The 67th Air Rescue Squadron were formed at RAF Sculthorpe on 14 November 1952. Less than three months later, the 67th were making worldwide headlines for a heroic rescue they conducted during the Norfolk Floods of 1953. One of the worst affected areas was around Hunstanton where, amongst the local populace, USAF families from nearby Sculthorpe lived in local housing. The entire Squadron was mobilised and spent many frantic hours searching for 67th comrades, friends and local people who were missing.
The young man who will forever be remembered as the hero of the night was an Aerial Gunner from the 67th. Twenty-two year old Airman Second Class Reis L. Leming ventured out into the storm dressed in an anti-exposure suit and towing a rubber liferaft. After three torturous trips, in complete darkness and often neck deep in the icy water, he had single-handedly rescued 27 people. During these trips his anti-exposure suit was ripped and holed by underwater obstacles and was steadily filling with bitterly cold water. At the end of his third trip, and within sight of dry land, he collapsed with severe hypothermia and had to be rescued himself. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal by the United States and was subsequently awarded the George Medal by the UK. This was the first time in peacetime history that this prestigious medal had been awarded to a foreign national. Another American, Freeman A. Kilpatrick, was also awarded the George Medal.
Tragically, the floods caused the deaths of 31 people in Hunstanton, including 16 Americans, some of them entire families.
The Norfolk’s American Connections project team should like to thank the 67th Special Operations Squadron for kindly providing this text.