Chris Wright, News On 6
MIAMI, Oklahoma -- An entire community paid tribute Tuesday to men who lost their lives thousands of miles from home.
During World War II, Ottawa County served as a training ground for British pilots.
More than 2,000 Royal Air Force Cadets graduated from the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Miami in the early 1940's. They returned home to fight for their country. But 15 men never had the opportunity.
The cadets killed during training were laid to rest at the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery.
Buried next to them is Francis Hill. She tended to the graves daily for more than 40 years. Ever since Hill passed away, the responsibility has fallen to the entire community.
"We look at it absolutely as our responsibility. We're the mothers, the fathers, the family of these young men," said Huey Long, Miami City Manager.
"It says a lot about this community," said Kim Horn, Cemetery Supervisor. "We opened our homes, opened our hearts to them, and we haven't forgotten them, and they haven't forgotten us."
While the British cadets' sacrifice has not been forgotten, Tuesday was the first time the city has held a formal ceremony to honor them.
Miami plans to hold one every year around Veteran's Day.
The cadets laid the foundation for a relationship that continues to this day. As part of an exchange program, Royal Air Force Flight Left-tenant Sarah Vamplew is spending three years at Tinker Air Force Base.
"They've been no different with me. They've been absolutely fabulous and very accommodating," she said.
City leaders are proud of their role in history, and say Miami is committed to remaining just as hospitable as it was nearly seventy years ago.
"It's amazing when you look at the contribution these young men made to this entire nation. Right here in Oklahoma we are a part of that," Long said.
Former cadets regularly held reunions in Miami. The last one was took place in 2005.