PJS - Patrick J. “Skip” Stevenson
RM - Ralph L. Minker Jr.
SOM - Sandra O’Conner-Minker
-- Tape 1, Side A --
PJS - Mr. Minker we are now recording both video and audio.
Do I have your
permission to do so?
RM - Yes, you do.
PJS - I’m Patrick J. Stevenson, a member of the Dickinson College Class
of 2001, and I
am with Ralph L. Minker Jr., Dickinson Class of 1947. Today is 26 February 2000 and
we are here in the Bechtel room of the Waidner Spahr Library located on the campus of
Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. During the interview, Mr. Minker, if I tend
to jump from topic to topic at times just bear with me. There’s just so much we have to
cover in so little time.
RM - I understand.
PJS - There’s a lot of information you have to offer. Just for
the record, Mr. Minker,
could you state when and where you were born?
RM - I was born in Wilmington, Delaware.
PJS - And the date please?
RM - The date was 1924.
PJS - Your parents, what did they do for a living?
RM - My father was a pastor for the United Methodist Church.
PJS - And your mother?
RM - In those days she took care of the home.
PJS - How do you feel your father’s career as a minister helped shaped
you in your
RM - Several ways, probably. First, clergy move to different places
from time to time.
So part of, well... When I was born, way up in Massachusetts, and then there was a period
in which we were in New Hampshire, and then we came back down into Wilmington,
Delaware, which was the hometown of mine and so on.
PJS - Allow me to jump ahead now to high school. Where did you
go to high school and
when did you start? What were the dates? I knew you started college when you were a
lot younger. So when did your high school years begin?
RM - The high school years are of course the four years of high school.
It was Alexis
High DuPont High School in Delaware. Delaware has a lot of DuPont’s and there are a
lot of schools that also have a DuPont name. They donate these schools. That’s the way
the system works in Delaware.
PJS - So those years would have been 1936 to 1940?
RM - I graduated in 1941 (wife, Sandra O’Connor, commentary).
SOM - No. I’m sorry. You’re right.
PJS - Moving along though, so who is Ralph L. Minker Jr. in high school?
What are his
likes? What’s his dislikes? Could you maybe describe yourself?
RM - Several ways. I was skinny. I was president of my class
in both my junior and
senior year. I played a bit of football. We had one of the best teams in Delaware at that
period of time. I was not at that level. I was a part of a third level group that played for
the fun of it, perhaps to fill in on the occasional injury or something like that.
PJS - Third string?
RM - Ummm-hmmm.
PJS - What position?
RM - Quarterback.
PJS - Quarterback?
RM - In the old fashioned ....
PJS - Wing T?
RM - Ummm-hmmm.
PJS - As far as teachers- any influential teachers during your high
school years that you
RM - Yes, one of them was the coach who taught mathematics, but also
was the football
coach. He was full of gestures and articulated very clearly what he wanted and how he
wanted it. One of the things that happened, I got behind as quarterback, I said let’s try
such and such a play, and no sooner had I said that, that I had got a boot, not too hard of a
boot, but a boot to the rear (laughs). “We don’t try. We say what were going to do and
then we do it.”
PJS - It appears to me that you were drawn to leadership responsibilities.
president, quarterback - is that a fair assessment? Could you comment on that?
RM - Yes, I think so. I don’t think I worked at it necessarily.
It just worked naturally in
terms of my teachers and my fellow students.
PJS - Could you say that is something that has persisted throughout
your life? Do you
like to be the one who is held accountable? The play goes wrong it’s the quarterback at
RM - There are things I liked to get involved in, and I care to get involved at the front.
PJS - Hands on?
RM - Ummm-hmmm.
PJS - Jumping ahead to another topic here- still in high school, the
war began in 1939.
What were your thoughts on it?
RM - That was rather far away. We knew it was dirty. And
we also knew that we might
PJS - Were you pulling for the allies at that point?
RM - Yes, no question about that.
PJS - It’s interesting with some of my research here at Dickinson, looking
back at that
period. There was a survey1 conducted at the school at the outbreak of the war in 1939.
The results were quite interesting because almost everyone did not want any intervention.
Even out of all the people surveyed, about twenty people or so wanted the Germans to
win. Did you know that?
RM - No. I did not know that, or I would have not chose Dickinson (laughs).
PJS - Because that comes as shocking-
RM - Yes, I did not know that.
PJS - What were your personal opinions? Do you think it was something
we should be
involved in or....?
RM - I think that I was in interested in it. I thought why we
would have to become ever
involved directly in it. Perhaps might find some way to ejudicate it. But, at that point,
there was no sense of a draft. So it was more I was listening but not really involved.
PJS - You said the war was “far away.” What exactly made it far away?
RM - It was not our country. There was a large ocean between us.
And we were coming
through an awful period in our country in terms of the breakdown of the financial system
and the huge amounts of unemployment across the United States2...and have very limited
development of an armed forces3.
PJS - Sir, I am going to have ask you the question that I have been
hundreds of times myself- “Why did you decide to attend Dickinson?”
RM - Both my dad and mother attended Dickinson in their youth.
They were both from
Wilmington, and they met each when they went there, and they got married when they
PJS - So parental influence was the case here?
RM - Yes, there wasn’t much discussion of alternatives.
PJS - This is where you’re going and you’re going to like it.
RM - It had a good reputation at that time.
PJS - At the time you’re obviously living in Delaware, in Wilmington.
Exactly how far
is Wilmington from Carlisle?
RM - Oh, it must be 100 miles or so. I’m not sure of the exact of it now.4
PJS - So a reasonable distance from your home?
RM - Yes, Wilmington, Delaware, which is at the top of Delaware.
You cut through
Pennsylvania, come right up to Harrisburg.
PJS - Moving along to college, can you remember the first day of school?
memories, first impressions that you can recall? It was probably a big transition- moving
away on your own.
RM - Yeah, I roomed with another freshman who came from Wilmington,
There were, I think, six from Wilmington, who came up in that particular year. So I
wasn’t entirely- in those days they also had early recruiting. Excuse me a minute. I
remember, sometimes, joined [the] Theta Chi fraternity.
PJS - And that was your freshman year?
RM - Yes, we lived in the dorm, but we had meals over at the fraternity.
We did not
actually have rooms in the fraternity until our sophomore year.5
PJS - Did you get homesick much?
RM - No.
PJS - Or did fraternity life help with that?
RM - I think so. I found the classes interesting and stretching
and going beyond the high
school years. I felt there was an openness. Everybody seemed to be happy to be here and
football season came along and we had a football team that was pretty good at that
period. Basketball team also I might say (laughs).6
PJS - So you’re only 16 years old when you begin college, correct?
From the pictures
I’ve looked up of you from the Microcosm, the Dickinson yearbook, you look rather
young. No doubt about it. How do you feel that your young state of physical appearance
and also age-wise, how do you think that impacted your college experience? Were you
“fitting-in” ? Was it the norm for everyone to be that young?
RM - I realized I wasn’t going to make the football team. I think
I had a certain degree
of shyness, and so going along but nothing special stood out. It was a period in which I
was opening up a bit - certainly in an atmosphere beyond what I had been used to.
PJS - Could you comment on that a bit further? What did you mean
by “opening up a
bit” or “new environment”? Could you comment on some of the changes?
RM - I was in larger complex. I was away from home and therefore
couldn’t just wait
for dad and mother to do this or do that, or etc...I did not have a large ego about myself
but I did have a large sense of wanting to grow up.
PJS - How were your connections to your family at the point while you
were in school.
Did you still keep strong connections? Were you writing home?
RM - No, I didn’t write home as much as I did when I went into the Air
because we were close enough so that a couple of times a semester dad and mom would
come up. Sometimes we played the University of Delaware and so that was an occasion
to go back down. I was fairly careful, and a little bit with my fingers crossed, in terms of
what the academics would be.
PJS - How about your relationship with your sisters? Were you
looked up to as the big
RM - Oh, yes. Yes, all the sudden that was a great divide.
My second....my next oldest
sister, who was two years younger and my other one was another two years behind. So it,
we got along well, but there was a vacuum. They were just enough behind that they were
just beginning to have some feelings for the boys back in high school. I had always been
a bit on the shy side.
PJS - How do you feel about that role as “big brother?” Did you
enjoy it? Were you a
kind of tutor or mentor?
RM - No, not really. We had meals together. We had our chats
together and so forth,
but it wasn’t....nothing forced about it. And each of us had our own particular students
the same age. We were in our particular slots.
PJS - Do you feel that role evolved over time with college, your experiences
in the Air
Corps, through your relatives?
RM - Well, that obviously was a period in which I was away and almost
a distant figure.
The letters spelled things outs and so forth. But I was reaching out to them, and as they
wrote to me, they were reaching out to me. But it was not quite like we could do sitting
down at our dinner table.
PJS - Another transition here, but here’s the big day from your college
RM - Yes.
PJS - Must ring a bell?
RM - Yes.
PJS - So where were you when you heard the news?
RM - I had gotten up and I was walking down the street in Carlisle here.
I was going to
go to church, and all of a sudden people began to start yelling as I got closer down to
downtown. And we knew that the atom bomb had been dropped. (wife commentary)
Pearl Harbor, okay.
PJS - How do you feel about your reactions? Could you describe your reactions?
RM - Well, I think I was amazed. I think also there had been a
sense that there would be
a breakout in the Pacific, so I wasn’t totally surprised. I was wondering how much
damage had been done. That was the first thing. Had they ruined Hawaii? And as the
news began to come in we realized that they had not blown it all to parts. There was
plenty of them there left.7 But I knew that all of sudden this would be another aspect of
the war. The allies over in Europe wanted as to help them, and now we would also have
to defend ourselves out in the Pacific, including the Philippines. So I knew that all of
sudden that things were not going to be the same, and I knew we were of the age that
some of us certainly are going to be drafted.
PJS - Did the attack spark any kind of anger or hatred?
RM - No. No. I was a bit of a major in history and I knew that wars
had been going on
for years by different people for different reasons and so forth. So you sort of expect it
PJS - When exactly did you make your decision to enlist in the Air Corps?
RM - Within the first six weeks we began to get information as to choices.
that college student have a certain special flavor. Theoretically, we have a certain type of
growing up that means that we could know more things and now handle things a bit
better than persons who don’t go beyond public school. And so the question was where
would we fit in? How would we fit in? What sort of choice in do they simply draw
something out of a hat? I, early, wanted to join the Air Corps and was extremely happy
when that was agreed on about six months down the pike. We, however, did not go into
the Armed Forces as fast as some people might think because we didn’t have any bases to
train us from. All sorts of things were lacking in terms of getting us together and shaping
us up. And I was very happy, however, for another reason- if we would go to school in
the summer as well as the regular [semester schedule], I would be able to, in two years
time, complete the first, complete two years and...actually was less than that because
pushing it together.8
PJS - Your summer would count as your sophomore year?
RM - Yes. So we were ready. However and we began to be drawn
up by name. We had
registered over at Harrisburg and all this sort of stuff. The general public was beginning
to get a little angry that college students were still in college and were not being drafted
in quite the same was that the ones who are not. The pressure was such, that at the end
of that two year period, cramming the four semesters, the government drew us all up
immediately and crammed. We went first of all to Miami Beach, and the only way they
could provide rooms for us down there was to tell everyone who was used to going down
there in the winter for holiday that they could not stay, or could not come, or could not
stay. So we just jammed into the northern end of (laughs) Miami Beach. And they
recognized that they were going to bore us to death. They had to do routine things like
checking our various parts for health and getting inoculations but for this and that and so
forth. They had a habit on the weekends of having to come out after breakfast and stand
front in type of order and have lunch out their on the street. And then move up to the
next block to new accommodations, and this way we would not be running around on the
weekend. We would be under control. We grumbled a bit about that, but we certainly
enjoyed being on the beach because we did get in after that. Exercise out on the beach
and we did get some swimming in. And we all were saying, “I wonder how long this is
going to happen?” And we all were saying, “Where are we all going to go next?” Just
about everybody had some friends from the same that they came from. But they would
make sure you met people from other colleges too. It was an interesting side. But most
of us were a little impatient at the same time.
PJS - To push back a little bit, when you said you made your decision
within six weeks
of Pearl Harbor? ...Your decision to enlist?
RM - Yes, oh yes, that came out very clearly to me.
PJS - Why the Air Corps? You said that was something you really
wanted. Why was
that the big draw?
RM - Partly because who I lived from, for part of my time, as part of
time growing up
just a half-mile away from the DuPont airport. Partly because, did I mention this
already? That, let me think of his name...Lindbergh9 flew in when I was about five up in
New England and was put at our airport. My dad and mother took me out as far of his. I
didn’t really know about it until later on as I grew up. They said, “Do you remember?”
There was a lot of noise of the propeller, and he was taking persons up for rides and so
forth. Well, I don’t know if that got into my system or not but that’s the first exposure I
had to aviation in any direct way. I guess I thought being relatively light in weight, that
being in a plane gave me a control that, would be, than just charging across the (laughs)
with my bayonet. And it worked out beautifully.
PJS - Born to be a pilot rather than an infantryman perhaps?
RM - Yes.
PJS - Was the decision something you thought “No doubt about it, I’m
going to fight in
this war,” or was it something you waffled with, that maybe, “I’ll just stay in college....”
RM - No. By that time, I was ready to go. I knew that the
war had to be fought, there is
no sense in trying to get out of it. It would be chicken for one thing.10 And I thought, I
majored in history in college, so it was a sense that this is something that is important in
terms of the larger scheme of how the world develops.
PJS - Would say that, maybe, it was a “manly” thing to do? The right thing to do?
RM - I thought it was the right thing. I’ve never had much of
a physique so I don’t think
that using my muscles was not necessarily something I was counting on. But it was
something it seemed to me that needed to be attended to. I knew that we had various
types of armament which were already in use or being quickly developed and made
available. And so I saw it without any doubts or equivocation.
PJS - What about your fellow classmates that just decided to play the
luck of the draw,
and if not [drafted] stay in school? How did you feel about their attitudes?
RM - I wasn’t judging them much. Everybody had to sign up. And
the various parts of
the government were working in different ways to sort them out and say, “We want you
for this,” or “We want you for that.” There were some people, not very many, who did
not get drafted because they had some sort of physical limitation. And they stayed in
college I think throughout the four years without interruption. In my fraternity, which
was Theta Chi, there were three persons who were not in shape for anything like that, and
they stayed. They didn’t go through the summer either, they took their summer
vacations. They stayed in college and got their regular degree.
PJS - Yes, it’s funny how I came across the picture in one of the Microcosms.
Chi Fraternity picture just has two brothers in the picture. It’s a rather small group. I
found that picture quite interesting.
RM - Yes, and what they did, they brought persons in related to the
Army unit down
across town and they began to use the rooms of the evacuated fraternities, and even up in
the regular dormitory, because they were bringing people food and various thrusts I
guess, and doing things which were different than what they were doing with me or their
students. So we said, “Yes,” you can rotate the university I think somewhat for allowing
that type of exchange.11
PJS - It would be tough to throw a party with only two brothers, right?
RM - Yes. (laughs) Yes.
PJS - So the college is obviously going through a big transition because
so many of its
male students are being sent to Europe and the Pacific.
RM - Oh, yes.
PJS - What did you feel those days before you actually went off to training?
obviously the summer. What was the feeling leading up to departure? You had from the
time of Pearl Harbor, December 7th-...
RM - I think most of us were somewhat excited. We had some confidence
and some confidence in our government. So I don’t think there was much in hesitation.
There was a sense that somehow every mother was saying “Now please write,” you
know, and that sort of thing. It was fitting. Everything was moving. Boys, 18 or
whatever, would be moved. And there wasn’t really any holding back from that as far as
I could see.
PJS - How about the faculty and administration? What were there attitudes?
RM - We lost several members of the faculty. I’ve forgotten which
was ones at this
moment. But we did lose some. In terms of my memory, in none of the subjects I was in
were short of a regular professor while I was here.
PJS - Was there any big send off?
RM - (laughs) No.12
PJS - Pats on the back? Wish of good luck?
RM - Yes, there was some of that. In the Theta Chi fraternity,
so and so would have
been told that he would be leaving at such date and he would tell his comrades and we
would have a special cheer and best wishes for him or them as they went out.
PJS - But as far as a school as a whole, would you say they shared the
Theta Chi support,
or is it just a lot of indifference? Cause I’ve come across a lot of indifference in reading
the old school papers. I mean you obviously remember the old New York Times and the
other major papers. Pearl Harbor occurs and in the biggest font you could imagine,
“JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR.” Look in the Dickinsonian and there is not
even a feature story.13
RM - They never tried to compete with the local paper. I know
that. They probably
simply recognized that they couldn’t begin to criticize or understand all that was going
was going on as fast and as mixed up as it was there especially in the first year.
PJS - The paper evolved over time. It writes more globally [now]
than it did when it was
more localized, because throughout the war you notice even the intramural sports get
more attention than Lieutenant so and so and what they’re doing or Sergeant so and so
and what they’re doing. There is very little news on them, their own students, their own
people that were there fighting.
RM - I had no idea. There is always a committee, of course, that
was running the
newspaper and I do not know whether the college had any of this, say, “Let’s not get
involved in discussing the war in the local papers or whatever.”
PJS - Let’s speed up here. You’re ready to go to training.
It’s February of 1943. You’re
ready to go to Miami Beach. What’s going through your mind at this point? What are
RM - I’ve got my bag of what I’m supposed to have in it, and not bringing
because I know as soon as I get down there that will be stripped from me. All along the
line was the Pennsylvania Railroad, and different persons from different colleges just
filled these trains going South. Sometimes you were with persons you knew, sometimes
you weren’t. I had two, I think on my trip down as far as South Carolina, and there was
one down there who lived there, went here, got on the train. So everybody was sort of
meeting new people and it was more of where had your home base as to which train you
would be on and which mixture of kids you would be with. (laughs)
PJS - So the question maybe is, in retrospect, were you fully aware
of what you were
getting yourself into at the time? Were you getting there thinking, “Well, I’ll go to
training, train for war, pretty soon I’ll be at war. My life will be on the line.” Did this hit
you at this point?
RM - No. No. I was a little bit on the stoic side. I was
also very much on the side of the
Allies in saying, “This is a mess and we’ve got to clean it up.”
PJS - So where does this quiet confidence, if you don’t mind me describing
it as that,
where does this quiet confidence come from? You seemed quite assured of yourself. I
would know a lot of people, at that time, you were what seventeen years old, right?
Thinking back to a lot of seventeen year old friends that I had, if they were ready to go to
war, they’re not as quiet and confident as you were.
RM - Well, no. I read the papers regularly, and especially since
Pearl Harbor. I knew
enough about history and world conditions and things like that to know there are times
when you have to do things that you might not ordinarily want to. But you have to if
you’re going to save what you consider to be what is right and what will be, but for the
world, especially, perhaps, yourself, in the situation.
PJS - How did your parents feel about how you are shipped off to war
and the decision
RM - Dad and mother accepted it very openly. Neither liked the
idea. Dad, by being a
pastor, was inclined to stay out of war and be in favor of peace. But he was also enough
of a realist to know that at times you can’t be off in the blue somewhere. You have to
deal with whatever outbreak has happened. So I have no resistance and no crying. My
mother. The nearest thing of how much they felt was to say we want you to write to us at
least a couple of times a week. We want to keep in touch.
PJS - How do you feel your relationship with God factored in to your
decision as a whole? You said it was the right thing to do, a good cause, how did your
relationship with God and the Church factor in?
RM - I thought that something was evil, and that when something is evil,
the prison is
one effective route, but war is another. Neither is a nice thing to get into (laughs). I did
feel a sense of “you can be a hero”, not in being someone who is pumped up and stuff,
but you can be a hero in helping to heal or improve or rearrange something when it’s not
working right. I had, I guess, some anxiety in that I was very young and not very large.
When I got down to the hotels I thought there were a lot of six footers and so forth
(laughs). That never seemed, when we got going, never seemed to be a problem.
PJS - As you’re traveling along the railroad and you’re meeting people
ready to go to
Miami and do some training, do you feel a lot of the other future trainees shared this hero
mentality at all?
RM - I don’t like the idea of saying it was a hero thing only.
It was an honorable thing.
It was a necessary thing, cause if we can’t stop this type of stuff we’re in for a hell of an
existence on the planet. When I got down there at Miami it was very obvious that I was
smaller or less developed than most of the others that were there. That meant that when
you lined up for marching you were way at the back (laughs). But nobody ever pushed
me because he was larger- pushed me out of the way. In talking with each, I never felt
out- out from an opinion or the fact I was there and so forth. So nothing got in the way of
being as best I can in terms of being a soldier.
PJS - You may have developed the “Be All You Can Be” mentality.
You had it within
you, at any rate, before the Army came out with the slogan. Fascinating.
RM - Yes (laughs). Wow, you know at certain times when a bullet
whizzes past your ear
real close, there’s a sense in which everybody says, “Arrgghhhhaaa!” But I was pleased
because everywhere I went, most of the soldiers who were there were focused. They
were not trying to find a way out. We sort of assisted each other in the tasks we were
PJS - The transition to Army life- can you recall getting used
to things, so to speak?
When did lining up for P.T., when did inspection become routine?
RM - Well, it happened fairly fast because back here before we left
we started having
some exercises. It was optional, but we had some of that....McAndrews14, I don’t know
if that name means anything to you or not, but he was one of the men connected with
athletics here at Dickinson. He was an older man, but he knew something needed to be
done, and so he triggered extra exercises and so well forth for those of us who were
lining up for the future.
PJS - So you weren’t going in cold turkey in other words?
RM - No.
PJS - You had some idea how to march, some idea of what you were getting
that a big help?
RM - Yes. I think it was, and exercise is good anyhow. And,
you know, most of us did
some things around the gym informally.
PJS - During this initial stage, did you get homesick at all during training?
RM - No. No. Now, now this is where the letters come in.
I had a mother who wrote
twice a week all through the whole thing. Dad was not as frequent, mostly because he
was doing other things related to the war at home and partly because (laughs) he knew
mother was taking care of it.
End of Side A, Tape 1
-- Side B, Tape 1 --
RM - We were formed out. That meant going back to college because
there was no other
place for us. They also had another round of persons coming into the Miami beach and
different places around the country. Even with the courage that we represented coming
down there first, there were others that were put in second place were coming down.
Partly, I think it was largely based on an age difference, but I’m not sure whether or not
that was entirely true because I was, I guess, I was about the youngest that came down
from Dickinson. So, what we did? We went up to the tip of Florida then we went over to
New Orleans. We changed trains there. We had time to get off and walk around a bit in
New Orleans. Then we went up the Mississippi, went and got to Chicago, so they let us
have some time there before we caught another train. Then we went up into a small
college area in Wisconsin. We got there late at night. They did not know we were
coming. They didn’t have any place to put us, except in an old condemned gymnasium
(laughs). We had to cry to the fire department to get some cots in for us. They found out
later that something was wrong with the reading of the orders originally. So that we
ended up out at the University of Nebraska.15 They were expecting us. They had just
finished a multimillion dollar center for the whole campus, and instead of saving various
offices that were old and cramped, or doing other things with that building, they turned it
over to us. When I say us, others were being fed into there at the same time. They put
cots, no not cots, but double deckers in the rooms and we were divided up in various
ways that way. They gave us tests and on the basis of the tests we were sent- some would
be going out first because they seemed to be more ready for something, etc.. I would
think I was in the third group, third month, that was released. At Nebraska we took
classes. Not with their students, but with professors who had some sort of readiness to
help us understand what’s going on with the history, and what’s going on in terms of war
across the seas and so on. Let’s see, we did learn ten hours in a Piper-Cub. We did have
time off on the weekends that we could walk around the town or go down into caverns
and so forth, not too far from where the university is, and I remember three of us one
time went down to go down into it, a cavern that neither of us had gone before.16 They
sent us, my particular group out, to California17 which was an assembly area for aviation
cadets. There they gave us real exams. They would want to check every piece of your
body (laughs). They wanted to know your attitude. They wanted to get a feel for you
cause there were three physicians, or no, two physicians and one psychiatrist I think who
would work with each individual. It took a five day period. You didn’t do it all at one
point. They, let’s see, when I was finished, one of the doctors said to me that there’s a
saying here, which is on the tip of my tongue. Yes, we wash you out if you were what
they used to be because aviation, in terms of war, was often in darkness. He said you
would not have fully accurate eyesight, but you’re going to be flying in daylight, and
PJS - I remember it being discussed in the letters.
RM - Yeah (laughs). So we had about a week there, and there they
sent us to a series of
training camps, each are with a plane that was a little more complicated, a little bit more
strenuous. My first teacher was back from the war in China. He was not for exactness,
so that it took a twelve hour in the air period in this introductory section and he was
helping us very steady. We wold got a bit stuffy. He was little like I am. Then when we
came to the last round with him he showed us what a plane could do, even a smaller a
plane. It was a “Stearman”, a one engine and he turned that thing inside-out. It was just
amazing. But he was taking care to handle us carefully so we would be ready for
something that was larger. Than they moved me down to Pecos, Texas and there we,
let’s see, the first thing we had there was what they called a “Vibrator”18, which was all
metal and definitely contemporary. There essentially it was just stronger stuff, more stuff
expected of us there. I’ve forgotten the numbers of hours we had there and so on and so
forth but then began to think you were getting in touch with the real world of aviation.
They decided at point because they were changing priorities in the types of plane for
England to give us a cabinet plane, and that was the final section we had there. We were
basically confined to the area of the airfield for both sections. About eighty percent of
my class passed at this point. Then we had to go to a plane which would be a real plane
in terms of combat, current combat. They gave us time off. I was out there in Texas.
Home was back in Wilmington (laughs). There was a graduate of West Point in our
class. He had a car, of course. He had some extra possibilities (laughs). So he wanted
someone to help him with the car getting back. So we started out after the ceremonies
and whatever across Texas and up into, what is it? Arkansas. Cross the, at sunrise, cross
the Mississippi at Miami, not Miami, at Memphis. Yeah. Got about a quarter of the way
across the state and blew a tire. We didn’t have any thing that could guarantee us a tire,
so we had to walk into town. Actually as we were walking, a man picks us up and took us
to a place, and there we had to wait for authorities. And it wasn’t until about five o’clock
that we got started again. We were fussy about that. We, luckily, we had enough money
(laughs) even to pay for it. So then we got started and as night was coming on we hit the
bottom of the mountains going up and back the Eastern United States, And in he early
morning we came up to the top of the mountains right out....the Shenadoah, and came
down off the Shenadoah into the valley of Virginia. He lived in Virginia, and so he
dropped me off at the railroad station downtown and went back home with his family and
I caught a train up to Wilmington and we had, everybody had, two weeks before
reporting back for the real combat training.
PJS - That’s all fascinating material. It adds a lot of details to the letters.
RM - Yes. Those letters are full of all sorts of things, and I
know I’m not touching on
everything that’s in there.
PJS - It’s impossible.
RM - Yeah, I know that at times the geography and the topography of
where I was in the
letters- I saw things that I never, you know, I went across the country and back North and
South, and it’s amazing the variety of ways people build or the type of farming they do,
or whatever it may be, and I always liked to know those things. How far do you want to
go now? Is this...?
PJS - We were discussing the home-sickness and then the letters.
To back track a little
bit, that’s really what is so amazing- only a couple of times do you mention the fact that
you were feeling a little bit “blue.” I can remember you were ill early on in your training.
You mentioned it in the letters.
RM - Oh, that was right in the beginning.
PJS - Yes.
RM - What was it that happened?
PJS - Spinal meningitis?
RM - Oh yes, that’s what it was. And they were all alarmed and
they told me that, well,
you probably will miss the regular turn out here and will have to go over, do this all over
again the next round and so forth. What they did is put me, they had twelve persons who
were in the- if there’s an opening you go to fill it and so forth. If you don’t get a chance
to fill it this time, we will guarantee that you will do it next time / round. I, well, I got
through (laughs). Yes (laughs). The thing that I was to do now often, going home, of
course I visited various relatives and friends and relatives and everybody popped back
into the public schools to say hello even though some of your classmates were there, the
principal was there, and you know you had the sort of touching of hands and that sort of
thing. We went back down into Florida after my home stay. There I picked out a crew, a
full crew. They all had their credentials and each chief pilot had the responsibility to
read, and if he had any questions or reservations, check it through one of the officers and
so forth. They’d find who matches as much as possible that would be workable. I was
ready to go and my co-pilot and become very ill, so much that he would have to be
scratched. I did have the option of waiting for him. The rest of the members of the crew
could go on. I decided that I wanted to go on. He would just have to deal with that, and
they gave me the name of a person who is much larger than I am, about six feet six as I
remember it, who had gotten caught flying, not once or twice, but several times under
bridges over the Mississippi River and he was there for being chastised (laughs). He
didn’t like it at all. He could have smashed me with his hand (laughs). He had been a
CCC person during the Depression Era, and so he was older than I, etc.. He had never
been in the [B]-17, and I was to break him in. Going out and across, I can get more info
on that. That was fun. But as we flew our way over to England, everyone of the crew
worked well. One of them was removed because there was a shortage of waist gunners
over in England, and also because it didn’t make sense. There were two tail waist
gunners, one firing out this window, one out of this window. Well, the other airplanes
don’t care (laughs) at you that way. And then they began to realize we do not need two,
we do not need a hundred and fifty extra pounds, or whatever it is, and he left us for fill
in within another pilot crew. So we went up the coast, I made a dip down over outside
Wilmington, Delaware to where my folks lived. I had written and told them I would try
to buzz and they got a kick out of that. Our house was not too far from the DuPont
Airport and they had helped dad and mother keep in touch as to what they knew about
my coming up the coast. I wasn’t supposed to do that but I felt they wouldn’t be able to
bring me back from England.
PJS - It’s not a ticket home?
RM - (laughs) So we went up to an airfield outside Manchester, New Hampshire.
overnight. Went up to Labrador. Stayed over another night. Then we went into the
place where the bedrooms were and that sort of - where people were staying over. Then
went up to Greenland. Greenland you had to wait- had to get there after one o’clock
because you go down a long passageway and you can’t have anybody in your way to get a
landing spot. In the morning it’s open entirely for the planes coming out. It was very
new. Flying in, you say there’s a particular place and they painted it red and white and
when you get there you make a right turn, pull back, and just fly into a semi-tilled
(laughs), etc.. And then we went to, what’s the place in the middle of the Atlantic?
PJS - Between Greenland and England?
RM - Yes.
PJS - Iceland.
RM - Beyond Iceland. No, it is Iceland. Yeah, it is Iceland.
Of course it is. And that
was the coldest night I’ve ever had. We slept in our plane and we inside a type of
building, there was a roof on it and so forth. I remember it being snowed on, but it was
certainly not (laughs) warm at all. We were glad to get out of there. Then we flew into
Valley Wales on the west coast of England, left the plane to be fully checked out and all
that sort of stuff, and we were put on a railroad. We had once, in the process, to get to
the base, where we would be flying out of.
PJS - Before we take a little break, my final question is, for this
section anyway, can you
recall any great motivational speeches or anything that had a tremendous impact during
your training. I mean that made you wake up and say, “This is why I am here. This is
why I am doing this.”
RM - We didn’t have any of that in terms of my personal experience.
There was no- they
were not trying to push us. They wanted to find out what do you really have? Do you do
what you’re supposed to do on the day, or on the hour, etc. that you’re supposed to do it?
Are you actually flying in terms of professional progress, etc.. So I never felt any
problem there at all.
PJS - In a couple of the training letters from Nebraska you mention
seeing videos on
“Why We Fight.” How did that impact you?
RM - Yes. It was simply background. We had that all along
the way. They would show
us shots of this or that so on and so forth. Yes, we did take a couple of classes while we
were there. One of them just stood out for me. It was by a Norwegian, who was a senior
member of the faculty, who just talked to us about the Northern part of Europe, where
Sweden, and Finland, and Norway, and so forth. He told us everything that ever
happened. It was just fascinating. The coldness and what that means and how they cope
even though they’re not in Little Italy. They’re healthy, etc. They know how to, you
know, that sort of thing. He was concerned that the Russians would cut through Finland
and start in on the other part of the peninsula there. But it was just fascinating. He knew
it and talked. We asked him one time “When you retire,” and we knew he was a person
who didn’t want to retire, “When you retire, will you be going back?” He said, “We have
plenty of time to think about that.” (laughs)
PJS - So would you say it is a fair assessment to describe the training
as a very
business-like atmosphere rather than a “rah-rah” type?
RM - Yes. It was not “rah-rah” at all. No.
PJS - Professional.
RM - Yeah. Now every crew does not have the same mix. I
mentioned my co-pilot
when we had time off between combats. He just took off. None of us knew where he
went or who he saw or what he did, etc.. He just was holding his anger in, in terms of, he
thought obviously - he did not, he was not in anyway disloyal in terms of me or our crew,
but he was an extreme individualist. And after the war he sort of disappeared several
times I tried to get in touch. We have in the records, the description of the missions. We
can go into those, and have a little bit to jog my memory as well. I’d like to tell you one
thing that’s happened. The 8th Air Force, which I was a part of, was delayed for years
building a monument center in Arlington Cemetery, across the river from Washington.
And finally, how many months? A month ago they finally have the dedication. There
were about twenty-five persons present. It wasn’t highly publicized. It also was in the
middle of the week and so and people are dead in different parts of the country. And
that’s the final monument for that particular cemetery. And now some of the land is not
filled in, but the persons who will occupy the land will be taken care of there. Sandra got
a kick out of the fact that I went there, and people were shaking hands- some of us knew
each other, some of us didn’t know each other. One man came over. Do you [wife,
Sandra O’Conner-Minker] want to tell the story? You tell it better (laughs).
SOM - It’s your story.
RM - Alright. A man comes up and says, “Who are you?” and I say who
I am and “Who
are you?” And he says who he is, and it comes out that were both from the 447th. He
then, let’s see, (wife commentary) he asked where I was stationed and I said I was with
the 447th and in Rattlesden and whatever the sequence was, (wife commentary) and I
said things that kept intriguing him and so on. And he said, “Well, what area crew did
you fly with?” And I told him, and then what was next?
SOM - “Who are you?”
RM - “Who are you?” And yes, that’s right (laughs).
And I said Ralph Minker and he
said, “Who?” (laughs) He said, “WHO?!” You know, well, I didn’t know what was
coming next, but I say, “I’m Ralph Minker. I flew the Blue Hen Chick.” And he
SOM - And he said, “The kid. You’re the kid.”
RM - “You’re the kid.”
SOM - “Oh my God, you’re the kid!”
RM - They had nicknamed me that. I was the youngest one that ever was
SOM - He was the duty officer.
RM - [the man was the duty officer] at that time. He had done
his missions. We stayed
over and then flied away. So here I was (laughs), he says, “I’d been telling people for
years (laughs) about you and so forth.”
SOM - When you arrived the Captain came up to you and said, “What are
to do now? They’re sending me kids as pilots.”
RM - And that stuck with me back in the office there. So anyhow (laughs)...
SOM - So now we call him “the kid.”
RM - So it’s good to know when you’re seventy-five you can be called “the kid.”
PJS - Well, kid, we’re gonna take a little break now and we’ll continue in a little bit.
RM - Okay
------------------------------ Ten minute respite ----------------------------------
PJS - We’re back from our little rest break there and it’s now time
to move onto the
exciting part, if you will, some of the war stories. I have to ask this question because it
was on my mind probably from the beginning when I decided to take on this project and
do this interview. First mission - what’s going through your mind?
RM - The first couple of missions you fly as a co-pilot.
PJS - If I have my records correct, on the 12th of October, 1944, you
were on a mission
to Brehmen, Germany20....
RM - Okay.
PJS - ...to knock out an aircraft plant. From what I read in your
letters, It’s just practice
mission after practice mission drilled into you. Did all the practice really pay off at this
point or do you think that all goes out the window when you’re finally thrown in the
“jungle” so to speak, in the heat of combat.
RM - (laughs) No, it helps if you do it a couple of times and works.
It makes it a little bit
more comfortable and a little bit more open to follow through on that. The way they
broke us in was each member of my crew flew individually with another crew for a
couple of times to persons who had already had a dozen or something and I did that.
They asked me to do a third one before I flew as a pilot of my own pilot-aircrew. What
evolved was I became the primary in our squadron. The primary or I should say “a
primary” wing because that was the position that they wanted someone who knew the
stuff to move in quickly into the lead for the whole squadron. Most of the time I was not
needed, but there were I think three times when the lead plane of squadron - they would
have a high squadron, a center squadron where the leader of the whole group of the
squadron was, and then a low squadron. Occasionally, we would fit in a fourth squadron.
we could put there for whatever technical reason we thought would help us and on a
particular mission. I do not have any mission memorized. If I could get a cue, I probably
could remember and do it. I have to look at a piece of paper to go right down the line. I
was young and I was small by count of the whole crew development and it was fairly
obvious to me that they were trying to make up their minds whether or not I was big
enough, strong enough21, smart enough, how adequate I was, cause they didn’t have
anyone else my size. It worked out and I became the reliable one there. We had, several
times, exchanges where somebody who was filling a particular role was nicked and we
had a marvelous amount of quick response by someone near that person so that we never
lost control of our plane or what you were doing in terms of that part of the engagement.
Let’s see, oh, my navigator was wounded in the shoulder at one point in some down front
area. The, no, no, the bombardier was wounded twice while we were on a bombing
mission, and at that point the navigator down in front, they were side by side, was quickly
and simply, and one of these times I didn’t even know it. We got back down on the
ground, held the arm of the person who was injured and to keep it steady while, what was
the name, oh, we had a special name for the22....It was a bombing....
PJS - It’s alright.
RM - But that, of course, gave tremendous confidence to me and to the
crew that we had
two persons who were very essential to the good result and you could see and feel as we
added missions that there was a certain extra readiness to take some initiative that maybe
we shouldn’t quite do on our own at that point. It made me feel that everyone on the
crew was really alert.
PJS - Would taking a look at the mission list help you?
RM - Yes, it would. And let me have the book right here.
(reaches for his copy of
History 447th Bomb Group 8th Air Force W.W.II by Robert Doyle)
PJS - Could you discuss your first - I believe it was your fourth overall
mission - first
time where the whole crew was together? The first time you were the pilot?
RM - Right, see up here we didn’t name the plane because we were all
on other planes.
So the first one was Thursday 16th of November. (Flips pages of book.)
...Transportation targets. That means we had some freedom and each of the three
squadrons flying together, each squadron could go off by itself if they saw something in
terms of trucks on the ground or something moving which would suggest that it might be
German and trying to hide or might be up to something evil (laughs).
PJS - What is your crew thinking? What are you thinking while
you’re walking towards
the runway, boarding your plane, taxiing, getting ready to take off? Here we go...
RM - Oh, oh, oh! One of the things I did all of the
time was to pull myself up, there
was an opening up in the front where the navigator and the bombardier are, and then
walk up a couple to steps to where the pilot is. I could have gone in the side and walked
up a couple stairs and walked through, but it was important for me to let them know I had
some strength. I could swing myself up even though I was all equipped with etc., and
also because I would make a habit of stopping for a couple of minutes to chat with the
navigator and bombardier. I considered that very, very important for whatever we would
do in the in the day. So that would be one aspect of this. Okay. When I did get in, I got
down and checked out my seat and all that. But I usually was ahead of time in terms of
minutes, so I usually walked back to the rear of the plane and chatted a bit.
End of Side 2, Tape 1
-- Side 1, Tape 2 --
RM - ....tight members of the crew, back and tail. (making vivid gestures)
PJS - Let me grab the model [plane] for you.
RM - Okay, yeah, ah, yes.
PJS - Great visual aid there.
RM - Yes (laughs), right. This is the tail.
PJS - Yes.
RM - He had to cramp himself up.
PJS - That’s a tight position.
RM - It was up the whole time. There was no stretching (laughs)
his legs or anything
like that. We checked out times so that we knew he didn’t have to do that as soon as we
took off. We tried to help him that way. So, he surveyed out here. Now, it was also
covered, the engineer stood between me and the copilot and he would fire from this
position. This rotated all the way around. So he could catch there also, go up a bit, so he
has a pretty fair shot. Never the less, when a plane comes screaming down, they’re not
taking their time (laughs). So it isn’t, but they had in same ways had what I consider the
hardest. This one goes- he can be down the way so that his head is down if he’s got a
shot on somebody out there and, you know, so you’re firing and at the same moment the
blood in your head is doing some changing. And they’re there for six hours in terms of a
real mission. So ...got stuck again. On some bombing, the bombs get stuck. And then
the man who is standing here with this upper turret has a responsibility for coming down
and giving a couple of kicks or whatever to get that thing unlocked and dropped out.
That’s an awkward position to put it mildly too. We started the war with one waist
gunner here and one here, but the war got a little hot and we had some shortage of
gunners, and so, I guess this was towards the end of December in 1944, to take one of
those out and make them available to other planes that did not have that type. This made
sense. This flak shoots out. It could shoot out this way or down that way, but you’re not
going to get one enemy plane coming this way and one that way shooting each other. So
made a lot of logic to that. It also, of course, meant that we were getting a little proud
that we didn’t need as many individuals as we thought we did in the beginning of the
war. Okay...At any time during the running of the plane, members of the crew can call,
in fact we asked them to call, if anything is....
PJS - an enemy in sight?
RM - ....bothering them or if, of course, back here if they see somebody
coming at us this
way they would let us know up front too, etc.. So there’s a lot of this working together.
It’s not until - at the beginning we fly with different crews - but it’s not until at least five
or six of the missions, when we’re flying all together that we’re really fully in tune.
PJS - You had a lot to worry about - so many guys, so many different
jobs, so many
different positions. Would you describe yourself as the quarterback of the plane? Is that
a fair assessment?
RM - Oh, yes. Yes, but I had a policy that anybody who saw anything
is to let us know.
It’s better if we are making a mistake (laughs), it’s better to make a mistake in overkill
than it is to have something all of sudden split in our face. There was one time I was
acting as a pilot on the side of the squadron and some flak forced him to leave the
squadron. We were almost exactly over the target at that moment, right. But that
happened so he could not give a lead “let’s drop”, and we all had our bombs and we
passed the plane. Now some pilots say, “Alright, we’ll just drop our-” Our commander
very much thought that you do not leave just because you overdid something. So what I
had to do was one, because this would help us with our speed in recovering, I peeled off
to the right and made a large circle because other squadrons were coming up and I had to
get into the end of the line, and went down a thousand feet in the process of stabilizing
ourselves and making the mission. The colonel gave me a very special pat on the back
for that I remember. Now that doesn’t happen often. The problem with that in terms of
the regular situation is that most pilots seemed to have a tendency to drop their bombs as
there out here in space and may get somebody’s farm or certainly won’t do any good in
terms of what worked. And its a sense that some people can become more jittery when
they’re caught. All of a sudden this center plane couldn’t function properly. So that’s, I
don’t have all of the spelled out right in here....The big turn in what happened in the
winning of the war was on Sunday, December, the 24th of December in 1944.
PJS - The Battle of the Bulge?
RM - The Battle of the Bulge was ending23, and all of a sudden
our whole group of
planes, all 3 sections of the .....we just loaded in and it broke them. The Germans were
asking from what had happened in the end of the Battle of the Bulge. Patton now was
getting in his horse. Montgomery and Patton were of course, always at odds with each
other. Montgomery wanted the northern straight route into Berlin and he thought that
was the best, you know, and all that stuff. Patton was saying, “I’ll be damned. We’re
gonna get underneath and come up.” (laughs) And everybody in the 8th Air Force knew
this. And what’s his name, who was the commander of the 8th Air Force? Doolittle?
PJS - Doolittle.
RM - Yes, Doolittle. Doolittle just shrugged his shoulders (laughs)
and said, “Let the
best man win.”
PJS - How did playing such a vital role in that battle, helping basically
Germans off, that was their last offensive, after you knocked them out of the bulge
victory seems inevitable, how did that make you feel?
RM - It seemed inevitable, but there was plenty of stuff. The
Germans are stubborn and
nobody wasn’t to die or be imprisoned and all that stuff. What we did though, what I was
gonna say here, we, where are we now? December 24th was the first one after the bulge,
then December 28th we went in, then December 30th we went in, and then we went the
first, the third, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, I think it was twelve in all told,
in rapid - we were cleaning up, taking advantage of the sudden...
PJS - Turn of...
RM - Turn of....and that really set the - after that we could rebuild
and all that. Oh, the
rail bridge where I told you about how we had dropped, circled and dropped. That was at
Wesel, Germany. Squadron leader had to abort, as deputy commander I took over
bombardier. Got hit by flak, etc.. That gives it. But that was a wonderful time, all of a
sudden, you knew that you were on the right path and you wanted everybody to be
healthy. Several time I wanted to streak also (laughs). A little arrogance there. I had a
ground crew of four men, lived in a tent right out by the place, and there was a period
there where three missions in a row, I think it was, we didn’t take off until a couple of
hours after all the other planes had taken off. They knew that we were coming, and we
had. There’s more space then in terms of the coastal area, and you cut across. Mostly
when you go up for a mission, you spend an hour just circling as this plane comes in, and
this plane comes in ‘till you have your full twelve or whatever. And then you have to do
the same sort of thing. You have to circle around one and you’re going to follow and so
on. So when you did, if you had a good crew chief, you could fix some things even
though it wasn’t necessary. I wanted to keep it up. And the crew, you know, we began to
have...There was one time we came in and the head of the air base gave us a special
salute and came in late cause that day we had to trail. We were hit underneath and had to
go down low. We came in about an hour later than the rest of the squadron. And he
stood up and led the applause for how we had been working this together. That, of
course, is something that makes us all feel good and helps us to be cohesive all the way
through. The bombardier was wounded near the end of the tour, and he didn’t whine or
complain to anybody else. He just held on and he could not, I guess it was the final two
or three missions, that we had another man in that position, but it tells a little bit about
how people react and say, “I can stand it just a bit longer,” and you know, “they’re
depending on me and we’re in this together and beside I want to get home to
PJS - Now, one thing to keep in mind was- and you’re not an infantryman obviously....
RM - No.
PJS - ...staring across a front shooting a rifle where you can
actually see the damage the
bullets are doing. You’re up in a plane, the bombardier is dropping bombs, and
collectively as a group...
RM - Anybody that gets punched by a bullet is surprised to immediately
let us know.
Sometimes its a matter of somebody in the crew close by who can get by and quickly
PJS - That’s not quite what I am getting at though. You’re up
in a plane. You’re
dropping bombs. Did it ever, I mean, the reality of the damage you were doing- you
might be destroying a target, munitions maybe, what not, aircraft plant as discussed in the
first mission. The fact that people were dying as well, did that weigh on your conscience
at all? What were your feelings about that?
RM - The faster we finished the war, the better chances we have of getting
into an intelligent relationship. Trying to find a way to recognize that all through history,
fighting has been going on, but that we, in the long run, know that we have to find ways
to live together. We’ll punish some people, some people more than others, and there will
be some people who will snarl in the middle of their sleep for ten years about something
that was harmful during the actual fighting. By the way, General Doolittle became in the
period here of the change of the focus of the main part of the fighting and he was known
already as someone who would be individual and innovative. Eisenhower sent out, and it
was published for all the 8th Air Force that he is not to go further than the coast. He had
a red mosquito plane. The mosquito is a wooden plane made out of the wood in Canada.
PJS - Right. I read about it in your other oral history. Please finish the story.
RM - Well, I was just saying that he would be out there an hour before
anyone else got
up in the morning. And he would, if necessary, follow a group going in and simply rage
at them if he sees something wrong they’re not doing in terms of line-up. Sometimes
they’re sprayed apart and he wants them in perfect...perfect order before they cross into
the continent, you know. I learned an awful lot in terms of my life by seeing how certain
men handle themselves and they became my heroes. Doolittle couldn’t do anything
wrong as far as I was concerned.
PJS - Did you obtain a lot of strength from your peers in the plane,
seeing how they
handled pressure, how they dealt with the missions? Were you able to pull together?
RM - We felt real good about each other. My co-pilot was mostly
silent, but he was not
non-cooperative, and I knew in a moment that something went wrong he could take my
place. It wasn’t that he was sulking at me, it was just that he said this is Ralph’s ship and
when he needs me, I’ll be here for him (laughs). I’m wandering away. I can wander...
PJS - Oh, you’re right on target. What I want to ask you next
is how did your
relationship with God factor into the bombing missions?
RM - We had prayer every morning before we went up. Now I had
a person there that
was ideal for it. He was the oldest man on the crew- Larson. I forgot exactly what age.
It was 28. He came from Pittsburgh. He, what was it, he is working now. Yes, lawyer,
of course, a lawyer. So he was the old man. He was on the radio which means he could
look both front and back and have some sense of a view of what was going on. He was a
very committed Christian, used to go to church regularly on Sunday, and so forth. And
he was the old man and he fit that position. I made a habit of usually going over to the
regular members of the crew and chatting for probably a half an hour. I thought personal
contact and not separations between officers and...
PJS - Sergeants and enlisted men?
RM - ...for the type of thing we were doing. So Olaf was the old
man over there. He
tipped me off a couple times of persons maybe I should chat with a little bit. Usually a
couple of men had a sickness in the family back home and they just were, you know,
nothing they were sweaty about, but they appreciated somebody, and I wrote letters a
couple of times to the wives at home in terms of affirming the relationship and that in
return that affirmed the relationships we had there on the plane. I don’t know- nobody
else that I knew of in our squadron did that. I thought it was natural in terms of being
human beings. They were in it, and I wasn’t flashing any special brilliance. I was
simply- I wanted all us to come home.
PJS - It came naturally to you to care for your fellow men. You
were sort of playing the
“big brother” role or the “father figure.”
RM - Yes. Yes. Even though I was the kid (laughs).
PJS - Right, that’s what so fascinating. You’re twenty years
old and yet you’re looked
up to as the quarterback or big brother or what not. During this time did it ever weigh
upon you, “I’m twenty, twenty-one, years old and I’m the leader.” I mean, was there ever
a moment of doubt in your mind about what you were doing?
RM - No, because I never was yelling at people or I don’t think I was
pushing myself in a
way or....anyhow, it worked out. I don’t know of anybody who did the crew quite like
that. I’ve been in circles where we have exchanged experiences in terms of persons and
others who have done various types of things like flying in war. Every time we get into
this type of talk, they say, “Well, I never thought of hat,” or, “I think officers and enlisted
men should not mingle outside of the job.” Well (laughs), it worked.
PJS - Keeping with the comradeship of your unit, did you “hang-out”
together often? If
you had a two day pass to London would you go together?
RM - Yeah, it depends. There were a couple who had friends with
other squadrons and
they tried to meet with persons from Richmond or whatever they were, etc.. I went to a
couple of shows in London. I guess maybe a half a dozen with different members of the
crew. It depended a little bit who was interested in what or we’ll see who or whatever.
When I went there to London, I had a historical frame of mind, so one day, one
afternoon, I walked down by parliament, and who walked up but ‘Lady’ Aster. And she
invited me in. And she pointed out a seat that I could take. And she said watch what
happens when Winston Churchill sees me walk win. And she spent ten minutes, I guess
ten, maybe it could have been fifteen, but they were nudging, they were teasing, they
were- you know. They were both about the same age and had known each other for
years, and she like to chide him a bit, or make his face blush (laughs) or whatever. Now
that’s a wonderful example of democracy as far as I’m concerned. You know, that
politicians can have a little way of jockeying with each other. That in the midst of a war
you also say we can breathe the air and we can... so...
PJS - Now as far as some of your buddies- I mean, some of the memoirs
that I read of
other bomber pilots, squadrons, or just servicemen in general, they tend to go on their
paths as that’s their time to get away from each other, the madness, or each other....
RM - Yes.
PJS - ...to separate from that. Now did you find yourself doing that?
RM - I did some things, like for example, like the last one [story]
on my own, but usually
on off....London was, of course, the number one place people would assemble in. But
different people, members of the crew, would do different things. I liked stage shows,
and there half a dozen stage shows in London while I was there, with first class. I can’t
forget, I can’t run off the names- Tulula Bankhead was certainly one. Vivian Ley was
another one, right. You know, (wife commentary) yeah, okay (laughs). Now some of my
crew were not that well educated to be interested or think in terms of that.
PJS - Yeah, I didn’t imagine your whole crew went to the historical
sites or what not.
More so the bar, or somewhere else.
RM - (laughs) When I took time off after my first go around, they made
me take a month
off. Just to again say, “You’ve been under pressure and there’s no need to push you into
the ground,” etc., “We don’t want you around the flying field.” And I took the time out
to go to the three major universities in England. One in Scotland, one in Cambridge, and
the other in Oxford. And I took rent in a cottage, or somewhere and so forth, and I was
able walk around and see some of the things that were historic or whatever, and just
breathe the air. At least the three of four times, some professor saw me in the hospital,
on the grounds of it, and said, “Can I help you? We usually don’t have American
bombers (laughs) here.”, and we has a time to chat. And that’s something you always
read about. These great universities which have been the mothers and fathers of the
universities here. I wanted to see as much as I could. I wanted to enjoy a good play or
something, of course, a good meal is sometimes just as....I didn’t organize this with any
pre-sense in that- this is the way I would handle myself, or this is the way I would handle
myself or this is the way I would look at flying or this, etc... But the idea came to me, and
as they came, if I thought it made some sense, I would follow through on it. I would say I
was a little sad when I took that time to go to the universities because I had left home, my
own friends, immediate friends, and crew already way back in the United States.
PJS - Do you feel you needed that time off, or do you feel you could
have just went
straight through, kept flying?
RM - No, I think that’s probably wise. It’s somewhat like baseball...Cal
Ripken can play
every of day of the year for the rest (laughs) of history25. But I think it’s good to have
PJS - As you accumulate mission after mission, they’re piling up, are
you and your crew
counting to thirty-five? Are saying, “How many more do we have to go?”
RM - After we hit twenty, they were all very clearly thinking, “I proved
proved ourselves.” It’ll only be “x” number of times (laughs).
PJS - So there was a kind of anticipation, in other words, a countdown?
RM - Yeah. Yeah. The one who expressed it best was Shannon (laughs),
who was my
crew chief and stood behind me in the takeoffs and the landings. Was an Irishman, who
as Irish as anybody (laughs) as I think you’ll ever meet and he would be doing this or his
face, his hands, etc... How did I?
SOM - The countdown.
RM - Oh, the countdown. There was nobody else who was thinking.
I shared it with
them. I said I’m going to talk to the commander, but I am going to volunteer, and see,
let’s see, no I’m thinking how many of the crew were married.
SOM - Just one.
RLM - No, Trammley was married. Okay, anyhow, several of
them. I’ve forgotten who
exactly right at this moment.
PJS - Well, how about your relationship with your superiors, the men
who gave your
briefings, your orders for bombing?
RM - I wrote the words down on my pad (laughs). And I....
PJS - Sorry to interrupt, but one of the things I gathered from the
O’Clock High, which you hold in high esteem, is that there was a lot of friction between
the pilots and superiors that were giving the orders. Did you ever question? Did you
RM - No. We had a marvelous head of the...old, oh, when I first
got there an older, I
guess he was a general already was finishing his tour over at the 447th, and a new man
came in. And the new man was fresh and I trusted him in every sense of the word, but he
was also detailed and if we did (laughs) something wrong or somebody did something
wrong to his sense, even if he wasn’t flying that day, he had a talk.
PJS - Could you briefly summarize your closest call with flak?
I mean your scariest
moment in the plane, I mean, maybe a brief synopsis of those few moments of terror?
RM - Yes, there was a place we went, where is it now, I’ll find it in
a minute, Merseburg,
I went either four or five times. We never really did the job. It was the most brilliantly
conceived in terms of killing anybody who came near.
PJS - The defense?
RM - Yeah, Let’s see. It was near something that they needed.
They were manning
something in that area, and that was, I guess, feeling the ground, well fueling the air
PJS - So you’re saying return 4 or 5 times, tailing off, and you’re
returning to your target,
trying to break though again and drop your...(wife commentary, “You had four
RM - Was it four? Yeah, okay.
PJS - And so what I’m interested in, I wanted to know- you’re getting
hit, I mean you’re
thinking, you’re thinking what? I mean, “This is it! Right now?”
RM - Yeah, oh yes, I was just new there at the time when we did that
everybody else in the bunk was telling me, all the other pilots, “Try not to go there.”26 It
had a notorious...You can’t do much else but go where you’re told, and there’s no
guarantee. I knew that. I always, after getting down, on the ground we checked out with
our officer who handled our particular position in our plane. And then we went again
and had an hour to relax, to drink, to....
PJS - Unwind.
RM - Yeah. The- how did I get into that?
PJS - Well, you’re discussing the heat of the moment, you’re thinking
about flak, you
needed targets in Merseburg.
RM - Yeah, yeah. I made an extra effort to shake hands, to go
to the corner if it looked
like, to give a slap on the back, etc.. I started with saying I wouldn’t drink any beer or
wine. That lasted about four or five missions. And what’s his name, the flight surgeon
came over and said I noticed that you have (laughs), and he said, “I order you!”, and so. I
wasn’t much of a drinker any how at that time. I....I....
PJS - You mentioned it in the letters.
RM - I (laughs) matured a little bit too, opened up with some of that
the things that I liked too, there were three person who had tours and had stayed over
there. They were not doing regular flying but they were available in case there was
somehow or another a shortage of persons for a position. And each one of them wanted
to fly- the way in which the base was run was if you already had flown a complete
exchange (wife commentary). Yeah, that you’ve sort of proven yourself. You’re old
enough. We don’t want to...run you beyond what is a healthy length of time. They,
however, were from broken families, all three of them, and didn’t want to go back home.
Two of them actually live over there now. They decided, actually we have a colony of
persons who some immediately had already married, and over a twenty year period we
have a colony. Now, of course, they’re dying.
PJS - Going back to the letters, especially when you’re...well, even
so when you’re flying
your missions as pilot of the Blue Hen Chick, you’re always begging for news from
home, pictures, to find out what the baseball teams are doing. Was there a strong desire
to still remain connected to that world? Was it a reality check for you?
RM - I think probably that one, I did have curiosity. I liked
baseball and I had my, the
Wilmington Baseball team at that time was head of a minor league and so on. So, some
of it was, really, a wishing I could be with you tonight or something of that
nature....I...was careful not to write anything that would be somehow or another
dangerous to any of the work we were doing.
PJS - Censoring. You were, in fact, a censor yourself.
RM - Yes. I was trying to write each member of the family.
Mother usually came first.
End of Side 1, Tape 2
-- Side 2, Tape 2 --
RM - [parents in charge of public schools for] ...boys for the state of Delaware.
PJS - Your mother is in charge of...
RM - No, but my father. But when the war came all sorts of people
throughout his staff
were pulled out (laughs) and even some of then were allowed to become members of the
armed forces, but mother became the number two person, and, in many ways, the number
one person. Keeping in touch what was going on- you know some of them get sick and
some of them run away and all that sort of stuff...
PJS - Moving along. You commented wonderfully on that. When
you flew your final
mission, was that a big sense of relief? How did you feel?
RM - Well, it was the end of the war. So even if (laughs)...I
was glad to see the end of
it. It was my second tour, and had four missions after I came back for the closure. I was
glad of course, to see the end of the war. And, oh, there were two things I enjoyed, most
coming in the week right after that. We got all the people who cooked and the people
who did this and that the ground and loaded them in our planes and flew at risky levels
(laughs), close enough so that they could see something, you know, not from 30,000 feet.
We especially did it along the Dutch coast and Belgium. That was easier because it was
closer by, but we could point out things that we knew were part of the historic thing.
And how much they appreciated it. Of course, knowing what we had done, but, it was
just joyful to do that. I guess ongoing in terms of end of the war. It just, we’re just on
top. We’re gonna have a better world. We’re not going to allow this to happen again,
you know and all, and everybody is counting the days- how they are going to tell when
we go home and when we don’t go home. Some of the members of the group were very
close to be finished for the war period, partly because of age. Others, of course, figured
I’ve got more time to spend and I hope we have time at home, but I wonder how in the
world they’re going to put us into the Pacific (laughs). You know. There was a lot of
that. I had the choice of staying with them or leaving them at them point. I didn’t really
(laughs) look- I wasn’t happy about the idea of going out to the Pacific and I figured I
had done my piece. I figured that maybe there might be something in terms of a
administrative thing for me to do as the war was being worn down. But I waited, and
came back on the Elizabeth. And Jimmy Stewart27 was right across the dorm. And there
were about ten of us in the officer category on the upper deck. And the man who had
been mayor of New York, Mayor, Mayor, Mayor (wife commentary), Governor
Lehman.28 Yes, for several number of terms, he had been Roosevelt’s special man to go
over and see how we could rebuild Europe. And he was up there on that same little floor.
Up at top, I noticed that he, every night after supper, walked up to one end of the boat
and back to the other end and then back to the cabin. And I was partly curious. I, at the
same time, had some “how can we make the world better” ideas and what, etc.. And I
just asked if I could walk with him, and I didn’t take any particular initiative, but he at
least once, on the walk up on the five or six days that we took, he would ask me
questions in terms of what I’ve been there and being that over here, and so forth. That
was a point of when I began thinking of being in politics perhaps, or into something that
would add to the quality of life and help us not to go into some of this stuff.
PJS - At the end of war, you’re letters go up to the point where you
return home, your
August 7th 1945 letter has an interesting quote. Of course, the events overlaying that day
would be the dropping of the Atomic Bomb....
RM - Yes. Yes.
PJS - ...to end the war in the Pacific. And so a quote from the
letter, and I would just
like you to elaborate upon it, discuss your thoughts. To quote: “A horrible warning and a
great promise for the future.” Discussing the atomic bomb.
RM - Yes, yes. I know the atom can do good things. I knew,
of course, that we may not
be quite ready to do the things and keep the peaceful and harness them. That’s what I
....we can still spend our times on how do we find a better way to kill each other (laughs).
PJS - So, you’re returning home and obviously you’re heading back to
RM - Oh, I came back and docked in New York Harbor.
PJS - Go through the whole thing- coming home- I want the emotions, the...
RM - Oh! Yes, well they had three bands on different sides of the boat
and they kept
playing until everybody got off. And it did take, I thought a horrendous amount of time
to get off, but that may simply be a normal impatience. I knew that I was coming in that
time, but I had no way of knowing the amount of time and contacting dad and mother.
And so I decided to go down to the dock and take a ferry over to New Jersey, and there I
got on the bus, and went down to a place where a ferry is across from Wilmington and I
telephoned and got the message to dad and mother that I would be getting down there
about such and such a time, and they could meet me and take me home.
PJS - So how was the transition from Army Air Corps life to the USA-
Delaware; Carlisle, Pennsylvania? Were you coming home a different man?
RM - Obviously. You take on stuff (laughs) that you may not even
be aware of frankly.
The first year I had, let’s see, because of some of the things I had not quite two years to
go in terms of finishing college. And again, they were allowing to go year around for the
first couple years of people coming back.
PJS - When you got back to campus to be in classes again...
RM - They did not open the fraternities at first. It took a year,
partly because some, at
least, were rented, partly because there weren’t enough to make them pay. I found
students, they were in the majority when I got back. Talking was not really open when I
got back. They sort of stood in some sense of awe, or there are new men or whatever.
And we, I found myself in some of the classes just feeling bored after what I’ve been
through. Right, so there were two or three hang outs downtown, and we didn’t go to the
two or three next to the college. We went a little further because we just felt a little bit
estranged in terms of others that are there. Now this wore off, but it show were
carrying...all during this time in the middle of the semesters, they’re allowing men
coming back to fit in whenever anything had a way of giving you credits so on and so
forth for it. They weren’t pushing us hard at all and so, but I wasn’t sure of where I was,
I thought I would go into law. And I did take advantage of taking a preliminary class
which was possible then. It was sort of wetting your feet to see if that’s what you really
wanted to do. There was one man there that was brilliant, the head of the school, what
was his name?
PJS - It’s alright. How about your relationships with the people
that did not serve in the
war versus your relationship with your brothers in arms?
RM - Well, we didn’t have much in common. There were pretty girls,
but they weren’t
how we were in terms of....
PJS - Maturity.
RM - Yeah, maturity.
PJS - Mental?
RM - Yeah. They were cute and so forth, but (laughs)...
PJS - So you got the ladies, in other words, right when you came back?
RM - We all sort of thought this is what we want. I had a girlfriend
back home. I had
written her during the war. I had fantasized a sort of reunion.
PJS - Good thing I didn’t read those letters?
RM - (laughs) And she had too, but I knew almost instantly that this
is not where I
wanted to make a home. She was going to Oberlin College, so she got out of town as the
fall came on (laughs) and etc., but we were very awkward. I was fascinated with a
Pennsylvania judge’s daughter, who was in school here at that time. It never went
anywhere, but it was the closest I came to engaging with a female who I thought I had at
least some- she did have some qualities of majority that were better than others on
PJS - Have you found yourself, be it at college or throughout the rest
of your life, have
you been able to draw upon your training experiences and your experiences and say to
yourself, “This isn’t that tough. I bombed”, you know, “Bremen airfields” or something.
RM - I made a practice of at least once in a year of printing a sermon
in terms of the war.
It may have been “x” number of years ago, but its something we need to remember and
learn from. Of course, a fair percentage of people in churches had men who had been in
the armed forces, and in at least the first three of four churches that I served. That was
really, either they were back, either they had a child or two before the war or they now
were doing and it felt like homecoming, even if I didn’t know them particularly before or
they were simply parishioners and busy within their own family and stuff like that.
PJS - But as a whole, would you say your war experience, would you say
benefited think throughout your life?
RM - Oh, I think it has. Yes, yes.
PJS - Giving you courage? Any other characteristics? How
has it built your character?
How has it helped you in other ways? Do you think that had you not gone and served....
RM - Well, what it did in terms of the clergy when I decided that law
was not really,
where I missed too much stuff. Let’s see, what was I leading into? Oh, I made a point of
seeing how many churches or many pastors, etc. are rather shallow, rather apart from
what I consider real life and issues, and needed some jobby. So I became known
somewhat for that. My second pastorate was rebuild an older church building in Ocean
City, New Jersey, not New Jersey, Ocean City.
PJS - Maryland?
RM - And I went there and in five years. I had increased the summer
attendance so that
we had six services on Sunday including mornings and evenings, etc. And then we had at
least three night during the week in which something was being done for anybody who
wanted to come in. These were different things, we brought people in, especially from
the Washington area which we knew had something to say in terms of Religion, but also
we knew were part of government and so forth. And the Washington post wrote us up,
every Sunday in the summer. You know that sort of thing. It was a thrill to share that
sort of thing.
PJS - In other words, your experiences as a leader on your plane, on
the Blue Hen Chick,
helped you become a better leader as a clergymen, father...
RM - Yes, no question. Yeah, oh, one of the things I did with
Martin Niemuhler, who
was a hero of the Dutch, you know, and he was coming over on summers to the United
States and preaching at different churches. Well, I said hey, he’s fun. We can do it
together. And so for the five or six, I’m not sure which years, that I was there, he came
over four times, and the last time he came and preached. He brought his wife, and we
had a birthday party for he as part of the celebration and each time he came we had
standing room only in terms of the church because he had a name, of course, already, to
himself. And because a lot people that were holidaying in Ocean City were ex-soldiers
of one kind or another and were now getting into their family life and enjoying the beach
PJS - I think I want to glean a little bit more from this disjuncture
and your return and
your return to campus. That you could not...maybe others could not relate to you, you
could not relate to them, your treatment....
RM - Yeah, The first year back, it got up to about thirty-seven or so
persons who were
there almost every night. I don’t think I was there every night.
PJS - “There” being - ?
RM - I forgot the name.
PJS - The coffee shop?
RM - No, no, no. We passed that. That was baby stuff (laughs).
PJS - The bar?
RM - Yeah, we went up to the center of town and turned left and there
were a couple
places there and actually enough so we could crowd two or three on a night, on a good
night and so forth. It was healthy. If somebody had been to Hawaii or someone had been
to etc.. We had stories to tell. We were interested in what the others had been doing and
how they had done it. And we just needed to....talk.
PJS - How about the relationship with your family? How did that come together?
RM - Dad and mother had been solid with me all the way. In coming
back, I was
primary in any decisions. They recognized me. That isn’t to say they didn’t ask
questions or didn’t make suggestions of their own and so forth.
PJS - That’s interesting because they pretty much made up their mind
for you- made up
your mind for you, for your school choice of Dickinson, and you came back and now all
of a sudden you’re considered the adult. You’re considered a man.
RM - Yeah. Yeah.
PJS - Do you think that would have happened without a war experience
or how did that
RM - Well, certainly, I don’t see how I possibly could have without
some of the data that
goes into that period. The initial thought of law actually came from a man who attended
Dickinson with my father way back and who had talked to me when I came back about
joining his law firm, that very prestigious one in Wilmington, Delaware. And so I did try,
or test, the Dean at the time, Dean Micheler- sort of a hero around (laughs). Agreed that
I would make a good change if I went into theology school. So there was no clashing
that way, you just thought....so none of this happens fast. You won’t find yourself
standing at this point, and sometimes you say “There’s A, B, and C” but sometimes “I
think I should” and you go ahead and do it.
PJS - How about your sisters? Did they look up to you more as
“big brother the war
RM - Oh, yes, and they tease a little more (laughs), and both of them
are still alive and
one lives out in Santa Fe and one is living in Wilmington, Delaware. She is the one
who’s kept the old town. She has been a very noted singer in the church for many years.
Now she’s older and weaker, but she’s....we’ve kept close. And we’ve always checked
with each other on occasion if we thought either Dad or Mother didn’t understand
something we thought they should understand. We would sort of whisper together and
PJS - Before I ask you my final question, is there anything else you
would like to
comment on as for your return to Dickinson?
RM - I see that it is, how should I put it?
PJS - I mean, after the war, in the 40s.
RM - Oh, back in the 40s. It was fine (wife commentary).
Well, some of them were,
yes. Well, there were a couple in particular I thought were shallow.
PJS - Tough to get along with faculty upon your return? Were they expecting....?
RM - No. They didn’t seem to go out of their way to greet us at all.
PJS - How about the parade? I came across the Dickinsonian from
1946 when they had a
parade for all the veterans.29 There were over two-hundred on campus. Did you take
part in the parade? Do you recall?
RM - I think I did.
PJS - In March?
RM - Yeah, I think I did.
PJS - Did you ever write any articles for the paper? They did
have a little section each
time in the paper, that upon return for the veterans, called “Strictly G.I.”
RM - When I came back, there was a half a dozen times I think I wrote something.
PJS - For the paper?
RM - For the paper. It wasn’t anything sensational, and I don’t
have any copy of it, so
I...it was sort of...it was trying to place myself in terms of being back.
PJS - Find your niche.
RM - Yeah, in one way or another.
PJS - At the same time taking an active role in helping others adjust.
RM - Yeah.
PJS - So the final question is: So often in looking in the annals
of history and World
War II, and at least from America’s standpoint, they call it the “Good War.” Was it a
RM - It was a good war in its basic result. It was not a good
war in saying that everybody
behaved well, or, or....
PJS - When you say “behaved well”, do you mean as far as war crimes?
RM - Well, or, a....
PJS - Off duty?
RM - Of being open, social, and connected with contributing....let’s
see, how should I
put it....I went to law school for a time. I decided that definitely was not for me. It may
have been part the faculty. It was entirely stuffy (wife commentary).
PJS - The question was, was it a “good” war? You were making some
Pause and reflect.
SOM - It’s okay.
RM - Yeah, I lost myself on that.
SOM - Why don’t you repeat the question?
PJS - So often people look back in history and they refer to World War
II, at least from
an American standpoint, as the “Good War.” I asked you, do you feel it was the “Good
RM - Yes, I felt it was a good war, and I felt we kept up with doing
things nationally to
help where war had been, just so much stuff in Europe, and obviously it was out there in
Asia, out in Japan also, in terms of being battered and torn....I...one of the things that
happened was the people started coming back after the war to college over approximately
a three year period of getting out of different parts of the service. And so when I got back
here in Fall of ‘45, I found fewer people that I knew than I thought I would, but there
wasn’t a week over the next two years that we didn’t have somebody coming back and
opening and enlarging the student body and so forth.
PJS - So what made it “good” for you? What made it a “good war”
talked on a larger scale...
RM - The good war is I helped to clean up a mess - to put it (laughs)
rather blunt. I’d do
it again. I don’t think there’s anything I did- would regret in terms of it. I kept my good
senses and found that the officers that I had never were like the General that went out.
PJS - Doolittle?
RM - No, no. Doolittle was a choice person.
SOM - General MacArthur.
RLM - Yeah, MacArthur. None of them I knew were like MacArthur
commentary).30 Oh, yes, that’s true (laughs). There’s no question about that. Growing
up I had a little radio I kept by my bed, whether it be at home or at college. And the late
news at night was through Edwin R. Murrow- was doing a marvelous job of knowing
what was going on around the world and some of the lies. And so I knew this- wasn’t old
enough to enlist. I guess, perhaps, was not sure enough about myself anyhow. And 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....I didn’t really know exactly what I was getting into, and
they were not ready at the beginning to have huge numbers of college students and the
government wasn’t ready for training facilities and so on and so forth (wife commentary).
Oh yes, the crew, I think, couldn’t ask for anything better. I think it was natural we just
PJS - Would you say in the end you fought more for the guys next to
you than the grand
RM - Oh, yes. The only thing that I could do was to tackle what
was in front me or
somebody put in front of me. Sometimes I would ad hoc something....but, yes, I have no
regrets whatsoever that I got involved. Yeah, none at all.
PJS - Thank you, Mr. Minker. Were you aware we were recording this conversation?
RM - (laughs) I understand. My stuttering here or there is a problem.
PJS - This concludes the interview with Captain Ralph L. Minker Jr.
26th February 2000.
This is Skip Stevenson signing off from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Dickinson College.
*where “(wife commentary)” is denoted on the transcript, Mrs. O’Conner-Minker
was giving verbal
assistance to Captain Minker. Her comments are not fully audible on the tape, and thus she can not be
** where “....” are given, there was either an interruption in speech
or a long verbal pause
2) This is an obvious reference to The Great Depression (1929 - 1941).
3) In 1939 the United States had the thirty-fifth largest Army in the world (Michael C. C. Adams, The Best War Ever, 76.) The day Germany invaded Poland, 1 Sep 39, the U.S. Army had 187,893 men in its regular Army and 199,491 in its National Guard. On 16 October 1941 the Selective Service Act was enforced and 950,000 men had been enlisted by December of 1941. During the course of the war, the draft would provide 10,110,104 inductions for all services (Jessup and Ketz (eds.), “Mobilization and Demobilization of Manpower: World War II and its Aftermath,” Encyclopedia of the American Military, 1880-1882).
4) The driving distance between Wilmington and Carlisle is 120 miles.
5) The policy of not allowing freshmen to live in a fraternity still continues at Dickinson today. In fact, Dickinsonians may not pledge to a brotherhood until their sophomore year.
6) Between 1940 and 1943, the actual record of the football team was a combined 10-19-2, while the basketball team posted a 28-25 mark during that same time span (Dickinson College, Microcosm 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943).
7) The actual losses at Pearl Harbor were as follows: 2,500 servicemen, 200 aircraft, 5 battleships, and 3 other ships. 8 more vessels suffered battle damage (Maslowski and Millet, For the Common Defense, 421).
8) The dates of Mr. Minker’s “accelerated” sophomore school schedule were as follows: 22 June to 12 Sep 1942 and 24 September 1942 to 21 January 1943. (Dickinson College, Dickinson Bulletin 1942, 7).
9) Lindbergh, Charles Augustus (1902-1974), American aviator, engineer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, who was the first person to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic. ("Lindbergh, Charles Augustus," Microsoft (R) Encarta ‘95,Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation)
10) Draft evasion stood at 5% in the United States for World War II. (Adams, The Best War Ever, 77.)
11) This is a reference by Mr. Minker to the 32nd Aviation Air Cadets Training Unit which was established at Dickinson on 28 February 1943. The program had approximately 500 cadets in it and occupied Conway Hall and other various campus buildings. (Dickinson College, Microcosm 1943, 162-163).
12) Actually, in February of 1943, there was a send-off for 44 Army Reservists departing for Camp Lee, VA (Dickinson College, Microcosm 1943, 162).
13) Stevenson’s assessment is a bit inaccurate, though by the middle of the war when Minker was in training, there were hardly ever any statements. The Dickinsonian that was published closest to the day of Pearl Harbor, 11 December 1941, had the following cover stories: “President Corson urges cooperation of students in national emergency”; “Thespians present play Dec. 15, 16”; “Carlisle Defense Council Sponsors Mock Air Raid in Community on Sunday” (Dickinson College, Dickinsonian, 11 Dec 1941). However, it should be noted that Ralph Minker was only noted one time in the Dickinsonian for his service. They gave him a notation for having received his wings at Pecos, Texas (“Service Jottings,” Dickinsonian, 27 April 1944, p. 4).
14) “Coach” Richard
MacAndrews was a physical training instructor at Dickinson. Physical
Fitness classes became a Dickinson class requirement (“Dickinson College
and the War,” Dickinson College, Dickinson College Bullentin 1942,
Ralph arrived at Lincoln, Nebraska in late March of 1943 and slept in a newly constructed library.
15) A possible reference to the caverns of Carlsbad, New Mexico to which R.L. Minker makes reference during his Advanced Flying Course at Roswell, New Mexico. (Letters, Ralph L. Minker Jr. to Bernice Minker, 3 April 1944.)
16) Mr. Minker arrived in Santa Ana, California on 23 June 1943 (Letters, Ralph L. Minker Jr. to Ralph Minker Sr., 24 June 1943). He departed for Thunderbird Field II, Phoenix, Arixona on 30 August 1943 (Letters, Ralph L. Minker Jr. to 31 August 1943).
17) The model name of this plane was the BT-13. Air cadets logged 70 hours in this 450 horse power engine plane during the Basic Flying Course and gave it the nickname of the “Vultee Vibrator.” (Doyle Shields, History: 447th Bomb Group, 13.)
18) Minker was also the youngest pilot in the 447th bomb group, 8th Air Force to complete his combat tour of 35 missions, having done so at the age of 20 years, 8 months, 10 days (Blue Hen Chick Crew Chief Jim Shannon’s Flight Log).
is making reference to Minker’s first mission as the head pilot which was
his fourth overall mission.
Minker was 5’9” and weighed in at 146 pounds on 19 June 1944 (Letters, Ralph L. Minker Jr. to Edna Jones Minker, 19 June 1944).
20) The incident that Ralph is referring to is his 32nd mission which was to Wesel, Germany to destroy a rail bridge. His bombardier was wounded badly in the arm and needed a tourniquet to stop the bleeding (Blue Hen Chick Crew Chief Jim Shannon’s Flight Log).
21) The Battle of the Bulge, which was the last notable German counteroffensive, lasted from 16 Dec to 16 Jan (“Battle of the Bulge,” Columbia Encylopedia, 1993); however, due to inclement weather the Eighth Air Force’s operations were halted until 24 December 1944 (Shields, History: 447th Bomb Group, page).
22) Minker’s bombardier John Rosiala Jr.was from Sharon, PA, and his radio operator Olaf Larsen was from Pittsburgh, PA. (Letter, Ralph L. Minker Jr. to Edna Jones Minker, 4 January 1945.)
23) Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken broke New York Yankee Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,131 consecutive games played on 6 September 1995 (Shirley Povich, “2nd to Ruth, 2nd to Ripken,” Washington Post, 6 Sep 95).
24) Merseburg was feared by a majority of the men in the Eighth Air Force as one of the most dangerous sorties to fly due to the heavy amounts of flak the Germans threw at the American bombers (Gerald Astor, The Mighty Eighth, 365).
25) Famous actor Jimmy Stewart flew 20 combat missions in the European Theatre in World War II, and became a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserves by 1968 (“Hollywood legend Jimmy Stewart dead at 89,” CNN.com: Showbiz story page, <http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/9707/02/stewart.obit.cnn/> 2 July 1997).
26) Herbert Henry Lehman was govenor of New York from 1932-1942. He was appointed director of the United nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in 1943 (“Lehman, H. H.,” Columbia Encyclopedia, 1993.)
27) This article is actually only requesting a parade for the 200 veterans who the author felt deserved special recognition from the school and community (“Strictly G.I.”, Dickinsonian, 28 March 1946, p. 4).
28) Ralph is
referring to General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was dismissed from
his command in the Korean War for having public disputes with President
Harry Truman concerning full military control of strategy (“MacArthur,
Douglas”, Microsoft Encarta ‘95). Perhaps Ralph is calling
MacArthur arrogant and/or stubborn.