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67th SOS granted supreme honor by Hunstanton

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Stacia Zachary
  • 352nd Special Operations Group Public Affairs
Editor's note: The 67th Special Operations Squadron has close ties to the 67th Air Rescue Squadron, and its heritage can be traced back to the 67th ARS while it was assigned to a now defunct contingent at RAF Sculthorpe.

The 67th Special Operations Squadron received the Freedom of Hunstanton Oct. 4, 2014, for the critical role U.S. Airmen played during the 1953 floods that devastated the area and claimed the lives of more than 60 people.

Led by the Norwich Pipe Band, a contingent of more than 60 Airmen marched up to the Spinney, the town center, where the Hunstanton Scroll was presented to Lt. Col. John Peak, 67th SOS commander.

"Today's ceremony is a highlight of my career," Peak said. "To be out in front of the squadron of such exceptional Airmen to receive the Freedom of Hunstanton is such an enormous honor. People shook my hand thanking me for what the 67th Air Rescue Squadron did during the floods of 1953 - it was such a humbling moment for me."

The event for which the Freedom of Hunstanton was granted to the 67th SOS occurred Jan. 31, 1953, when a violent storm, combined with a tidal surge, caused the sea water to broach the seaside town's defences and stranded several families on the southern beach areas of Hunstanton making them vulnerable to the flooding.

Although the storm claimed the lives of 31 people, the 67th ARS stationed at RAF Sculthorpe mobilized quickly saving several more lives. Of the Airmen who responded, Airman 2nd Class Reis Leming saved 27 people despite being unable to swim. Approximately 6 ft. 4 in., Leming treaded out into the icy waters, towing a life raft. As a result of his heroic and unselfish actions, Leming was the first non-Briton to be awarded the George Medal for bravery in peacetime.

"Our relationship with Hunstanton was forged on the tragic night of Jan. 31, 1953, when one of our own, Reis Leming risked his life to rescue 27 people, including children," Peak said. "Our special bond has endured for over 60 years and it is a privilege to be associated with the town."

The ceremony, similar to the American tradition of receiving the keys to the city, marks only the second time a U.S. Air Force squadron has received the freedom of a British town. The Freedom of Hunstanton was the community's way of expressing their gratitude for the actions taken more than 60 years ago.

"The depth of our gratitude cannot be expressed in words alone," said Counsillor Carol Bower, mayor of Hunstanton. "We were revisited with a storm of similar magnitude Dec. 5, 2013. The difference was, we had forewarning and so many people aided in ensuring the safety of all residents. So, it's quite important that we recognize those who risked their lives to help us so long ago. The Freedom of Hunstanton is the highest honor we can bestow and we give it with great enthusiasm."

The Freedom of Hunstanton scroll was also presented to the late Reis Leming's wife, Kathy, and son, Michael, to honor his actions that fateful night.

"The love and support the community shows my father is amazing," said Michael Leming. "The true heroes in this world don't look at themselves as such. My dad was one of them ... he liked to say he was in the wrong place at the right time. He very much would have loved to be here today, especially with the town and fellow Airmen."

Just as the contingent marched to the sea wall, the town of Hunstanton was greeted with a flyby of a MC-130J Commando II, the aircraft the 67th SOS operates out of RAF Mildenhall.

"Today was exhilarating," Bower said. "The service members were so smart looking and it moved me to tears to see the aircraft as it flew over. There was a collective gasp from the crowd when it came by - I am so very proud to be mayor at this time."

The motto of the 67th SOS details how Airmen are always prepared and poised to act regardless of the circumstance.

"Our motto is 'anytime, any place,'" Peak said. "Reis Leming's actions embody the very finest characteristics of our Airmen both past and present. It shows that no matter the call, when it comes, we will be there."