February 29, 2012
Ralph Richner’s work experience in an airplane factory helped him keep B-26s in the air during World War II.
He was drafted into the Army Air Corps on Dec. 30, 1942. After he went to basic training in Florida, the corps decided he was best suited for reclamation and repair of planes. He learned how to repair the skin of the B-26. This was a medium bomber that had a crew of eight men.
He was married when he got the call to serve. His son was born while he was in training, so his wife traveled to Florida so Richner could see him before he was shipped out.
He was sent overseas to England by ship. Though he didn’t get seasick, he recalls several men who did while they waited in line to get a meal.
Richner spent most of his service in France. His crew of a dozen men not only worked at the base, but were also sent on-scene. They went wherever a downed plane was.
He repaired the sheet metal on the outside, while other crew members worked on the motors. Their goal was to fix the plane as quickly as possible.
“Once in a while one (a plane) would go down some place, we’d have to go and either repair it or tear it apart and use the parts,” he said.
Richner said one of the scary parts was they didn’t have much protection on the ground.
“We didn’t have anybody in the base there that would patrol to keep the fliers away,” he said.
However, a group would clear the area before his crew arrived. The only weapons the men had were rifles.
“You had to do whatever it took,” he said. “The only thing you worried about was making sure they could fly.”
For Richner, the hardest part was watching the reaction of the pilots when they returned with their shot-up plane.
“Sometimes when they’d come back to the base, they’d crack up,” he said.
Though they were a ways from the Battle of the Bulge, they did receive word they might have to leave at a moment’s notice.
“That’s when we thought we weren’t going to win the war,” Richner said with tears in his eyes. “Patton, he broke through, so that made all the difference.” He credits Gen. Patton for saving his life.
Richner feels like his work made a difference in winning the war, but it was minor in comparison to others.
He was discharged as a sergeant on Nov. 11, 1945. After the service, he worked for the railroad for a little while. Then he started working for Rural Electric, helping to get electricity to rural areas. He worked in both the engineering and the construction part of the operation.
He moved around Missouri and worked in several towns including Fulton, Licking and Poplar Bluff. He lived in Bolivar, until he became a resident of the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg.
He has a son and two daughters.