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Ken Underwood travels from America to visit tree in Little Saxham, near Bury St Edmunds, where his father died during World War Two





An American who spent decades trying to find where his fighter pilot father died during World War Two is returning to Suffolk 80 years later to honour his legacy.

Ken Underwood, 79, never had the chance to meet his father – he never heard his voice or shook his hand.

As a boy growing up in Kansas, the only information about his death was a devastating telegram saying Second Lieutenant Kenneth H. Underwood was killed while on a training mission in Bury St Edmunds on May 18, 1944.

Ken Underwood with his daughter Naomi. Picture: Submitted
Ken Underwood with his daughter Naomi. Picture: Submitted

Ken said he became haunted by the town and felt destined to one day travel across the pond to discover more information.

He said: “The town was burned into my mind from the time I learned to read.

“My mother never found out how her husband was killed as she unfortunately passed away before I found the tree.”

Second Lieutenant Kenneth H Underwood. Picture: Submitted
Second Lieutenant Kenneth H Underwood. Picture: Submitted
Ken Underwood with the tree his father crashed into in Little Saxham in 1992. Picture: Bury Free Press
Ken Underwood with the tree his father crashed into in Little Saxham in 1992. Picture: Bury Free Press

After years of research, Ken eventually tracked down Brian Tyson, from Risby, who recalled seeing a P-38 Lightning aircraft crash into an oak tree in Little Saxham just outside of Bury – the incident aligning perfectly with Ken’s research.

This final piece of the puzzle was enough to inspire Ken, in his 40s, to finally visit the crash site in 1992 where Mr Tyson’s brother, Pat, presented him with the plane’s rudder pedal.

During the emotional visit, Ken ran his fingers across the scorch marks left behind by the burning plane. He collected pieces of dented bark as a souvenir – tangible pieces of his father’s final moments.

Ken is once again returning to Little Saxham tomorrow accompanied by his daughter Naomi to visit the tree and mark the 80th anniversary since the crash.

Ken Underwood being presented with a piece of his father's plane's by Pat Tyson in 1992. Picture: Bury Free Press
Ken Underwood being presented with a piece of his father's plane's by Pat Tyson in 1992. Picture: Bury Free Press

He said: “Seeing the tree just brings everything full circle – and I’m really looking forward to Naomi finally getting to see it.”

In a tribute to his grandfather, Ken’s son now serves as a fighter pilot in the USAF and proudly wears the same WWII wings his grandfather once donned.

Though the cause of the crash remains a mystery, and the details of the fatal training mission are lost to time, the Underwood family will continue to honour the legacy of the man they never had the chance to know.