The Story of a World War II B17G Bomber Pilot


Patrick J. Stevenson

Professor Lieberman

History 305-02

4 May 2000

Skip Stevenson
Professor Lieberman
History 305-02
4 May 2000

The Good Pilot for the Good War:
The Story of World War II B-17G Pilot Ralph L. Minker Jr.

     The great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy was a champion of unsung heroes in warfare,
emphasizing the significance of their contributions over those generals and politicians who
receive the majority of historical attention.1  While World War II is one of the most popular
topics in all of American History, the preponderance of these accounts follow the development
of strategy and doctrine under the leadership of famous generals and politicians rather than the
individual men who fight in the foxholes, fire torpedoes from the depths of submarines, or drop
bombs from the sky while braving enemy fire.  This essay shall deviate from this norm and
instead make Tolstoy proud as it follows the tale of a single man who answered the call to serve
his nation in World War II.  This story is the tale of Ralph L. Minker Jr. and his personal
experiences as a B-17G bomber pilot in the twentieth century’s most significant event.  Through
a review of his personal letters, oral-history interviews, and private documents Captain Minker’s
experiences shall be placed in the larger context of the time period which included his college,
his nation, and his fellow servicemen in the Eighth Air Force.  This paper shall conclude with a
personal analysis of how Minker’s service actually gives credence to the often nostalgic view of
World War II as the “good war” in American history.  It is my position that the life he lived is
the life of a hero.  Minker’s story is a biography which fits the stereotype that everyone who
served in World War II was a noble soul who made the world safe for democracy by eliminating
the evil Axis empire and became a better person for having done so.

     Before Ralph Minker became a successful bomber pilot in the second world war, he had
an ordinary civilian life and family just as the majority of Americans did prior to the declaration
of war and the mass national mobilization that followed.  Ralph Lee Minker was the son of
Ralph Minker Sr., a Methodist minister who frequently traveled throughout the Delaware region
to perform his religious duties.  Ralph Sr. was also a superintendent of the Ferris School, a
public funded reform school for delinquent boys.  His mother, was simply, in her son Ralph’s
own words , “in those days”2 a homemaker.  Ralph also had two younger sisters, Bernice and
Shirley, both of whom were born in Wilmington, Delaware just like their older brother.  These
four people are undoubtedly worth mentioning within this discussion because they were all key
players in Ralph’s correspondence through personal letters from his various domestic training
sites to his combat assignment in the European Theatre of Operations.

    As for the star of this saga, Ralph Lee Minker Jr. was born on 16 June 1924, and attended
Alexis I. Dupont High School in Wilmington Delaware.  In high school, leadership dimensions
were already surfacing at this early age as Ralph was class president for his junior and senior
years in addition to being a back-up quarterback on the football team despite his diminutive
stature.  Perhaps these roles foreshadowed Ralph’s not to distant future as a leader of ten men in
combat; however, when it came time to decide where to go to college, Ralph’s had little say in
the matter.  Ralph’s parents, both graduates of Dickinson college, decided that he would follow
in their footsteps and become a Dickinson Red Devil.3 like they had been twenty years earlier.
Thus, at the ripe age of sixteen, Ralph left for Carlisle, Pennsylvania in the Fall of 1940 while a
war of monumental proportions was being waged an ocean away.

    Ralph’s first year of college was much like any other college student’s freshman
experience.  He was primarily worried about his academic work, but also “had a large sense of
wanting to grow up” since mom and dad were not around anymore.4  Nonetheless, as time
passed and Ralph became acquainted with college life one-hundred miles from home, the war
raged forth in Europe, and Ralph, a history major and someone with a keen curiosity in timely
events, took some notice of the conflict.  He was aware of the causes of the war, and was pulling
for the Allies (Britain and France) to come through, having concluded that the United States
might have to come to their aid; however, he also believed that the conflict was “far away."5
The young pilot-to-be was conscious of the facts that a vast ocean separated the United States
from the hostilities in Europe, the nation was crawling out from the wreckage of the Great
Depression, and that the U.S. lacked the necessary military power to take action at the time.
Retrospectively, Minker summarized his pre-war position by stating, “...I was interested in it.  I
thought why we would have to become ever involved in it.  Perhaps might find some way to
[avoid] it, but at that point there was no sense of a draft.  So it was more [like] I was listening,
but not really involved.”6

    The question is how did Ralph’s views compare to his peers, the Dickinson student body,
prior to the United States’ entry into the war?  A survey conducted near the end of 1939 by the
Dickinsonian, the college’s student newspaper, reveals that the college had a rather pacifistic
attitude.  Out of over 500 people polled, only 17 (3%) were in favor of supporting the Allies.
When asked if they would support the Allies’ war effort knowing that not helping them would
lead to an Axis victory, still only 35% of those polled said they would want the United States to
intervene.   Based upon these results, it is fair to conclude that the majority of students would
have been in support of the words written in the following editorial dated 11 January 1940:

  “...when we hear such news as ‘Chamberlain Tells World of Need for Unified
  Action.’....then we must look to our position and consider the safety of our shores.
  It was the same insidious poison which drew us into the First World War, sucked
  the life blood of the nation’s youth deep in the mud of France, and threw the
  whole progress and prosperity of America into chaos.  It rests with us to decide
  whether our noble spirits will try to be noble by perishing on the field of battle, or
  by saving our nation for posterity.”7
    These words not only demonstrate that this student and perhaps the majority of the campus were
against fighting in Europe, but they also show the negative memories of World War I.  World
War I was not the “good war” for it wasted American lives and sent the nation reeling into a

    These campus viewpoints fall along similar lines of the consensus of opinion of the
American public.  In the election of 1940, in which President Franklin Roosevelt battled
Republican candidate William Winkie for the right to serve a third consecutive term, both men
attempted to gain support of the people by pledging to stay out of World War II.  In an effort to
refute Winkie’s challenge that Roosevelt was leading the nation into war with his plans to build
up the national defense F.D.R. declared, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and
again and again:  Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” In addition to
Roosevelt’s nonintervention statements, public opinion polls from late 1930s show that
Americans were far more willing to give military aid to China to combat the Japanese than they
were to even lift a finger to assist Britain or France against the Italians and Germans.9

    However, America did not have an opportunity to remain neutral for too long.  Japan,
who allied with Germany and Italy in 1940 to complete the Axis alliance, decided to launch a
preemptive strike on the U.S. naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  This day of infamy, 7
December 1941, is an event which sent a shockwave throughout the nation.  It marked the
opening of the second world war for America as President Roosevelt requested a declaration of
war on Japan immediately and upon Germany three days later on 11 December 1941.
 Pearl Harbor was the event that the nation rallied around for the duration of the war.  The
loss of 2,500 servicemen, 200 aircraft, and 5 battleships at Pearl Harbor10 was all the American
public needed to justify the bloody crusade of the “good” war.  The war became a noble cause
once the treacherous bombing attack opened the people’s eyes to the vital need to stop Axis
aggression in the Far East and European theatres.  The morning after the treacherous attack,
recruiting stations were packed with zealous volunteers as the initial shock of attack gave way to
a sense of urgency and a total commitment to victory.11

    Where was young Dickinson freshman Ralph Minker when this traumatic event
occurred?  Ralph was returning from a roast beef dinner and rearranging the furniture from his
pledge formal to the Theta Chi fraternity of the night before when he heard a professor
screaming “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.”12  These screams of anguish coupled
with Edwin R. Murrow’s nightly reports concerning Hitler’s Nazi armies’ terrifying attacks in
Europe to which Ralph frequently listened with his bedside radio13 would become Ralph
Minker’s call to battle.  With the Pearl Harbor debacle fresh in his and other Americans memory,
there was now a definitive reason to battle Japan and Germany, the nations who were
responsible for the loss of peace in Europe and the Pacific.  This is best expressed in Minker’s
own words, “It wasn’t until Pearl Harbor that I said, well, we can’t let this go on and we can’t let
it shatter the rest of the world.”  Within six weeks time Minker had enlisted in the Army Air
Corps in nearby Harrisburg, having decided to do his part to preserve order and stability in the

    Minker was not alone in feeling the need to come to the aid of the nation.  The Dickinson
campus mimicked his reactions, as it shrugged off its anti-interventionist and indifferent attitude
towards the war.  A Dickinsonian article from 12 January 1942 clearly shows this dramatic shift
in opinion.  An excerpt reads as follows:

  “New surveys completed since hostilities in the Pacific began register the
  enormous effect the Japanese attack has had on the undergraduate mind.  These
  results leave no doubt that college students -long criticized for their peacetime
  isolationist leanings - have immediately united and are ready for the personal
  sacrifices war will demand.”15
    Thus, it is clear that Minker’s noble decision is generally consistent with the rest of the school
and the nation’s resolve to defeat the Axis powers.  Minker’s attitude towards his enlistment is
best summarized in his own personal reflection:  “I was ready to go.  I knew that the war had to
be fought.  There  [was] no sense in trying to get out of it.”16

    No matter how many of these eager volunteers would have liked to have been shipped off
to battle immediately in order to help bring the war to a quick close, it simply was not possible.
The government needed time to mobilize for war and ready training stations, and thus many
recruits had to play the waiting game.  This is a credit to the fact that, as of 1939, the United
States Army was the forty-fifth largest service in the world, meaning that the government had a
lot of work to do before the eventual sixteen million men and women who would serve in World
War II by 1945 could be equipped and trained for their duties.17

    Along those lines, Dickinson College was indeed a part of the national war effort since it
was one of the schools that the government decided to keep open for the duration of the war.
The school endured the loss of several faculty members to the armed services and a tremendous
decrease in enrollment with student body population descending from a pre-war total of 586
students in 1938-3918 to 250 students by 1943-44.19  Additionally, being located within two
miles of the United States Army War College made Dickinson a prime choice to train future
officers.  Drawing upon the War College faculty, Dickinson became a training center for
approximately five hundred U.S. Army Air Corps cadets beginning in February of 1943.  In
short, the changes at Dickinson are best summarized by the school year book which exclaimed,
“One thing is certain- college life as we knew it is a war casualty.”20

    Like everyone else who was underage upon enlistment, Ralph had to wait until he
turned eighteen to begin his training.  With this extra time, Ralph took advantage of the
tri-semester education offered by the school and studied in Carlisle from 22 June 1942 through
21 January 1942 in order to finish two complete years of college.  During this compacted
sophomore year, Ralph participated in preliminary physical training sessions offered by the
physical education department21 in order to be as prepared as possible for the rigors of Army
life.  Thus, by the time it came for Ralph to leave for the first stage of his training in late
February of 1943, he was eighteen years young, half way to completing a college degree, his
5’9” 135 pound body was in sound physical shape, and was carrying a promise to keep in touch
with his family throughout his future endeavors.

    When Ralph promised to keep in touch, little did he realize that he would write over 170
letters to his immediate family, not to mention how much other correspondence he sent to the
additional twenty-plus people in his address book.22  The exchange of letters between Lee
(Ralph’s middle name, and the name to which his family referred to him in the letters) and his
nuclear family is incredulous.  The hundreds of letters that tell the saga of his journey from basic
training to V-J Day reveal boundless details about his personal experiences, personal attitudes,
and the environment which shaped the both Lee and his family.

    One would expect a young eighteen year old to be nervous, homesick, and in awe about
being displaced from the comfortable world of college and thrown into the intense environment
of Army basic training; however, that is not the case with Lee Minker.  Throughout his journey,
from the Cadillac Hotel in Miami Beach to his final days of combat in Rattlesden, England,
Ralph begs his family not worry about him and typically desires for more details about life back
in Wilmington, Delaware than he cares to give them news about his personal feelings concerning
his daily routine.  Although it is rare for Ralph to disclose personal attitudes in both his letters
and personal reflections, through the copious facts he provides about his experience it is quite
evident that he was a stickler for exact details.  Itemized accounts of equipment, training
schedule timelines, and paycheck tax information prove Lee was a very meticulous air cadet and
pilot.  As one reads the letters or hears Ralph talk, one can not help but think that they are
receiving a fully accurate account of what occurred in his life due to his scrupulous reflections
both past and present.

    Lee’s first letters come from U.S. Basic Training Center 9 located in Miami Beach,
Florida, the first of many stops on his training journey which ended 18 months later when
departed from Bangor, Maine with his B-17G crew for England.  In Miami, Ralph was training
with a total of 20,00023 other cadets from late February of 1943 until graduation and departure in
early April of the same year.  Ralph’s living quarters, which included four different hotels in the
Miami area24, demonstrate that even by mid-1943 the armed forces were still lacking adequate
facilities.  His next move was not much better.  At his next stop, the University of Nebraska at
Lincoln, he stayed in the newly constructed Don L. Love Memorial library!25  At Nebraska, Lee
received more college level course instruction (which Lee considered rather easy) in such
subjects such as physics and geography26, and experienced his first flight on 24 May 1943 in a
Piper Cub airplane.27

    The next phase for Lee, beginning 23 June 1943, was the Classification Center at Santa
Ana Army Air Base in Santa Ana, California.28  At Santa Ana, Minker joyously proclaimed that
his wish had been fulfilled when he wrote to his mother:

  “I was classified as a PILOT this morning at the auditorium and immediately took
  the oath of an Aviation Cadet....Of course all of us are feeling mighty happy about
  it even though there is pity for the unlucky.  About 200 of us were classified as
  pilots, 20 as bomb[adiers] and 20 washed.”29
(When Ralph wrote that “20 washed”, this meant that twenty of the candidates sent to Santa Ana
would be reclassified.)  Ralph would later note that this day of decision was one of the most
nerve racking days in all of his training time.30  Lee’s anxiety is understandable knowing his
desire to be a pilot, which is evident from numerous letters revealing his enthusiasm during his
early training flights, and also perhaps because of the inkling to fly he had ever since he saw
Charles Lindbergh dance in the sky at a very young age back in the Wilmington area.31

    After Ralph was classified as a pilot, he remained in Santa Ana for pre-flight school.  (He
was definitely not alone, for there were over 500,000 service men and women within a 100 mile
radius of the Los Angeles area at the time!)32  At preliminary pilot school, Ralph’s days followed
the typical pre-flight course.  These young men studied 30 hours of sea and aircraft recognition,
48 hours of code, 24 hours of physics, 18 hours of maps and charts, and withstood arduous
physical and military training.33   The military portions included chemical warfare training in
which Ralph’s group road marched while a truck spewed gas at them at random times34,
pressure tests in a high altitude chamber where it was common for vomiting to occur among the
trainees35, and firing of various weapons such as the .45 pistol and the .30 caliber machine gun
on the California beach.36

    Ralph graduated on 27 August 1943 from preliminary flight school, and was on his way
to primary flight school at Thunderbird Field II located in Phoenix, Arizona.  It had been a long
journey since Lee left from Harrisburg in February of the same year.  Ralph had performed
exceptionally well to this point, but he realized the road ahead was even longer and more
difficult than the one upon which he had been traveling.  During his final days in Santa Ana,
Ralph expressed his frustration:

  “We have been in the Army for over six months and yet are just ready to begin
  actual training which will last longer than most and in which 50% or more will
  wash out with no hope for job or rank now that the Air Corps has been brought up
  to strength.”37
    On 31 August 1943, Ralph arrived by train and tackled the Arizona heat and primary flight
school at Thunderbird Field II.  Primary flight school for Army Air Cadets consisted of a ten
week course which included 70 hours of flying in a PT-17 or PT-19 plane, 94 hours of academic
ground school, and 54 hours military training.38  While at Thunderbird Field, the long hot days,
which included well over 150 landings, took its toll on Ralph’s psyche.  In a letter dated 13
October 1943 to his Father, Ralph Minker Sr., Lee exclaimed the following:
  “At present I am in the midst of one of those periods in which maneuvers seem to
  become worse instead of better.  Some of the reason may be that I have become
  overconfident after proving I could fly.  Some may be because of the normal
  leveling of the progress check curve.  But most of all through the disease of flight
  fatigue brought on by homesickness after eight months and the ever stricter
  monotony of military life tends to make me, and all cadets, sick of it all.”39
     However, this did not mean that Lee lost any of his resolve or focus on his original goals
and motives.  At the end of October, Minker stated, “This has been a grand experience...
Naturally this life has not been easy but there is a job to do and this life is preparing
me to complete that job.”40  Indeed, the majority of Ralph’s letters which actually do reveal
personal feelings convey a similar message of confidence and sense of patriotic duty.  His deep
interest in the Delaware Blue Rocks minor league baseball team and persistent requests for his
mother not to worry about him give the sense that he is a comic-book hero of sorts who could
overcome his fear of the future battles that lie ahead of him.  It appears that Ralph fully
understands his duty, and that he is willing to make any sacrifice necessary to achieve the
nation’s goal of victory.  This is best illustrated by peering into the future and reviewing the
following passage he wrote to his mother while in the middle of a spell of bad weather during his
combat tour:  “I hope it will not be too long before we can be back again hitting key strategic
centers and helping the troops on the western and eastern fronts....Not that I am eager to face our
enemy, but to achieve victory we must batter them until they call quits and decide to live under
liberty and democracy.”41

    The next stop was the basic flying course which required Ralph to be transferred to
Pecos, Texas.  At Pecos, Ralph endured an additional 70 hours of flight in the BT-13, a plane
that he and the majority of the air cadets referred as the “Vultee Vibrator.”  Basic flying course
cadets also had 94 hours of ground school and 47 hours of close order dill military training.
Based upon choice and their evaluations from their flight instructors, the cadets were classified
as single engine fighter or twin engine pilots.42  Ralph listed the B-26 medium bombardment,
B-25 medium bombardment, and Air Transport as his top three choices respectively.43

    Ralph remained at Pecos for an additional 10 weeks of advanced flying training school
which required Ralph to fly 70 more hours in a AT-9, At-10, AT-17, or AT-24 plane, and
complete 60 more hours of ground school and 19 more hours of military training.44  Finally, on
the day of 12 March 1944, Ralph was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States
Army Air Corps and received his silver wings.  (Under the Flight Officer Act, those who enlisted
prior to 16 July 1942 were to be automatically commissioned as Second Lieutenants.45  Before
the FOA, only those who had a bachelor’s degree were commissioned as officers.  Those without
a degree became Flight Officers, which was the equivalent of a warrant officer.  The degree
requirement was waved during the war due to the high demand for officers.46  At last, Ralph
was able to return to Wilmington, Delaware and reunite with his family for one week while on
furlough.  After approximately one full year away from home and over 200 hours of flight time,
it was a well deserved respite for Lee.

    The pace of Lee’s training did not slow down after receiving his gold bars.  By the
beginning April of 1944 Lee was flying a B-17 Flying Fortress in Roswell, New Mexico and
feeling the physical and mental strain of it.47  When this was coupled with Lieutenant Minker’s
impatience it produced an irritated pilot who was more than ready to battle the Germans.  This is
demonstrated by Minker’s statement in mid-April when he declared, “Tonight the world seems
unreal to me for I am tired and lonely.  The constant pressure, the lack of sleep, and the always
blowing dust is all that is felt except for the blazing hatred of the damn truck we fly.”48
 By the end of the month it was apparent to Ralph, who had over 60 of his 105 hours of
flying time completed in the advanced course, that he would not participate in the European
invasion, (Operation Overlord) which became known later as D-Day.  Lee completed his training
by 7 May 1944, and then endured a long training delay which left him “twiddling thumbs” and
apparently disappointed with this dormancy which had kept him out of the invasion of
Normandy.  While in waiting, his daily flight routine continued to keep him sharp49, and the
government also provided what Lee called “filler” classes on a variety of topics- finance, mess,
supply, command operations, operational training, travel, sanitation, venereal disease, and
conduct in foreign nations.”50  Eventually, to his approval, Lee received his shipping orders for
his next assignment on 3 July 1944 for operational training in Gulfport, Mississippi.51

    Lee’s final task was to assemble the crew he had hand picked in Roswell into a cohesive
B-17 team.  Lee’s own words best summarize his task at Gulfport:

  “I am first pilot and plane commander of combat crew number 156 of the third
  flying section of the 43rd training wing to the third army air force.  As such it
  is my job to whip a combat crew of great precision into being in ten weeks of
  operational training in this replacement training unit for the Eighth Army Air
  Force.....I hope that I can be a good leader.”52
Lee’s crew was required to fly between 150 and 195 hours together before they were cleared for
departure to combat.  More than ready to move onward, Lee declared when his crew was at the
117 hour mark, “We feel that we have trained enough.  We wish to help win this war.”53  Lee
would get his wish when his men left for Savannah, Georgia on 23 September 1944 for the final
staging operation.  After yet another unwanted delay, Lee left for Bangor, Maine, but without his
co-pilot who had become seriously ill.54  After having to replace his “right arm” with a new
airman, Ralph “buzzed” his parents’ house in Wilmington by dipping his wings on his way up
the coast.  By the first week of October 1944, Ralph had completed his eighteen months of
training, and hopped from Greenland to Iceland to his battle station in Rattlesden, England.55

    It was finally time for Ralph to join the Eighth Air Force, a unit which came to the aid of
the British Royal Air Force in 1942.  Although the R.A.F. had abandoned daylight bombing
missions in favor of night bombing of German civilian targets in early 1942, the Americans
believed that strategic daylight bombing of key military related targets would be the key to
shifting the balance of power in the war.  In the early modest bombing runs the “Mighty” Eighth
lost an average of 6 percent of its bombers per raid, a rate that had forced the British to abandon
daylight bombing runs.  Even as the number of bomber forces grew by 1943 and the missions
became larger, the Eighth Air Force was still losing crews at a rate of 30 percent per month.  On
14 October 1943 alone, the Luftwaffe destroyed 60 aircraft, killing a ten man crew in each of the
planes, and damaged an additional 138 planes out of the total of 238 B-17s that flew that day!

    It was obvious that there was a need for a strategic change because the Americans could
not continue to endure such heavy losses and maintain their numbers or morale.  With the
addition of P-51, P-47, and P-38 fighter escorts to the bomb groups and new bomber formation
techniques to provide better cover from Luftwaffe direct assaults, the tide began to shift.  With
these key adjustments, Americans held air superiority over the battlefield from July of 1944
through the duration of the war.  By the time Ralph L. Minker entered the European Theatre of
Operations in October of the same year, the Eighth Air Force was launching massive bomber
raids of over 1,000 planes to help cripple the German war machine.  Although the German
anti-aircraft artillery was still very dangerous with the heavy amounts of flak it could throw in
the air, the Luftwaffe was not nearly as dangerous as they had been two years ago due the heavy
loss of skilled pilots to fly their planes.56

    Now that the long journey of training had ended, the 5’9” 146 pound twenty year old
pilot57 was ready for action in the Eighth Air Force.  It did not take long for Lee to be noticed.
Upon arrival Lee was greeted by his duty officer who remarked “Now they’re sending me kids as
pilots!”58  This comment was appropriate because Ralph was the youngest pilot ever to serve in
his bomb group.59  However, regardless of what his youthful age and physical appearance would
suggest he was capable of doing, Ralph L. Minker had a job to complete.  He and his crew
received final ground school and combat training on oxygen, frost bite, air and sea rescue, radio,
aircraft recognition, code, tactics, bail-out, prisoner of war, weather, first aid, health and
hygiene, and combat flight at Rattlesden.60  After many practice missions, on 29 October 1944
Lee’s crew had been fully inspected and was declared combat ready(61).  The time for Ralph to
prove himself was at hand.

    Before the crew’s first full mission together, they were split up among experienced crews
for a few missions each.  Thus, Ralph was a co-pilot for his first three missions before beginning
his regular assignment as a member of the 4th wing, 447th Bomb Group, 709th Squadron of the
Eighth Air Force.  Quite confident, even before his first regular mission as the pilot of his crew,
Ralph declared that “Life here is routine- practice or actual bombing missions every day.”  He
also added a little noble rhetoric to his message when he stated, “It is mighty hard work but it
will be worth it if as a result the world will learn to live in peace and work for freedom, justice,
security, and equality for all.”62

    On 9 November 1944 it was time for Ralph to take charge.  He was pilot of his crew’s
first combat mission to Saarbrucken, Germany to engage transportation targets.  One week later,
Lee’s crew flew their first mission in their assigned plane, B-17G 719, which they named the
“Blue Hen Chick.”63  Ralph decided on this name because it was originally given to Colonel
John Haslet’s First Delaware Regiment in the American Revolution.  “Blue Hen Chicks”
originated from the men of Captain Jonathan Caldwell’s company who took game chickens with
them for their celebrated fighting qualities.64  Thus, Ralph was able to keep his hometown and
family on his mind every time he stepped into his plane.

    Undoubtedly, the Blue Hen Chick’s most critical missions occurred when the Germans
launched a counter offensive in the Ardennes on 16 December 1944 which would later be known
as the Battle of the Bulge.  The 447th was grounded due to inclement weather for over a week
until finally on Christmas Eve over 2,000 bombers and 800 fighters took to the skies to aid the
ailing Allied ground troops.65  As Doyle Shields a navigator in the 710th squadron of the 447th
bomb group stated, “[It] was the mission to end all missions.  The Groups were instructed to put
up every thing that would fly.”66  Ralph was anxious to fly in this grand mission and aid the
American ground troops.  On 19 December 1944, while the 101st Airborne remained pinned
down by German Panzers, Minker wrote, “I sincerely hope that the weather clears up so that we
can help the ground troops break the German counter offense in France.”  He added solemnly:

  “This will be my second Christmas as an Air Force soldier and, I hope, my last.
  But the enemy is strong and he may force our fight to continue past other
  Christmases.  I sort of feel that I should stay in action here with the 8th at least
  until Germany is defeated.  But then I will come home and then we will have a
  real Christmas together.”67
In all, Lee flew a total of 8 missions during the Battle of the Bulge to bring his overall total up to
20 combat missions.68  He was now only 15 missions short of a full combat duty.  By now Lee’s
crew felt they had proven themselves and “the countdown” to completing their combat tour had

    If the Ardennes on Christmas Eve was Ralph’ most important mission, than Wesel,
Germany on 16 February 1945 had to be his most dangerous one.  For the crew’s 32nd mission,
they were required to knock out a railroad bridge with an escort of 45 P-51 fighters.70
According to the records kept by Jim Shannon, Lee’s crew chief for the Blue Hen Chick,
bombardier John Rosiala Jr. was seriously wounded in the arm by flak.  Shannon helped put a
tourniquet on the arm of Rosiala without alarming the rest of the crew.  Bad weather and damage
from flak prevented the Blue Hen Chick from returning completely to Rattlesden, and Lee had to
land the plane and the crew spent the night at a nearby friendly airfield.71  It was in times like
this when Ralph proved his worth as a leader of his men.

    The big day for Minker’s crew finally came on Monday, 26 February 1945 when they
completed their 35th mission after a bombing of a railway station in Berlin.  Ralph survived in
dramatic fashion since he nearly ran out of gas and had to feather his second and third engines to
make it home safely.  Upon landing, Ralph L. Minker Jr. became the youngest pilot ever in the
history of the 447th to complete a combat tour of 35 missions at 20 years, 8 months, and 10 days
old. 72  For his accomplishment, Ralph was bestowed a membership certificate to the “Lucky
Bastards Club”, a select group of men who had braved German flak 35 times successfully in
order to drop bombs in enemy territory.

    Despite his tour of duty being complete, Ralph decided to stay in England.73  Lee would
fly an additional three combat missions before V-E day was declared on 7 May 1945.  Ralph
expressed how he felt about the German surrender the following day when he wrote, “It is V-E
Day at last!  You can probably imagine the joy, relief, and thanksgiving felt by us over here.  But
we all realize the war is only half finished; the peace is just to be won.”  By the time the full
peace came on V-J day, and it was time to come home, Ralph had completed 38 combat
missions, had been promoted to the rank of Captain, and had been awarded the Air Medal and
five oak leaf clusters.74  He sailed home on the Queen Elizabeth in late August of 1945 and had
a chance to pause and reflect upon the victory he had helped win for the world.

    While Ralph sincerely believes he had played a key role in the winning of the war in
Europe, there are mixed opinions about the effectiveness of the strategic bombing campaign
during World War II.  Michael Adams, author of The Good War, explains that the British gave
up hopes of strategic bombing because they knew how horribly inaccurate their missions were.
Only one out of every four bombs fell within five miles of the objective, and that is why they
shifted to nighttime bombing of civilian areas.  Since the United States viewed strikes on civilian
targets as unethical they decided to use the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Liberator bombers due
to their speed, improved defensive capabilities, and Norden bomb sights in an effort to hit
military targets with pinpoint accuracy during daylight hours.  Unfortunately the losses remained
high and the accuracy remained low.  In July of 1943 alone, 1,000 crewmen were killed and an
additional 75 had mental breakdowns.  In perfect conditions only 50 percent of American bombs
fell within a quarter of a mile of their target and American flyers estimated that as many as 90
percent of the bombs they dropped could miss their targets.75

    This “cynical” viewpoint is supported by the testimony of John Kenneth Galbraith, a
member of Franklin Roosevelt’s independent civilian commission appointed during the war to
determine if American bombing strikes in Europe were truly as effective as the military brass
claimed they were.  The findings of Galbraith’s committee in 1945 showed that Eighth Air
Force’s attacks on German ball bearing plants and air-frame plants were more or less failures.
Although German industrial strategies such as decentralized production were partially
responsible for the nonsuccess, poor targeting was the major contributing factor to the failure of
the strategic bombing campaign.  Galbraith states that there was a saying in 1945- “We [the
Allies] made a major onslaught on German agriculture,” meaning that their bombs were not
hitting the strategic military and industrial targets for which they were aiming.   Only the
extremely large targets were successfully destroyed, and thus the bombers acted more like
artillery than the tactical air support which was supposed to destroy the Germans’ industrial base
and morale of its people.76

    On the flip side of the argument lies Thomas A. Siefring who is a strong advocate of the
daylight bombing strategy employed by the United States in World War II.  Siefring stated:

  “The United States’ Army Air Force’s contribution to the successful conclusion
  of the war was tremendous....As far as the Strategic Bombing Offensive is
  concerned, it was the most direct single factor which forced Hitler onto the
  defensive by robbing his armies of irreplaceable air support.”77
 Siefring arguments also included that the bombing campaign forced Hitler to withdrawal planes
from the Eastern Front which enabled Russia to have greater success and that the 130,000 tons of
bombs dropped on the German motherland resulted in a depletion of 97 percent of their
petroleum supplies.  Finally, Siefring points to the fact that the bombing offensive required the
Germans to devote a million troops to air defense which meant a million less enemy to face on
the battlefront.78

    Concerning Minker’s opinion on the effectiveness of air strikes in the European Theatre,
it is fairly obvious that Ralph believed that what he was doing was having a positive effect on the
war outcome for the Allies.  Giving a hand in victory was his whole rationale for fighting the
war; thus, declaring that the Mighty Eighth Air Force’s missions were meaningless would be an
insult to Minker and his fellow crew members.  Only a fool would be anxious to risk his own life
for something that was irrelevant.  This is why numerous letters from Ralph to his family, some
of which have already been discussed, reveal an unbridled eagerness to climb into the Blue Hen
Chick to help bring the war to a quicker end.  Perhaps Lee’s reflection summarizes how he felt
about his role in the Mighty Eighth’s strategic bombing campaign as he simply stated “I helped
to clean up a mess.”

    One need only look to the words of Allied troops who were battling German land forces
tooth and nail during the Battle of Bulge for over a week without aerial cover to understand
Minker’s assessment.  When air support did finally arrive in the form of 2,000 Allied bombers,
the ground troops were thrilled.  One soldier exclaimed, “We got up on 24 December and saw
there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and soon we could see vapor trails coming from behind our lines.
Soon we could hear and see the formations of bombers going over, and you wouldn’t believe
anything could make a bunch of guys so happy as that sight did.”79

    While this point helps illustrate the faith the infantry may have had in the usefulness of
air power, one should not go to the extreme Doyle Shields did when he declared, “There was a
feeling that we could have won the war without ground forces.  We probably could have.”80  A
middle of the road approach is what Allan Millet and Peter Maslowski take when assessing the
effectiveness of the Eighth Air Force’s strikes on Nazi Germany.  They state:

  “Both extreme viewpoints [that were previously discussed] ignore the doctrinal,
  organizational, and technical limitations of the Allied Bomber forces as well as
  their ultimately awesome destructive power.  In the war of attrition fought at
  30,000 feet the Allies won another narrow victory that contributed to the final
  collapse of the Third Reich.”81
     Regardless of what role Ralph Minker and his fellow pilots played in the defeat of the
Axis powers, the fact was that the war was over and it was time for millions of Americans to try
and resume and restore their lives to the way they were prior to Pearl Harbor.  While we
typically reflect upon the veterans as having an easy time adjusting to the peacetime civilian
world after their fair share of ticker-tape parades and pats on the back, we should be reminded
that real life does not resemble a never-ending  Hollywood movie.  Historian Michael Adams
reminds us that this perspective is an American myth when he stated:
  “the majority of returning soldiers got no parades....wounded men repatriated to
  the United States as though diseased and people rushed to wash their hands after
  greeting them.  Civilians feared that the GIs would think the country owed them a
  living, while veterans felt that when you come back they treat you just like
He continues to explain the problem of assimilation by adding, “Between October 1945 and June
1946, nearly three million personnel were demobilized.  Given the pace, people had to believe
readjustment was routine.  The easiest thing to assume was that ‘our boys’ were coming back
just as they had left.”83  The truth of course was that servicemen, especially those who had
actually seen combat duty, were not the same as when they had departed.  The returning
veterans’ experiences in the war created a great chasm between those who had battled the
Japanese and Germans and those who had stayed at home.

    In accordance with that perspective, one can understand how Ralph Minker and the
environment to which he had returned after the war had changed.  Dickinson enrollment quickly
returned to its prewar status as two hundred veterans had returned to their liberal arts studies by
March of 1946.84  By the year of Ralph’s graduation from Dickinson in 1947, enrollment had
climbed to 997 Dickinsonians from its prewar-time low of 250 students in 1943-44.85  Thus,
with roughly 20 percent of the campus having served in the war, it is easy to understand why
there was a division between those who had served and those who had not.  The coffeeshops
Ralph enjoyed prior to the war were now “baby stuff” to him.  The need to go the bar was not
out of the necessity to drink, but rather to hear fellow servicemen tell their stories about the war
because, as Lee declared, “We [the veterans] just needed to talk.”  Ralph had fantasized a
reunion with his girlfriend Julia during his time in the service, even mentioning in one letter how
he was considering the possibility of her being his wife; however, it was not to be.86  Upon his
return Ralph knew that the relationship had to end, perhaps for the same reason why Ralph could
not find a new match at school.  As Ralph said, “There were pretty girls but they weren’t how we
were in terms of maturity.”87

    In addition to this conflict with students, Lee was irritated by the faculty who were
frequently impatient with him and who acted rather “shallow” at times.  It is easy to understand
why such a social disjuncture would exist.  How could a war veteran like Ralph Minker care
very much about an English paper or history exam when he had put his life on the line for his
country?    As Lee said in retrospect, “I found myself in some of the classes just feeling bored
after what I had been through.”88  When one puts Lee’s experience in perspective, it is a very
sobering thought indeed.  The ordinary ups and downs of life with which people were so
concerned must have seemed rather petty to a young man who had endured so much hardship
and stress in combat.

    In short, Ralph Minker was a veteran who underwent a metamorphosis.  He had left for
training as an eighteen-year old boy and returned from war as a twenty-year old man.  Upon his
return to Wilmington, he was granted more autonomy in his home as his parents gave him much
more respect and consulted his opinion more frequently when pertinent family decisions had to
be made.  His sisters also had to adjust to the new status of their brother who was now a war
hero.89  He had even drank a little alcohol after each of his combat missions, breaking a personal
pledge not to drink.90  He had traveled to the corners of the United States, learned to fly, led ten
men into combat 38 times, and left a wake of destruction in Germany for having done so.  How
could such an experience not change Lee or alter his peers’ views of him?

    Despite all of the change that took place, life for Ralph Minker did move onward.
Following Lee’s long-anticipated graduation from Dickinson in 1947, he attended the Dickinson
School of Law for two years.  Although Ralph demonstrated that he was more than capable of
handling the work, he decided to pursue a different calling, and he entered the Boston University
School of Theology.  After being ordained as a United Methodist Minister, Ralph served
numerous church assignments of the Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Reverend Minker was transferred to the Baltimore-Washington area where he served in various

    One of Ralph’s more rewarding assignments as a minister came in the early 1970s when
he was the pastor of the Elbrook United Methodist Church.  While there, Lee forged a special
partnership with the chief of police who was a member of his congregation.  Together they
organized various clergy and parishioners to participate in safety patrols in the Washington area
in order to maintain peace during the height of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.  In the
mid-1970s, Reverend Minker became a career counselor and eventually opened his own
counseling business called “Forward Step” in downtown Washington.  In 1984 Ralph returned to
pulpit for five additional years before beginning his well earned retirement.  The Dickinson Red
Devil and former pilot of the Blue Hen Chick the Reverend Ralph Lee Minker Jr. now lives in
Reston, Virginia and is still helping others as an active member of the Reston community.91

    Having reflected upon my study of the life of Ralph Minker, it is interesting to note that
so little of what one might expect to discover about an 85 year old bomber pilot from World War
II is nowhere to be found.  It is fair to say that Reverend Minker is one of a kind.  During my
study of Captain Minker’s life through conducting personal interviews and sifting through his
letters to his family during the war period, I must admit that I did not find a few details that I
expected to uncover.  It is my opinion that Ralph Minker’s story is an “almost
to-good-to-be-true” tale that fits the “good” war myth that nostalgic remembrances of World
War II have produced.

    Before my research began or before I had even met Mr. Minker, I began to form a
framework in which to box him and his story.  I thought I would find a war veteran who would
reflect upon the war in a nostalgic fashion and cover up the trail of loneliness, frustration, stress,
and fear that his letters left behind.  I felt that there was a good chance I would find a pilot who
held similar views to the main character in Joseph Heller’s award winning novel Catch-22.
Heller’s main character, a bomber pilot in the European Theatre during World War II, counted
the missions down until his tour of duty was finished and was terrified every time he entered the
plane.  I did not view Heller’s pilot as a coward, but rather as someone who was honest.

    Secondly, I thought there was a strong chance that I would find a man who had little
concept of the damage he had done during the war.  Since Minker was not an infantryman who
could actually see his bullets fly down range and end another man’s life in a gory and horrific
manner, he would not be able to assess the horrors of battle.  There is a distinct difference
between the bomber pilot who covers his damage with the smoke his bombs leave behind and
the infantryman who must live with the nightmares of the face-to-face killing.92

    I also thought that I would find a man who questioned the value of his job and the orders
of his superiors like the pilots did in the World War II bomber pilot movie entitled Twelve
O’clock High.  Additionally, when interviewing Captain Minker, I expected to hear stories that
covered up these facts.  I predicted that Mr. Minker would tell me nostalgic stories about his
effort in the war and that he did not have any fear or loneliness during his service.  These stories
would be accounts fueled by selective memory which I could refute once I found the hidden
truth throughout his letters home to mom and dad.  I also thought the whole experience would
see him trying to make me feel guilty about how my generation had failed to “earn this” sacrifice
that he and other veterans had made, a message conveyed by director Steven Speilberg in his
movie Saving Private Ryan.  In short, Mr. Minker would make the good experiences even better,
and would fail to mention the bad parts at all.  I expected him to view his service through a
clouded lens and report a story to me that would try to cover the real truth which I would find in
the letters he wrote.

    What would prompt me to take such a cynical view?  First, I think it is clear that there is
a definitive tendency for war veterans to take a romantic tone when retelling their story.93  The
facts become distorted and the stories become richer and more meaningful with time.  This is the
principle behind the “good” war myth.  Through a process of selective memory and magnifying
only the good things of the war, the whole truth is somehow lost.94  Secondly, through the
“good” war myth there is an entire predetermined mode of thought in American society that has
led to the myth of a “Golden Age.”  The principle is this:  If you have told the story enough times
about how the Japanese and Germans were pure evil and the Americans were pure, noble, and
patriotic then you begin to actually believe it.  This is the same for the remembrance of one’s
role in stopping such evil- the miserable parts are forgotten and the glory of victory becomes
even greater.95

    In short, I expected to eventually unearth a realistic story, similar to the candid tales in
Studs Terkel’s The Good War.  I thought I would hear a view like that of pilot John Ciardi or
rifleman Robert Rasmus which explains how one takes risks in war for their fellow man and not
for the grand cause of bravery, patriotism, or a catch slogan like “Remember Pearl Harbor.”96
Or perhaps there might be some questioning in retrospect of the reasons for fighting and the
damage that was done like that of navigator Eddie Costello.  Costello was someone who was
“gung-ho” during the war but in reflection years later declared that there is never a “just war”
and that World War II was something he would rather forget.97  I thought I could find hints of
fear or regret in Minker’s story like Terkel’s work with World War II veterans displayed by
prying beneath the gilded surface.

    As one may already be able to tell from having read the story of Ralph Minker, these
initial premonitions were wrong.  Ralph Minker’s life before, after, and during the war is the
epitome of the “good” war myth.  There is little, if any, evidence to support any type of negative
view of Ralph Minker’s life.  He is a pilot who went to war for his nation as a volunteer, fought
for the four freedoms preached by Roosevelt, served bravely and gallantly as a leader in battle,
trusted his superiors, and had no regrets in what he did and why he did it.  Ralph Minker is a
man who did all of those things, and his reflections both past and present are a testament to that

    First, Ralph Minker was a tremendous pilot.  The Eighth Air Force Museum describes a
good pilot as “a good leader, conscious of both the capabilities and the limitations of his
crew.”98  As a pilot in Rattlesden, England, Lieutenant Minker was the epitome of a good leader.
Not only did he do his job as well as any one else, but he went the extra step as a leader and
caretaker of his men.  He would write letters to the crew members’ families, lead the crew in
prayer before each mission, lead the squadron in for another pass after German flak had repelled
the first run, and he maintained an ethical climate as he refused to simply abort a mission and
drop his bombs in a haphazard way which might destroy civilian areas.99   He was not looking
out for only himself, but rather the welfare of the other ten men aboard the Blue Hen Chick as he
kept them focused on their objectives and roles in accomplishing them.

    Second is Ralph’s commitment to the task.  It is inspiring to see how Ralph kept his cool
despite the knowledge of the high level of danger involved- being that only one in three pilots
would survive his tour of duty as a bomber pilot.100  He showed little fear despite the fact that he
and his crew had, as one other bomber pilot concluded, “lottery tickets [which gave the crew] 35
chances to join [their] ancestors prematurely.”101  There was no tremendous anticipation of the
final mission so that upon conclusion of his tour he could jump on the quickest plane back to
Wilmington as some other pilots desired.102  Instead, out of personal choice, he flew an
additional three missions and served until V-E day had been declared.  He had signed up for the
Air Corps to defeat the enemy, and he would not leave until that mission was accomplished.

    The third point is that Ralph was a soldier who stayed out of trouble.  Most pilots and
servicemen had to have a release, something to take their mind off their duties.  For most it was
alcohol and women.  Drinking and sex were common distractions for American pilots as both
were readily available in England and both were eagerly used and consumed.103  With shots of
liquor offered as a reward for a successful mission, Lee only began to have a single drink after
about his seventh mission under direct recommendation from the flight surgeon104, and he never
developed into a bar hopper of sorts.  Instead of drinking at the pubs or chasing the English
women around London, Ralph would spend his time at the museum or parliament.105  Ralph’s
means of unwinding were atypical for his age and his environment, but his behavior is a
testament to a man who stayed true his beliefs and values- yet another sign of the “good” pilot.

    A fourth point is that Ralph was someone who always obeyed his superiors.  For each
briefing he would take out his notepad and copy the mission order without question.  His
obedience is not due to him being a “yes-man”, rather it is the fact that he had complete trust in
those appointed over him.  In Ralph’s own words, some of his superiors “became his heroes”
and Minker described General Doolittle, the commanding officer of the Eighth Air Force for the
majority of the war, as a “choice person.”106  Minker did not have a sense of futility about the
war effort unlike the main characters in Twelve O’clock High or Catch-22.  By his Lee’s own
beliefs, everything he did had a purpose and was worth doing well.

    In addition to those four ideas, it should be duly noted that Captain Minker has no regrets
about what he has done.  He sincerely believes that he helped make the world a better place for
having performed his duties, no matter how destructive they may have been.  He believed then,
as he does now, that his bombs may have destroyed property and ended men’s lives, but such
destruction was done out of necessity to stop a greater evil.  His awareness of the devastation the
war caused was evident in his surveying of the work of the Eighth Air Force’s bombing
campaign shortly after V-E day.  Following a victory tour flight in which the plane crews gave
the ground personnel a close-up view of the wreckage they had helped to create, Lee wrote the
following sobering passage:

  “The damage to the German cities is indescribable especially in railway yards and
  business centers.  I wish every American could see the utter ruin so as to see, and
  realize, the real home front slaughter of total war...Every German city is only a
  shell of half walls and rubble, hopeless and bare...not a permanent bridge is
  standing and all roads, railways, canals, and rivers are blocked at least once every
  half mile.  Germany is beaten and paralyzed totally and horribly.”107
Despite this consciousness of the damage he had done to lives and property, Lee believes that
anything that he did helped bring the war to a quicker close.  In retrospect Ralph declared, “The
faster we finished the war, the better chances we have of getting things back into an intelligent

    Finally, Minker was a man who fought for the ideals embodied by the “good” war myth.
He was someone who bought into the government war propaganda that helped fuel the machine
of total war on the homefront and on the front lines.  However, I think “bought” is the wrong
word to use because Ralph Minker truly believed in the cause for which he was fighting.  He
believed that the Germans needed to be stopped and that his efforts were important to Hitler’s
demise.  The four freedoms preached by President Roosevelt were not mere rhetoric to Ralph
Minker Jr. but rather they were his rally cry.  Minker’s true beliefs are fully explained by a
personal essay he wrote in August of 1945.  Within this insightful and moving essay entitled
“What Did We Fight For?” Minker declared:

  “We fought for truth.  That is a rather pompous sounding statement but I sincerely
  believe it.  I was fighting for the truth and fighting to the limit.  I would rebel at
  fighting and bloodshed unless it were for truth as I could see it....The more
  immediate truth that we fought for was our way of life as the means of transition
  to a greater and universal happiness....We fought for the inalienable rights of
  every man:  knowledge, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship,
  freedom from want, and freedom from fear....We have just won World War II and
  now must try wholeheartedly and continually to work understandingly together to
  prevent World War III and build a saner world.”109
This essay, written by a twenty-one year old man, almost speaks for itself.  It truly summarizes
Minker’s noble motives for fighting in the war and why he became such a strong anti-war
advocate following his experiences as a pilot.

    The final question then is why do I believe his views are sincere?  I feel there is a great
deal of evidence to support my evaluation.  His belief in God, his upbringing by a father who
was a Methodist minister, his level of education when he entered the war, and honest
commitment to the values that society idealizes in its soldiers and servicemen are all elements
that give his story credibility.  Most importantly though is the fact that he shows signs of being
human to coincide with these mythical and idealistic perspectives he holds on the war both past
and present.  Although for the most part he appears to be a flawless or almost surrealistic
character, there were times during the war he showed he was an ordinary man by longing for
home cooked food or wanting to watch a live college football game.110  Minker is also someone
who understood that not everyone shared his perspective or had such a meaningful experience as
he did in the war.  He is also not someone who speaks of the glory of his days in battle to
impress people as to how tough or brave he was in his youth.  Instead, the Reverend Ralph
Minker preached a sermon at least once each year concerning the war.  The main lesson he tries
to pass on in his reflections is that the war was a time to set the things right and leave behind a
historical lesson so that mankind would never wreak such havoc upon its world again.

    In summary, this essay has followed the life of a bomber pilot from his college years and
his answering the call to remember Pearl Harbor to his missions over Germany and his return
home.  In the process of telling the tale, the discussion has shed light upon the training of a pilot,
the efforts of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, and the disjuncture of the homefront upon his return.
It has also offered insights into Minker’s  college environment both before and after the war, and
how he fits the mold of the “good” pilot as a hero to his family, friends, and nation. Tom Brokaw
in his book The Greatest Generation gave a brief commentary on heroes that is applicable to this
essay on Minker and provides proper closure:

  “Hero” is a description tossed around lightly these days- like “star” or
  “celebrity”....During the war the use of the phrase “You’re a hero” was likely to
  bring on the quick rejoinder, “No, I’m not; I’m just doing my job here- like
  everyone else.”  The fighting men and women were so dependent on each other
  and shared so many common experiences they were embarrassed to be singled
In conclusion, it has been a pleasure to be the one who has singled Ralph Minker out.  Even
though I know he would refuse this compliment to be referred to as a hero, he will have to accept
the title for he has earned it.  Minker may not have been a general or a president in the war, but
he is a man of whom Tolstoy would have been proud.  Ralph L. Minker Jr. is a hero- the good
pilot for the “good” war.



“Completes Many Missions.” Dickinson Alumnus.  Volume 22, Number  4 (May 1945), 3.

Editorial.  “The Pen and Sword.” The Dickinsonian.  11 January 140, p. 2.

“Strictly G. I.”  The Dickinsonian.  28 March 1946, p. 4.

“Student Polls Show Surge in Patriotism.” The Dickinsonian.  15  January 1942, p. 1.


Adams, Michael C.C.  The Best War Ever: America and World War II.  Baltimore, MD:  The
    Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.

Astor, Gerald.  The Mighty Eighth:  The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It.
    New York, NY:  Donald I. Fine Books, 1997.

Brokaw, Tom.  The Greatest Generation.  New York, NY:  Random House, 1998.

Dickinson College.  Dickinson Bulletin 1938-1939.  Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  167th edition,
    March  1939.

Dickinson College.  Dickinson Bulletin 1943-1944.  Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  171st edition, April

Dickinson College.  Dickinson Bulletin 1946-1947.  Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  174th edition, 1947.

Dickinson College.  Microcosm, 1943.

Heller, Joseph.  Catch-22, a novel.   New York, NY:  Simon and Schuster, 1961.

Hynes, Samuel.  The Soldiers’ Tale:  Bearing Witness to Modern War.  New York, NY:  Penguin
    Press, 1997.

Maslowski, Peter and Alan Reed Millet. For the Common Defense:  A Military History of the
    United States of America.  New York, NY:  The Free Press, 1994.

Shields, Doyle (and the men of the 447th).  History:  447th Bomb Group.  Publishing
    information not available, 1996.

Siefring, Thomas.  US Air Force in World War II.  Secaucus, NJ:  Chartwell Books, 1977.

Snyder, Louis L.  The War:  A Concise History 1939-1945.  New York, NY:  Julia Messner Inc.,

Terkel, Studs.  The Good War:  An Oral History of World War Two.  New York, NY:  Pantheon
    Books, 1984.

Winkler, Allan M.  Home Front U.S.A.: America during World War II.  Arlington Heights, IL:
    Harlan Davidson Inc., 1986.


O’Conner-Minker, Sandra.  <> “Re: career notes.”  30 April 2000,
    personal email (1 May 2000).

Internet Resources

The Mining Company.  “Graf [Count] Leo Nikolayecich Tolstoy.”<http://russianculture>  (9 February 1998).

Knudsen, Lars Schjorring.  “The 447th Bomb Group’s Home Page.”
     <>  (April, 10 2000).


Minker, Ralph L. Jr.  Interview by Robin Sellers.  22 February 1999.

Minker, Ralph L. Jr.  Interview by Patrick J. Stevenson.  26 February 2000.


Twelve O’Clock High.  Dir. Henry King.  Twentieth Century Fox, 1949.  Videocassete (Beverly
    Hills, CA:  Fox Video, 1994).

Saving Private Ryan.  Dir. Stephen Speilberg.  Paramount Pictures, 1998.

Museum Exhibits

“The Pilots.”  The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum.  Savannah, GA:  16 March 2000.  Exhibit.

“The Mighty 8th Air Force.” The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum.  Savannah, GA:  16 March
    2000.  Movie.

Primary Sources

Heller, Eugene M.  “War Weary, Over to You.”  Personal Memoir.

Minker, Ralph L. Jr.  Personal Letters.  February 1943 to August 1945.

Minker, Ralph L. Jr.  “What Did We Fight For?”  August, 1945.  Personal essay.

Shannon, Jim.   “Blue Hen Chick crew chief log book.”  16 February 1945.


1)  The Mining Company, “Graf [Count] Leo Nikolayecich Tolstoy,” <>  (9 February 1998).

2)  Ralph L. Minker Jr., Interview with Patrick J. Stevenson, 26 February 2000.

3)  Ibid.

4)  Ibid.

5)  Ibid.

6)  Ibid.

7)  Editorial, “The Pen and Sword,” The Dickinsonian, 11 January 140, 2.

8)  Winkler, Allan M Winkler, Home Front U.S.A.: America during World War II, (Arlington Heights, IL:  Harlan Davidson Inc., 1986), 77-78.

9)  Michael C.C. Adams, The Best War Ever:  America and World War II, (Baltimore, MD:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 40.

10)  Peter Maslowski and Alan Reed Millet, For the Common Defense:  A Military History of the United States of America, (New York, NY:  The Free Press, 1994),   421.

11)  Louis L. Snyder, The War:  A Concise History 1939-1945, (New York, NY:  Julia Messner Inc., 1960), 206.

12)  Ralph L. Minker Jr., 5 December 1943, personal letter.

13)  Rlaph L. Minker Jr., Interview with Robin Sellers, 22 February 1999.

14)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

15)  “Student Polls Show Surge in Patriotism,” The Dickinsonian,  15 January 1942, p. 1.

16)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

17)  Adams, The Best War Ever, 76.

18)  Dickinson College, Dickinson Bulletin 1938-1939, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  167th edition, March 1939), 90.

19)  Dickinson College, Dickinson Bulletin 1943-1944, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  171st edition, April 1944), 62.

20)  Dickinson College.  Microcosm, 1943.  162-163.

21)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

22)  Minker, 30 January 1944, personal letter.

23)  Minker, 23 March 1943 (? no date), personal letter.

24)  Minker, 28 March 1943 (? no date), personal letter.

25)  Minker, 11 April 1943 (? no date), personal letter.

26)  Minker, 13 April 1943, personal letter.

27)  Minker, 24 May 1943, personal letter.

28)  Minker, 24 June 1943, personal letter.

29)  Minker, 6 July 1943, personal letter.

30)  Minker, 5 March 1944, personal letter.

31)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

32)  Minker, 22 July 1943, personal letter.

33)  Doyle Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, (Publishing  information not available, 1996), 13.

34)  Minker, 1 July 1943, personal letter.

35)  Minker, 3 August 1943, personal letter.

36)  Minker, 11 August 1943, personal letter.

37)  Minker, 25 August 1943, personal letter.

38)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 13.

39)  Minker, 13 October 1943, personal letter.

40)  Minker, 31 October 1943, personal letter.

41)  Minker, 30 January 1945, personal letter.

42)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 13-14.

43)  Minker, 20 December 1943, personal letter.

44)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 14.

45)  Minker, 2 January 1944, personal letter.

46)  Shields, History: 447th Bomb Group, 14.

47)  Minker, 3 April 1944, personal letter.

48)  Minker, 17 April 1944, personal letter.

49)  Minker, 7 May 1944, personal letter.

50)  Minker, 18 May 1944, personal letter.

51)  Minker, 3 July 1944, personal letter.

52)  Minker 9 July 1944, personal letter.

53)  Minker, 25 August 1944, personal letter.

54)  Minker, 29 September 1944, personal letter.

55)  Minker, Interview with Sellers, 22 Feb 99.

56)  Maslowski and Millet, For the Common Defense, 455-459.

57)  29 June 1944, personal letter.

58)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

59)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 226.

60)  Minker, 21 October 1944, personal letter.

61)  Minker, 29 October 1944, personal letter.

62)  Minker, 3 November 1944, personal letter.

63)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 227-228.

64)  “Completes Many Missions,” Dickinson Alumnus, Vol. 22, No. 4 (May 1945), 3.

65)  Gerald Astor, The Mighty Eighth:  The Air War in Europe as Told by the Men Who Fought It, (New York, NY:  Donald I. Fine Books, 1997), 372.

66)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 242.

67)  Minker, 19 December 1944, personal letter.

68)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 242-254.

69)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

70)  Shields, History:  447 Bomb Group, 272.

71)  Jim Shannon, Blue Hen Chick crew chief log book, 16 February 1945.

72)  Ibid.  26 Feb 45.

73)  Minker, 5 March 1945, personal letter.

74)  Minker, 24 May 1945, personal letter.

75)  Adams, The Best War Ever, 53-54.

76)  Studs Terkel, The Good War:  An Oral History of World War Two, ( New York, NY:  Pantheon Books, 1984), 207-209.

77)  Thomas Siefring, US Air Force in World War II, (Secaucus, NJ:  Chartwell Books, 1977), 182.

78)  Ibid.  182.

79)  Shields, History:  447th Bomb Group, 243.

80)  Ibid.  327.

81)  Maslowski and Millet, For the Common Defense, 460.

82)  Adams, The Best War Ever, 7.

83)  Ibid.  150.

84)  “Strictly G. I.,” The Dickinsonian, 28 March 1946, p. 4.

85)  Dickinson College, Dickinson Bulletin 1946-1947, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania:  174th edition, 1947), 118.

86)  Minker, 17 September 1944, personal letter.

87)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

88)  Ibid.

89)  Ibid.

90)  Minker, Interview with Sellers, 22 Feb 99.

91)  Sandra O’Conner-Minker.  <> “Re: career notes,”  30 April 2000, personal email (1 May 2000).

92)  Samuel Hynes, The Soldiers’ Tale:  Bearing Witness to ModernWar, (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 1997), 87-88.

93)  Ibid.  8.

94)  Adams, The Best War Ever, 1.

95)  Ibid.  2-3.

96)  Terkel, The Good War, 199, 39.

97)  Ibid.  215-216.

98)  “The Pilots,” The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, (Savannah, GA:  16 March 2000),  Exhibit.

99)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

100)  “The Mighty 8th Air Force,” The Mighty 8th Air Force Museum, (Savannah, GA:  16 March 2000), Movie.

101)  Eugene M. Heller, “War Weary, Over to You,” Personal Memoir, 9.

102)  Ibid.  14.

103)  Astor, The Mighty Eighth, 433.

104)  Minker, Interview with Sellers, 22 Feb 99.

105)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

106)  Ibid.

107)  Minker, 27 May 1945, personal letter.

108)  Minker, Interview with Stevenson, 26 Feb 00.

109)  Ralph L. Minker Jr., “What Did We Fight For?,” August, 1945.  Personal essay.

110)  Minker, 8 November 1944, personal letter.

111)  Tom Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, New York, NY:  Random House, 1998.

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Ralph L. Minker Jr.