It’s a moving memorial. Dedicated to the youngest casualties of World War II.
“Probably one of the most common comments we get after a tour is people go, ‘I had no idea. I didn’t know any of that.’
Gilbert Terry is a tour guide with the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force.
“That’s our job. We tell stories. There are stories about people who fell out of bombers and lived. And, there are stories about incredible bravery. We keep these stories alive. It’s important.”
But this is a story of unimaginable tragedy.
“It’s the second most tragic event of the Second World War. I can’t think of what would’ve been the first… but it’s certainly the saddest because of the children.”
August 23, 1944, 61 people lost their lives in the small village of Freckleton, England. Thirty-eight of them, children.
It’s considered the single largest disaster suffered by allies in the entire war.
“Two B 24 bombers were on a mission. Not a mission, really. A test flight. And, they ran into incredibly bad weather. Back then, the weather would catch them by surprise. We didn’t have all of the radar and stuff that we have now and it was such a severe storm. One of them got hit by lightning and crashed into a school.”
Only three of the students survived. 5-year-old Ruby (Whittle) Carrell was one of them.
“Bing Crosby visited the hospital and there were three children at this particular hospital and 70% of their bodies were burned. And he sat at the edge of the bed of a 5-year-old girl named Ruby. And he could only hold her fingertips because that’s all that was sticking out of the bandages. And he asked her did she have any requests- a song for him to sing. She said her mother sang a couple of songs. One of them was White Christmas. He started to sing and he choked up because he couldn’t do it looking at her. He tried a couple of times and he finally excused himself and went into the hall outside of the ward and composed himself and said he had to sing the song from the hall because he couldn’t see her. And it was probably the toughest performance he ever gave.”
Ruby, who’s last name later became Carrell, is now 77 years old.
In her wallet, she still carries a picture of Eddie Stinger, the American MP who pulled her from the burning building.
“There were a lot of Americans involved in that situation. Most of them were pallbearers at the funeral, were aviation crew members.”
Ruby occasionally travels to Savannah to visit the memorial- placing flowers there on the anniversary of a day she’ll never forget.
A poignant piece of history- forever kept alive through the Mighty Eighth Museum… and Gil Terry’s ‘stories.’
The National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force continues to tell the story of all who were lost that day- not only the children, but teachers, military members, and civilians, thorough their 2AD Exhibit in the combat gallery and the children’s memorial in the Memorial Gardens.
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