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Americans Fighters Return to Quiet English Village

MAUREEN JOHNSONFebruary 5, 1991

FAIRFORD, England (AP) _ The Americans returned Tuesday, roaring down in B-52 bombers and drawing a quiet English village into the Gulf War.

″Thank God the Americans are here,″ said Peter Colborne, 68, a retired engineer who was having a bracer in the local pub. ″If we’d hit Hitler like this, we wouldn’t have had World War II.″

While Fairford welcomed the Air Force back, the Oxfordshire village of Upper Heyford, about 30 miles to the northeast, learned that U.S. F-111s would be going home, and the Scottish town of Holyloch heard that it was losing a U.S. submarine base.

As part of U.S. military cutbacks worldwide, F-111′s also are to be withdrawn from Lakenheath in Suffolk, Defense Secretary Tom King announced.

But in Fairford, where the Americans returned, excited airplane buffs, some carrying military radios, clogged narrow roads on the base perimeter.

For this town of 2,500 residents, where Royal Air Force pilots took off to bomb Germany in World War II, there was a sense of having been here before.

The air base was used by KC-135A tankers during the 80s to refuel B-52s on annual exercises called Mighty Warrior. It was reduced to standby status Oct. 1, with 50 Air Force personnel left behind to maintain facilities.

″We’re not against the base,″ said Ruth Ritter, 65, mayor of the picturesque Cotswold village. ″What has brought the war home to us is that we can be 4,000 miles from the action but we’re still in the front line.″

Actually, Fairford is about 2,600 miles from Baghdad and about 3,000 miles from Kuwait by air.

One of the rare local dissenters, 27-year-old telephone worker Nigel Say, saw no need for B-52s here.

″Why is it only this country that always gets involved with the Americans? What are the others doing?″ said Say, who was busy installing new lines to serve the base.

But 66-year-old Nina Theed declared: ″There’s a war on, and if this is going to shorten the war, that’s all there is to it.″

Les Hathaway, manager of the Bull Hotel in the 13th-century town square, said his business dropped 25 percent when the base closed.

″We’re very pleased to have them back, and it would be nice if they stuck it,″ Hathaway said.

Americans started returning 10 days ago, but the early arrivals were part of a thousand-strong medical staff for an Air Force hospital at Little Rissington, 10 miles north.

Liz Hope, the newsagent’s wife, started a blanket collection and has a room piled high with a second load for Little Rissington.

″They were absolutely freezing,″ Mrs. Hope said. ″With the Gulf (War) on, we all felt pretty useless, and collecting blankets was something we could do to help.″

In the Bull, Colborne’s wife, Rae, looked at two Navy men who were chatting with two nurses from Little Rissington.

″I look at those young men and think, thank God my son is 41, and wonder how their parents must be feeling,″ she said.

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