November 15, 2004
To the melody of "My Country Tis of Thee," hundreds at Mesa Cemetery sang: "Two countries by the sea. Two nations great and free. One anthem raise."
The sentiment, in light of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was particularly relevant to those at the annual memorial Sunday for 24 British and American pilots killed while training at Mesa’s Falcon Field during World War II.
"As we are in this conflict now with terrorism, our two countries are locked together again," Mesa Mayor Keno Hawker said in a short speech.
During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots came to Mesa to train as England was being bombed by the Nazis. The cadets flew next to and were coached by American pilots and commanders.
But during their training, some of the pilots were killed in accidents or from natural causes. The British did not send the bodies back home.
Instead, they buried them where they fell — in Mesa.
In 1961, Anne Selleck was part of a group of Mesa women who later joined the Daughters of the British Empire and created an annual memorial service for the pilots.
Families still come to Mesa from Britain to see the graves of their relatives.
It means a lot to them that Mesa holds this service every year, Selleck said.
"It’s important that we show that bond and how important it is right now," she said.
Sunday’s service included a procession by the Mesa Caledonian Pipe Band — which played bagpipes and drums — a 21-gun salute by the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard and a flyover by four T-6 airplanes, the kind most World War II pilots trained in.
The choir from the Citrus Heights stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and soloist Barbara Harris sang, David Evans and Dennis Barber read poems and a handful of guests lay wreaths.
Keith Hansen, 79, of Mesa worked as a dispatcher at Falcon Field in 1944-45. He’s come to the ceremony nearly every year.
He remembered the air of excitement Falcon Field had when the British were there.
"It was about as enjoyable a time as I ever had," Hansen said. He looked at the headstones of the pilots, with crossed American and British flags in the grass next to them.
"I really hated seeing that end," he said. "Even if it was the end of the war."