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Seymour Johnson celebrates 75 years, partnership with Royal Air Force

Members of the 334th Fighter Squadron sing together while a fellow Eagle plays their decorated piano during the 4th Fighter Wing Battle of Britain celebration, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Members of the 334th Fighter Squadron sing together while a fellow Eagle plays their decorated piano during the 4th Fighter Wing Battle of Britain celebration, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Seven pianos were decorated with designs which highlighted each squadron’s past and present. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Victoria Boyton)

Members of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Honor Guard fold the flags of the United States and the United Kingdom, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina.

Members of the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Honor Guard fold the flags of the United States and the United Kingdom, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina. The ceremony was in honor of the Battle of Britain, when Britain was attacked by the German Luftwaffe during World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

Pianos burn in a fire to honor the lives lost during the Battle of Britain in World War II, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Pianos burn in a fire to honor the lives lost during the Battle of Britain in World War II, Sept. 15, 2017, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Seven squadrons on base each decorated a piano in respects to their units’ heritage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth Boyton)

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. --

Seven pianos were burned during the Battle of Britain ceremony Sept. 15 to commemorate the seven American pilots who volunteered to fight alongside the Royal Air Force and defend Europe against the German Luftwaffe.

Annually, the wing honors the volunteer pilots, who were part of the 4th FW, and the RAF during a Battle of Britain celebration and piano burning event -- this year marked the 4th FW’s 75th Anniversary.

There are many stories as to how the piano burning tradition began.

One of the more followed stories told is about a pilot who was also a gifted pianist. He would play in the officer’s mess after their missions. One day he did not return from his mission. In his honor, the RAF squadron took the mess piano outside and burned it.

“To this day in the RAF, if we ever lose somebody or they pass away in service, the mess piano will get dragged outside and burned,” said RAF Squadron Leader Christopher Rugg, foreign exchange officer.

This year, the seven pianos were donated and decorated by squadrons on base to be part of the piano burning ceremony.

“The ‘heart of the volunteer’ resides in today’s Airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing, much as it did with those American volunteers in the Royal Air Force,” said Col. Christopher Sage, 4th Fighter Wing commander.

The 334th Fighter Squadron, or Eagles, was one of the squadrons who took part in the Battle of Britain piano painting event. They rallied together and painted a once wooden baby grand piano into a bright blue showcase.

“Our piano has the names of all former 334th members who have been killed in action,” said Capt. Sean Hoefer, 334th FS student pilot.

He added their piano painting design highlighted the squadron’s past and present.

“We emphasized Don Allen, a former 334th Eagle maintainer and all of the nose art he did for morale in WWII,” Hoefer said.

The piano sat on display at the squadron until its fiery fate at the 2017 4th FW Battle of Britain celebration.

“It’s important to remember your heritage,” Rugg said. “It gives you a basis to keep your culture going; it shapes you into more than just a collection of people.”

Rugg is an exchange officer currently stationed with the 4th FW. The program allows for one member of the RAF and one member of the U.S. Air Force to exchange for a three year period.

“We have quite close ties,” Rugg said. “It is an exchange of ideas and people.”

The evening featured guest speakers, including Rugg, a four-ship F-15E Strike Eagle flyover, piano burning, and the unveiling of the F-15E Strike Eagle heritage aircraft with an anniversary paint scheme.