Mission to give 94-year-old air force lieutenant reminder of his love for Norwich
PUBLISHED: 06:00 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 13 September 2019
Courtesy of Roy Carlson
The family of a 94-year-old former air force lieutenant have embarked on a mission to remind him of his love for Norwich after he was diagnosed with bone cancer.
John Fay, known as Jack, was stationed near the city as a 19-year-old navigator during the Second World War, where he was one of just a handful of the crew to survive a devastating crash.
And Mr Fay's relatives decided to celebrate the then-lieutenant's links to the fine city, after his diagnosis following a fall earlier this year.
But after efforts to secure Mr Fay a memento of the city he loved proved fruitless, this newspaper has stepped in as a way of thanking him for his service all those years ago.
The Californian former lawyer and ex-town mayor of Ojai was described as "kind, witty, and funny" by son-in-law, Roy Carlson.
Mr Fay served on a B24 plane, as part of the US 8th Air Force, 785th Bombardment Squadron.
And despite his miraculous escape from a plane crash in February 1945 - leaving him one of two or three survivors - he always had fond memories of the city.
The crew were flying a mission when the second engine caught fire, forcing them to try and return to England.
The pilot warned the crew not to bail out over the sea as it was so cold they would be unlikely to live.
But after the thick smoke in the aircraft became unbearable, a few did anyway and did not survive.
And once the plane was above land, Mr Fay and one or two others were able to parachute out, leaving the pilot and co-pilot, who went down with the plane.
"A couple of Italian prisoners of war working in fields near RAF Langham were killed when the plane landed," added Mr Carlson.
Mr Fay was then transferred to another US squadron for the remainder of his missions.
Mr Carlson said: "He interrupted his young life to fight for the freedom of others, risked it in flights from England to Germany on two dozen missions, and witnessed the deaths of his young crewmates."
And he added that his father in law's generation had not "sought any accolades for doing what they saw as their duty".
Mr Fay, who was born in Los Angeles in 1925, wanted to enlist in the military immediately after Pearl Harbor but the recruiter wanted him to finish high school.
"Jack was concerned he was too thin and ate a bunch of bananas prior to his physical to put on some weight," Mr Carlson added.
He eventually trained as a navigator and crossed the Atlantic in 1944, becoming a crew member with pilot Captain W.C. Linde, who later saved his life in the crash.
"I believe that Jack's pilot had introduced him to cigars and Scotch," Mr Carlson said.
"In honour of his pilot's sacrifice Jack has a cigar and Scotch each day."
After returning from the war, he joined the University of California, Los Angeles where he met his eventual wife, Marge, before training as a lawyer.
He went on to have four children, eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and was predeceased by his wife and his only son.
Mr Carlson added: "Despite the horrors of war, I know he returned to Norwich to celebrate reunions and anniversaries of the end of the war.
"Jack found out about the bone cancer when he fell and broke his shoulder a few months ago, so that has slowed him down quite a bit.
"Jack has 15 nieces and nephews and many of them have been coming to visit him and love to hear all of the stories for perhaps one last time."
'A token of our never-ending gratitude' - the EDP thanks Jack Fay
The Eastern Daily Press (EDP) has sent some mementos of Norwich as a thank you to Jack Fay for his "efforts to protect this nation during the Second World War".
- A Norwich City Football Club scarf and badge;
- A calendar of Norfolk scenes;
- An illustrated Norwich mug;
- An illustrated Norwich tea towel;
- A book on the history of the city following the Second World War;
- A set of Norwich postcards;
- A fridge magnet depicting the River Wensum;
- A coaster depicting Norwich Cathedral;
- An Archant mug;
- A copy of the Eastern Daily Press featuring Jack's story;
- And a letter of thanks from EDP and Evening News editor David Powles, on behalf of this newspaper's readers, the city of Norwich and county of Norfolk.