The History of AFEES dates back to 1964
Before 1961, a Frenchman by the name of Leslie Atkinson, a Reserve Captain in the French Air Force, a member of the executive committee of the Army Resistance Organization, and a Helper for Allied airmen, was inspired by the brilliant work accomplished by the British Royal Air Forces Escaping Society. It became his mission to create an association that would bring together American aviators who had escaped from enemy-occupied territory and their European Helpers.
With the help and advice of many people, Mr. Atkinson’s efforts resulted in the Air Force Rescue Association being organized in France. By July 1, 1963, the project had been approved by the US Embassy in Paris, the US Air Force in Europe, and the President of the French Republic. Leslie’s personal determination to fulfill his objective kept him going. He advertised in Europe and found many Helpers; he advertised in the States and received a few replies.
In early 1961, Ralph Patton went back to France and traced his escape route to Guingamp. There he met Mathurin Branchous, the provincial Resistance leader who had a list of names and last-known addresses of Americans who had escaped by way of Operation Bonaparte. When he returned home, Ralph contacted two other men on the list: John T Emery and Fred Schmitt. The three men proceeded with plans for a reunion in Buffalo, NY, on May 15-16, 1964, to honor their war-time benefactors.
Letters went out and encouraging responses were received from evaders. Counting family members, 56 people attended the Buffalo reunion, including 32 evaders, 7 helpers and 1 from Canada. That list was the origin of the US Air Forces Escape & Evasion Society roll.
In the January 1964 issue of the VFW magazine, Leslie’s notice appeared on the same page with one from Ralph K Patton seeking contacts from “those who escaped from Plouha on the Northern coast of Brittany.” Contact was established between Ralph and Leslie and they began to communicate about their common interests. Mr Atkinson gave Ralph the names of airmen he had in the US and Leslie concentrated his efforts with the helpers he had identified in Europe. Leslie Atkinson extended his contacts in Europe beyond France. He corresponded with officials in Belgium, Holland, Norway, Italy and other nations. Belgium, thanks to Comète, sent a delegation of 61 to the U.S. in 1974 for celebrations in Detroit, Washington and New York City. Ralph Patton also developed ties with the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society of Canada which resulted in a joint reunion in Toronto in 1995, a memorable event for all involved.
The AFEES list contained 33 names at the 8th Air Force Historical Society meeting in Phoenix in 1979 and 50 a year later when the 8th met in Orlando. In 1982, 28 helpers attended the meeting of the 8th in Cincinnati. That was when Scotty David went to work to locate evaders in the US. Armed with a list of 3,000 names, she began her search. By 1986, AFEES had about 400 members and held the society’s first annual meeting in Atlanta with 170 in attendance. By dint of personal perservance and hundreds of letters and telephone calls, Scotty somehow continues to discover new members. Membership reached 949 in 1994, including some 175 men from the 15th Air Force and other units not on the original list.
Nearly 60 years after World War II, members continue to be located. The current list of known helpers world-wide now exceeds 600.
For a list of its reunions with their locations and activities, click here.
AFEES Communications, published quarterly, is the official Journal of the Air Forces Escape & Evasion Society. AFEES is a tax-exempt Veterans organisation under IRS Code 501 (C)(19). It was founded in 1964 and is Chartered in the State of Georgia.