Operation Torch 2020: USAFRICOM preserves WWII memorials

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U.S. Army Capt. Chris Philhower (left), U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, speaks with David Crow (second from left), a local from Steeple Morden who helped build the memorial, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth partnered with the American Battle Monuments Commission to host Operation TORCH-2020, where more than 50 military members and their families, U.K. nationals and Boy Scout Troop #245, cleaned six World War II memorial sites to preserve American service member legacies and promote an appreciation of past American heroes among present-day USAFRICOM workforce and families. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)
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U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth partnered with the American Battle Monuments Commission to conduct Operation TORCH-2020, a memorial cleanup at six U.S. military World War II sites across England, Aug. 15, 2020.

“We’re calling this Operation Torch-2020, colloquially we’re calling it Blitz Clean,” said U.S. Army Col. Brian Dunmire, USAFRICOM J2-M director and multi-service commander. “This is our opportunity to remember the 75th Anniversary of the American service members’ participation in World War II, by coming out as U.S. Africa Command participating with our community.”

More than 50 service members and their families, U.K. nationals and Boy Scout Troop #245, came together to preserve these World War II legacies and promote an appreciation of past American heroes among present-day USAFRICOM workforce and families.

One of the selected locations was the Steeple Morden Memorial of the 355th Fighter Group in Steeple Morden, England.

Joshua Dunmire scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

“When you think of Africa Command, you think of operations in Africa,” said Dunmire. “We picked six different locations in the U.K., five of them were bomber bases and the one here at Steeple Morden was a fighter base. We correlated those to the six major objectives during Operation Torch when we freed North Africa.”

At each location, those who attended received the opportunity to hear the history of the memorial and the commemorated military unit. Then, everyone participated in scrubbing the concrete, pulling weeds, replacing the flags and filling the vases with fresh flowers.

“I’m not generally an avid history researcher, but a lot of the information I found was just amazing about the heritage of the 355th FG,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Beil, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, who shared the history of the 355th FG. “This is the original location of RAF Steeple Morden, which was where the 355th was initially activated and flew out of. It was originally a grass airfield and once the 355th Fighter Group was stationed here they paved all the runways to be able to more efficiently fly out of the airfield.”

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sebastian Botero, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

The 355th FG was initially activated on Nov. 12, 1942, flying combat missions during World War II. More than 2,000 Airmen served at Steeple Morden, flying P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs. The 355th destroyed or damaged more than 1,500 enemy aircraft by ground strafing, more than any other unit in the 8th Air Force Group. They participated in fighter sweeps over Belgium, escorted B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators and provided fighter cover over Normandy on D-Day.

“Operation Torch was a joint U.S. and U.K. operation,” said Dunmire. “It’s a way for us to honor and understand our joint history. We have people who are in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines in all the various locations.”

A Navy USAFRICOM member shared his thoughts.

Tech. Sgt. Manuel III Minjarez, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

“I think being stationed out here it’s very important to give back to not only the Americans that were out here before, but also the British community,” Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sebastian Botero, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician.
“With this being a multi-locational effort, I think this is all a great opportunity across all branches to give back to the community that way. It not only unifies us as a command, but also our two countries.”

Aug. 15 also marked Victory over Japan Day, when Japan surrendered during World War II, bringing the war to an end.

“As time goes along the greatest generation is passing, so this is an opportunity for us to teach so that the next generation can also understand what has happened here,” said Dunmire.
 

Tech. Sgt. Manuel III Minjarez, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
Jessa and Kaitlyn Dunmire scrub the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
Jessa Dunmire scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sebastian Botero, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
U.S. Army Capt. Chris Philhower, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, cleans the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
U.S. Army Col. Brian Dunmire, USAFRICOM J2-M director and multi-service commander, scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
Jessa Dunmire scrubs the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Beil, U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth technician, reads the history of the 355th Fighter Group Steeple Morden Memorial in Steeple Morden, England, during Operation TORCH-2020 memorial cleanup Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 
 
A memorial window at St. Catherine’s Church in Litlington, England, stands to commemorate all the American service members who served at RAF Steeple Morden. During World War II, 175 of those Airmen died and many became prisoners of war. U.S. Africa Command Directorate for Intelligence at RAF Molesworth partnered with the American Battle Monuments Commission to host Operation TORCH-2020, where more than 50 military members and their families, U.K. nationals and Boy Scout Troop #245, cleaned six World War II memorial sites to preserve American service member legacies and promote an appreciation of past American heroes among present-day USAFRICOM workforce and families. ()Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima

 
 
 
 
Kaitlyn and Joshua Dunmire look at the memorial window at St. Catherine’s Church in Litlington, England, Aug. 15, 2020. (Air Force photograph by Airman 1st Class Jennifer Zima)

 
 
 

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