating numerous organisations to make sure a good time is had by all.'

The celebrations, held at RAF Feltwell, near Brandon, were set to continue into the night and families were spoiled for choice when hunger pangs struck.

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There were more than 30 food vendors selling American classics including hot dogs and cheese burgers, as well as firm favourites less familiar to these shores, such as fried pickles – or battered gherkins to us Brits.

Food was clearly an important aspect of the celebrations and if it could be deep fried, it was – with items such as deep fried Twinkies appearing on the menu.

Col John Quintas, commander of the 48th fighter wing, was spending the day with his wife, Susan, and daughters Ava, four, and Elizabeth, two.

'We are celebrating the birthday of the United States,' he said. 'It's a wonderful day for us to be reminded of some great American traditions.

'We have around 20,000 Americans who are away from home right now and enjoying their tour, but it's great to have these reminders of home. July 4 symbolises the end of school and the start of the summer and it's something we very much look forward to.'

Col Quintas, who grew up in Connecticut, was looking forward to tucking into some barbecued ribs and taking his daughters for some ice cream.

'Elizabeth was born in the UK at Lakenheath Hospital, so we named her after the Queen,' he added.

Before the family fun could begin, however, there was some serious business to get down to – a soft ball grudge match.

Each year the squadron and group commanders (the Eagles) take on the chief master sergeants (the Chiefs) and, after surrendering the trophy last time, Col Quintas was determined to win it back.

'It's a great rivalry that's gone on for many years,' he said.

Among the crowd was Debbi Bragg, originally from Brunswick, Georgia, who has attended the celebrations at RAF Feltwell for six years.

'It wouldn't feel right if we didn't celebrate,' she said.

'We have to have the barbecue, the ice cream and the water melon!

'If I was at home we'd be having a big family barbecue and we have a favourite spot to watch the fireworks.'

The event was rounded off with an RAF Red Arrows display and a spectacular fireworks display last night.

Air Force captain Jonathan Beha, based at RAF Lakenheath, was enjoying the first Independence Day with his seven-month-old son, Walden.

'We heard about the celebrations and thought it sounded fun,' he said. 'It's even better here than at home!'


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