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Mon City man killed in WWII honored in Holland

| Monday, April 27, 2015, 12:56 a.m.
Part of a memorial to World War II allied troops killed Holland – including Peter W. Bickford of Monongahela – is delivered in Strijen in the Netherlands.
Part of a memorial to World War II allied troops killed Holland – including Peter W. Bickford of Monongahela – is delivered in Strijen in the Netherlands.
Royal Canadian Air Force Flight  Lt. Peter W. Bickford of Monongahela is photographed near London in 1944.
Royal Canadian Air Force Flight Lt. Peter W. Bickford of Monongahela is photographed near London in 1944.

Progress continues on a memorial that will link the cities of Strijen and Oud Beijerland in the Netherlands to Monongahela – and honor a former Valley man who died in World War II.

“Words cannot truly express our gratitude to the mayor, city council and the city clerk for their continued support of our project,” said Anton de Man, who is leading the project that will culminate with dedication ceremonies June 6 in Oud Beijerland in southern Holland.

“They have been extremely thoughtful and helpful in our efforts with the memorial. Their actions, I'm sure, reflect on the people of their community.”

Monongahela council issued a proclamation in support of the memorial in Holland and honoring Flight Lt. Peter W. Bickford.

A Monongahela resident, Bickford died while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

He enlisted in the Canadian air force after two failed efforts to join the U.S. Army.

Acting on a request from de Man, council agreed to donate an American flag to be displayed at the Strijen ceremony.

Mayor Robert Kepics and councilmen Thomas Caudill, Ken Kulak, Bill Hess and Alan Veliky approved the flag request and the proclamation.

“We are very pleased to have our city represented in this significant program in Holland,” Kepics said.

“We are deeply grateful for the invitation extended to us to play a unique role in an international tribute to the courageous and dedicated men who gave their lives in World War II.”

De Man said the flag is special to the event planners and Bickford family members who will attend the unveiling of the monument.

“We will let the people attending the unveiling know what is written in the proclamation and again publicly express our sincere appreciation to the City of Monongahela,” he said.

The memorial will honor 87 allied and Dutch military personnel who died in Holland while serving in World War II.

Bickford graduated from Monongahela High School in 1939 and worked as sports editor of The Daily Republican newspaper until he entered the service in April 1942.

He was 24 when his plane, Lancaster bomber LM93, crashed near Strijen on Sept. 16, 1944, after a bombing mission targeting Nazi troops at Moerdijk in southern Holland. Bickford and six crewmen are buried at a cemetery in Strijen.

“We feel it would be most appropriate if the American flag to be raised at the dedication comes from Monongahela, the city where Flight Lt. Bickford lived,” de Man said. “A flag is a flag is a flag, but this is a special flag to us, and we want the world to know it came from Monongahela.”

De Man said the flag will be displayed at the Strijen cemetery on May 4 during Day of Remembrance ceremonies.

“This is the time every year that we in Holland remember all people who gave their lives in World War II,” he said.

The family of Flight Officer Wilfred George Scanlan sent a Canadian flag that flew over the Canadian capitol in Ottawa, Ontario. Scanlan, a Westport, Ontario, resident was a bombardier on the Bickford plane. He was 22.

As a youngster, Bickford moved from Bristol, England, to the United States with his father, William Colston Spence Bickford and mother, Elsie Chapman Bickford.

His sister, Barbara Bickford Myers, graduated from Monongahela High School in 1947, but returned to England soon after with her parents. She lives in Bristol.

The late Barrie S. Bickford attended Monongahela schools but quit to join Peter Bickford in the Canadian air force. Barrie Bickford's wife, Pat, and their sons live in Bristol.

Pat Bickford's sons, Peter, Paul, Mark and John will attend the June 6 ceremony, as will Barbara Myers' son, Tony.

They will take part in the unveiling of bronze plaques bearing the names of the fallen servicemen. Descendants of Scanlan and Pilot Officer Peter L. Dooley also will participate.

Also killed in the crash: Flight Officer Arnold N. Johnson, 22; Flight Sgt. Uriah B. Butters, 21; Pilot Officer Donald G. Flood, 20; and Pilot Officer Douglas Dawson, 19.

Representatives of their families are expected to attend.

The program will begin with a reception at the Oud Beijerland town hall and include a flyover by the Royal Dutch Air Force and participation by the Scouting Bagpipes and Royal Canadian Legion.

Mayor Klaas Tiggelaar of Oud Beijerland will speak. Wreaths will be placed at the monument before the flags are raised to full staff and the Royal Dutch Air Force performs a “Last Post” flyover.

Participants will visit the cemeteries in Strijen and Dordrecht and then proceed to the Bickford plane crash site.

A dinner will take place that evening, followed the next morning by a farewell breakfast.

Dr. Jack France, a Tampa, Fla., dentist and Monongahela High School graduate will attend the event. He is the son of the late Floyd M. France, longtime editor of The Daily Republican newspaper in Monongahela and Peter Bickford's boss.

“Because of young men like Peter W. Bickford and his crewmates, as well as the others – including several Americans – we live today in freedom,” de Man said. “It is important that we continue to commemorate their valor and sacrifices. They shall never be forgotten.”

Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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