May 27, 2001
Daughter of downed pilot embraces the memory of a father she never knew
By John Wilkins
American pilot Bud Fleming tucked this photo of himself
into his pocket on Aug. 10, 1944, when he set off in his P-38
for a mission over France. The photo survived an encounter
with German anti-aircraft fire that day. Fleming did not.
"I have missed my Dad all my life," said Cheri Fleming.
When an American pilot flew over German-occupied France during World War II, he would stash a small
black-and-white photo in his clothes. The camera doesn't lie, but here it fibbed a little.
The picture was of the flier dressed in civilian clothes. If he got shot down, and he eluded capture,
the French underground would use the photo to make false identification papers.
With fake papers, the theory went, the pilot could make his way out of France and back to the Allied forces
to fight another day. The Nazis hated it when that happened.
First Lt. James "Bud" Fleming carried his photo in a pocket when he took off in his P-38 on Aug. 10, 1944.
It showed the 28-year-old Pennsylvanian in a coat and tie, dark-haired and unsmiling. He must have borrowed
someone else's shirt; it was too small and couldn't be buttoned at the collar.
At 11 a.m. that morning, Fleming was flying over the town of Hautvillers, in the champagne region east of
Paris, when a round from an 88mm anti-aircraft gun hammered his plane.
In flames, the P-38 crashed. A French resistance fighter raced to the wreckage first. Fleming, badly burned,
was dead. The French man combed the plane for weapons and anything else the enemy might find useful.
He reached into Fleming's pocket and found the ID photo. He took it.
Part of that was practical. He didn't want the Germans to study the picture and figure out its purpose. But part
of it was honor, also. To the French, Allied pilots, especially those killed in action, were heroes.
When a man fell from the sky like that, it wasn't uncommon for the townspeople to gather for a funeral.
Uncomfortable with such outpourings, the Germans liked to take the body and bury it quickly in another village.
That's what happened with Fleming. He was interred at nearby Cumieres just four hours after the crash.
Quietly, the French paid their respects anyway. They sort of adopted Bud Fleming. They kept flowers on the grave.
They kept records in the town hall, too, so that people would always remember.
She spent the last two years learning more about him.
James "Bud" Fleming and his wife, Dorothy. They met
Cheri Fleming was 4 months old when her father died. He left for the war one week before she was born. He never
saw his only child. She grew up not knowing much about her dad. It's not that the subject was forbidden, but life
goes on. Her mother remarried twice and had more kids. The family moved around a lot, to Japan, Alabama, Nebraska.
What snippets she learned about him were interesting -- he loved the military, hated smoking -- but not substantial
enough to give much form to the ghost. He floated out there somewhere beyond her understanding.
After the war, the government announced that the American dead were being exhumed from small graveyards throughout
Europe. The family had a choice: Bud Fleming could be reburied in the American cemetery at Epinal, France, or
brought back to the states. "Leave him there with his buddies," his dad decided.
Years later, Cheri Fleming set out on her own, got married and had a son. They named him after her father.
When the boy drowned a few days before his third birthday, she decided the name must be cursed. She had another son,
named him Ron. He's 32 now and she thinks he has his grandfather's eyebrows.
In 1989, she moved from Palm Desert to San Diego. Freshly divorced, she settled in Scripps Ranch under her married
name and found work with Kaiser as a cardiac nurse. About two years ago, she decided she needed to learn more about
her dad. "I just came to realize that I had missed him my whole life," she said.
She reached out via the Internet. She remembered she had a cousin named Kenneth Winner, and through a search
engine looked for e-mail addresses with that name. She found just three. "What the heck," she remembered thinking.
"It's worth a shot."
On Feb. 13 of last year, she sent her missive into the electronic beyond. Two days later, she got a reply: "You
have found the right Ken Winner."
She said, "I was home by myself, and I was laughing, screaming, carrying on. I could hardly type, my hands were
shaking so hard."
Winner put her in touch with other relatives, and soon she was on a plane to Pennsylvania for a 10-day visit.
As she flew out of San Digo, she left something behind. Her married name. "I never got to use Fleming before,"
On the trip, she met her father's three surviving siblings. They shared stories and memories with her. "I felt very
welcomed, not a stranger at all," she said. "I just felt really lucky."
It wasn't the last time.
in Hawaii while he was based at Wheeler field.
A Pennsylvania native, James Flemming
In 1994, France held massive celebrations for the 50th anniversary of D-Day and other World War II battles. Among
the hundreds of people from the United States who went over for the festivities was Jacques Adnet, a retired Air
Force lieutenant colonel. Born in eastern France, he came to America in 1947 and served 22 years in the military.
He lives now in Colorado Springs, where he is a consultant at the Air Force Academy.
Adnet was interviewed by French newspapers covering the anniversary events. In Epernay, not far from Hautvillers
and Cumieres, a man named Andre Mathy read one of the stories and got to wondering. Mathy was a teen in August 1944
when he saw an American war bird shot out of the sky. "The pilot never had a chance," is the way he recalled it.
Across the decades, he and the other townspeople still felt indebted.
The 50th anniversary stirred up all kinds of emotions, and what it stirred in Mathy was a desire to find the pilot's
family. He contacted Adnet, showed him the death certificate for Bud Fleming and asked for help. Adnet learned that
Fleming was from Pennsylvania, and that his fighter squadron, the 434th, was part of a group led by Gen. Kyle Riddle,
now retired. Riddle's Raiders, they were called.
Adnet and Riddle both tried to locate the pilot's survivors, but his wife and daughter had married and moved and
changed names. They ran down all the Flemings they could find, but no luck. And so it sat until last summer, when
Cheri Fleming found them.
She had joined the American World War II Orphans Network, a support group for the estimated 183,000 men and women
whose fathers were killed in the war. Most are in their 50s and 60s now, still struggling with feelings of abandonment
and loss. Through that organization, Fleming got tips about locating her dad's war pals.
On the Internet, she hopscotched through several Web sites until she found one for Riddle's Raiders. She made a couple
of phone calls and discovered that a reunion was coming up in Oklahoma. "Would you like to attend?" the reunion
chairman asked. Fleming took her son. They met Riddle. They met her dad's roommate, who told them Bud Fleming was
a straight arrow, a guy who didn't go out drinking and carousing with the others. Five men shared a room during
the war. When it was over, only two came back.
A short time after the reunion, Riddle was going through some papers, deciding what to save and what to toss. He
came across the letter from Jacques Adnet, asking for his help in tracing the family of an American flier killed
in August 1944. Wait a minute, Riddle said. I just met her. He picked up the phone.
Back in France, Andre Mathy got word that Fleming's family had been found. He went to the town hall at Cumieres
to look through the archives for any additional information to share with the daughter. "You know," a secretary
there told him, "we have this strange little picture from that crash." And there was Bud Fleming's ID photo, the
one of him in a coat and a tie and a shirt he couldn't button. "You have to understand, the French revered these
pilots," Adnet said. "That resistance fighter kept the photo for many years, then he turned it over to the town hall,
and the people there kept it safe. It was their way of expressing thanks for those guys who died so the French
people could be free again."
Mathy mailed the photo to Adnet, and he sent it, envelope and all, to Fleming. Across the front of the envelope he
wrote in black ink, TREASURE.
was one of 10 children.
© 1999-2001 San Diego Union Tribune Publishing Company
Fleming has better photos, shots of her parents on their honeymoon, shots of her dad in his uniform. But this
little one, well ... she cried when she got it. "I was touched that people cared that much," she said. "I know now
he wasn't alone in those first few minutes after he died. Why it helps ease the heartache, I don't know. But it does."
So for her, tomorrow will be a Memorial Day with a special flavor, one of closure. She's making plans to visit
France soon, to see the place where the plane went down, to walk in the cemetery. To bask in the glow of people
who never forgot.
In Memory of 1LT James (Bud) Fleming
KIA 10 August, 1944 near Hautvillers, France