48-Star US Flag Commemorates Americans in Bridport during WWII
The 18 May unveiling of a memorial to US Army personnel stationed in the town during the Second World War will include an unusual version of the United States flag, and Bridport Town Council is urging the community to be a part of the event.
The 48-star flag was the US national flag in 1943-44, when the country was made up of 48 states – today it has 50. It was at that time that over 1,000 16th Infantry and other American personnel were based in the Bridport area, during preparations for the D-Day landings – at which 119 of their number were killed. In recognition of their contribution to the war effort and the local community, 75 years on from the Normandy landings the historic flag will fly over the unveiling of a memorial in the gardens of Mountfield, Rax Lane, Bridport, at 3.30pm on Saturday 18 May. The Mayor will be joined by representatives of the 16th Infantry, Dorset’s Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff, and a representative of the US Embassy, who will reveal the memorial as part of a commemorative service led by Rev Pete Stone, Vicar at Bridport Team Ministry.
The event will also feature reminiscences from local people who remember the US presence during the war, a display of photographs and historical information, historical re-enactors and period military vehicles.
The weekend will see two further events marking the US presence in the Bridport area. On Saturday 18 May at 1pm, an exhibition at West Bay Discovery Centre charting the presence of American GIs based in West Bay will be visited by the ‘First Division’ historical re-enactors, who will also be present at a Church Parade at St. Mary’s Church, Walditch on Sunday 19 May at 11.15am, again led by Rev Pete Stone.
Town Clerk Will Austin called on the town to show their support, and to come and learn more about the US presence. “Of course we want to show our thanks for the sacrifices made by the soldiers stationed here, but the memorial is just as much a celebration of the way the Americans made themselves part of our community. The photos of soldiers at the pub with local people, relaxing in the gardens at Mountfield, and clearing the snow in South Street show that they quickly established themselves as part of the town. We’d love to see today’s Bridport residents join in with the event on 18 May to show our thanks and to see how this period in our history helped to shape our community.”
The idea of a memorial has been well-received by representatives of the 16th Infantry. Steve Clay, President of the 16th Infantry Association said “The people of Bridport received the troops of our 2nd Battalion with open arms, and opened their doors to our GIs for home-cooked meals, dances, and other social events. A good number of our Soldiers fell in love and would later bring home English wives to America, making their ties to the “Old Country” permanent. We in the 16th Infantry Regiment are still grateful for that generosity and your efforts to remember them now. May God bless the people of Bridport and the “special relationship” between the peoples of the United States and the United Kingdom. Semper Paratus!”
[Semper Paratus is the motto of the 16th Infantry Regiment, and means “always ready”]
Bridport Town Council also issued an appeal for local people to come forward with memories of the US soldiers’ presence in the town. Mr Austin said “This is a great opportunity to capture stories and photographs from that time for posterity. We know that some warm friendships were formed and we’d love to hear more about the Americans’ time here, from local people who remember them.” Anyone wanting to help should contact Linda Bullock at the Town Council on 01308 456722 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.