US relatives help mark 75th anniversary of wartime Skye bomber crash

Doug Overfield, far right, cousin of Lt Paul Overfield, with his wife, other relatives and representatives of the Royal British Legion, Bun Sgoil Stafainn, and the Rev Rory MacLeod. Photograph: Staffin Community Trust. NO F10 B17 service
Doug Overfield, far right, cousin of Lt Paul Overfield, with his wife, other relatives and representatives of the Royal British Legion, Bun Sgoil Stafainn, and the Rev Rory MacLeod. Photograph: Staffin Community Trust. NO F10 B17 service

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As a teenager growing up in East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania during the early 1940s, Paul Overfield Jnr and his school friends would tour the streets of their home town collecting scrap metal for the war effort.

Just a few short years later and Paul himself was now proudly wearing the uniform of a B17 bomber pilot in the United States Army Air Force.

However, his military service was to prove tragically short when he, aged just 21, and his fellow eight crew members were killed when their B17 Flying Fortress crashed on Skye’s Trotternish Ridge exactly 75 years ago this week.

To mark the special anniversary, a commemoration event was held this week on Skye at the memorial erected to the crew on the 70th anniversary.

This week’s event also saw relatives of Lt Overfield make the near 5,000-mile journey from their homes in Arizona and Maryland to attend the commemoration.

The giant four-engined bomber was assigned to the USAAF’s 15th Air Force and was on its way to an RAF base in Wales when it crashed,  after departing from America and flying via Meeks Field in Iceland .

A B-17 bomber similar to the one which crashed on Skye, on a raid over Germany in 1943. shutterstock_251930686
A B-17 bomber similar to the one which crashed on Skye, on a raid over Germany in 1943.
shutterstock_251930686

It was while crossing Skye in heavy fog on March 3, 1945, that the aircraft clipped the cliffs and crashed at Beinn Edra, the highest point of the Trotternish Ridge in Staffin.

Islanders attempting to rescue the stricken crew, found personal belongs including fishing rods and bicycles, scattered among the wreckage, parts of which are still visible to this day.

Pieces of the crashed bomber can still be seen on the mountainside. Photograph: Calum Maclean. NO F10 Calum Maclean wreckage
Pieces of the crashed bomber can still be seen on the mountainside. Photograph: Calum Maclean.
NO F10 Calum Maclean wreckage

Lt Overfield’s family made the trip to Staffin to pay their respects and to learn more about the fate of the doomed Flying Fortress.

The party comprised Lt Overfield’s cousins, Doug and Barbara Overfield from Arizona and Bob and Jan Hosier from Maryland.

Mr Overfield told the Lochaber Times his first visit to Skye and the memorial had been very moving. ‘I found it an incredibly emotional experience. To see the care and protection with which the Scottish people have looked after this site and the memories of these men is unbelievable  and my family and I can’t thank them enough.’

Now in her late 80s and living in Florida, Lt Overfield’s sister, Betty Foote, was not fit enough for the trip to Scotland, but is delighted her family were represented at the commemoration.

The family had been unaware that the crew’s names were added to the Staffin War Memorial five years ago to mark the 70th anniversary.

The plaque bearing the names of the nine crew members. Photograph: Calum Maclean. NO F10 Calum MacLean plaque
The plaque bearing the names of the nine crew members. Photograph: Calum Maclean.
NO F10 Calum Maclean plaque

 

Mrs Foote said her older brother loved fishing and wondered if one of the rods found may have been his.

‘During high school he and his friends collected scrap iron on Saturdays for the cause [war effort],’ recalled Mrs Foote, who remembered her brother giving her his bike as their parents couldn’t afford another one.

‘I was 13 years old and in eighth grade when Paul was killed. The minister came to the school and took us home. We received notice of the crash within days and his letter came after the telegram.’

Former army chaplain, the Rev Rory MacLeod, led Tuesday’s commemoration at Staffin War Memorial.

Afterwards, the American relatives visited the Skye and Lochalsh Archive
Centre in Portree to discover more about the crash.

The plaque bearing the names of the bomber’s crew  states in Gaelic, Gan cuimhneachadh (Remembering them).

As well as Lt Overfield,  the aircraft manifest lists the other crew members as co-pilot Second Lt Leroy E Cagle, navigator Second Lt Charles K Jeanblanc, radio operator Cpl Arthur W Kopp Jr, engineer Cpl Harold D Blue and gunners Cpl John H Vaughan, Cpl Harold A Fahselt, Cpl George S Aldrich and Cpl Carter D Wilkinson.

 

Navigator Second Lt Charles K Jeanblanc was among the crew killed. NO F10 Charles Jeanblanc
Navigator Second Lt Charles K Jeanblanc was also among the crew killed.
NO F10 Charles Jeanblanc