Ralph Burbridge

The last “All-American” crewman passes February 3rd, 2013, at age 92.


IMG1aRalph Burbridge was born Feb. 19th 1920, to Ivan Burbridge and Polly Ann Bassnet Burbridge.  He was born at home.

The small town of Louisiana, Missouri was a good place to grow up.

After the death of his father when Ralph was ten years old, he and his sister Gloria were raised by his mother.   Ralph was a good student, and always an avid reader.  He was on the high school Debate team, played football, basketball, and participated in track.

At graduation, he was named Outstanding Student, presented with the Clay Stark Medal, and won a scholarship to William Jewel College in Liberty, Mo.

With much unrest and rumors in Europe, Ralph enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940 and received cadet training.  After America entered WWII in December 1941, Ralph received Advanced Bombardier training, and was in one of the first groups to complete training and graduate.  He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and got his wings.

As part of the 414th Bombardment Squadron of the 97th Heavy Bombardment Group, he flew over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico, looking for German submarines.

At age 22, he was assigned to crew on a B17 Bomber, the “Little Bill.  When he left this crew, he was sent to McCord AFB in Washington state.

After the Navy won the battle of Midway he was reassigned to crew with pilot Kendrick Bragg from Savannah GA. They left Florida to fly to England to Grafton Underwood about 70 miles north of London. There they continued their training exercises.

On Aug 17, 1942 Ralph was part of the first real mission of the European Theatre under the leadership of Paul Tibbets flying the “Red Gremlin”.  The” All American” flew on Paul’s right wing.

His first mission with 12 planes did severe damage to the Railroad Marshaling Yards in Rouen France. The Germans weren’t expecting them so all the planes returned. November 1942 the 414th moved to the African theatre. The established a base at Bleida Airfield Algiers. After flying several  missions out of Bleida,  they were moved to Biskra on the Sahara Dessert . The sandstorms there fouled up the engines so they had to be replaced. They flew to Casablanca and were there when Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill, Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt met for their Casablanca Conference.  Ralph was impressed to be within 10 feet of these important men.

At Beskra their targets were the docks at Biserte and Tunis. The German fighters would attack them as they approached the target during the raid. They would be fired on by anti-aircraft guns(flak)  and as they left the targets the fighter planes came after them again. On one occasion, as they left their target, they saw two German fighters coming along beside them.  Suddenly the fighters cut in to attack and when they fired on them, one went down, the other continued coming at them, at about 300 yards.  He began to roll over to pull down to attack; suddenly he was right there inches in front and above.  He passed over with a “swoosh” followed by a tremendous jar and a “whoomp”. Their plane began to dive.  On the intercom their pilot said, they were OK but there was a hole in IMG_0001athe rear side of the ship. They pulled up from their sharp decent. Other crews in the squadron saw that their plane was holding together so they put them in formation until they were out of enemy territory.   Kenny Bragg was able to nurse them home and landed safely. When the crew was unloaded and they closed the door the tail section fell off.

Shortly after this Eddy Cantor dedicated the song “Coming In On a Wing and a Prayer” to Kenny and the crew. The plane was repaired and flew again.

His worst combat mission occurred over Foggia, Italy.  A shell came past Ralph’s head and penetrated a box of incendiary shells. The area filled with acrid smoke and they couldn’t see. The navigator was able to throw the burning box overboard. Two of the engines were shot and smoking, so they were shut down; their shoots were on and they prepared to bail out.  When the Bombay doors were opened, they looked down and saw they were over Mt. Vesuvius and yelled to the pilot they were not jumping”.  The plane kept losing altitude, but they made it to the African Coast.

Fifty missions were required.  Ralph volunteered for two extra.  In each mission they were fired upon twice, so in all, he survived 104 fire fights.

When the war was over for him, Ralph caught a transport plane back to Belfast.  There he met Paul Tibbets and flew with him to Gander, Newfoundland.  The next time Ralph saw him, Paul had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Ralph had three weeks leave and was welcomed to his home town with a parade. He was honored with banquets and made several speeches.  At that stage of WWII, there was little good news, so after the successful raid, the crew of the “All America” were hailed as heroes.  While he was in Louisiana he married his high school sweetheart, Gail Vallandingham.

He then received orders to report to Midland, Texas Air Corps.  He was trained to teach at the bombardier school and assigned to teach at the Rattlesnake Bomber base in Peyote, TX.

Ralph was promoted to Captain and transferred to Dalhart, TX, for the balance of the war.

At the end of the war he enrolled at the Univ. of Mo. and earned two degrees, Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Journalism.  He then worked at the Quincy Herald Wig for 10 years.  He then went to work in California.  He later signed up as a fund raiser for Muscular Dystrophy and Multiple Sclerosis.  Then he moved to Seattle and went to work for the Easter Seal Society.  Finally, he worked for the VA as a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist.  He became fast friends with his co-workers there.

Ralph led an active life.  He was a member of the Magnolia Church of Christ.  With them he marched in support of racial equality and for the Women’s Equal Rights Amendment.  He was a life member of the Elks.

For years he enjoyed golfing, camping and fishing.  He belonged to the Mycological Society so he hiked the wilderness area searching for mushrooms.  He was a wonderful dancer, Latin, Folk and Square Dance.  He kept abreast of current events.  He loved to talk and was a great conversationalist.  Another hobby he pursued was wine appreciation. He became an amateur wine and beer maker and joined the Washington State Wine and Beer Makers Club.  He entered his wines in competition in the Puyallup and Washington State Fairs.  He made delicious wines and won many ribbons.

Ralph was an active member of the 97th Bomb Group Reunion Assoc.  He maintained friendships with his old comrades in arms.  They met every other year until 2006 when the last reunion was held.  The group met where there was significant connection to the Air Force and flying, at St. Louis, Mo., Omaha, Neb., Dayton, OH, Clear Water Beach, FA, Seattle, WA, Tucson, AZ. and Riverside, Ca.

Ralph enjoyed traveling all over the U.S, and Europe.  He joined the Royal Aloha Vacation Club.  The Club had many condominium units in the mainland U.S., Hawaii, Canada, Mexico and Europe.  After a visit to Chandler, AZ, he decided to purchase a condo there and began to be a regular winter visitor. He later sold the condo and purchased a house in Leisure World.IMG_0120a

As he grew older his health began to fail.  He had heart and circulation problems.  In Nov. 2011 he fell ill in Mesa, AZ and became a patient of Hospice of the Valley.   Upon his return to WA he continued his care in Evergreen Hospice.  He died at home Feb. 3, 2013.

Ralph is survived by his wife Margaret (Peggy) of Des Moines, WA son Michael of Sacramento, CA, his daughter Gaylynn Addison of Citrus Heights, CA and his son Bradley of Sacramento, CA.  Ralph had 6 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.  He had three step-children, Brad Smith of Kirkland, WA, Stuart Smith, of Renton, WA and Michelle Cave of St. Helens, Or.  He was preceded in death by his sister Gloria, who was survived by six sons.

Barton Funeral Home is responsible for services, which will not be held until late June, when the snow on Mt. Rainier has melted.  At that time a Memorial service will be at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent on June 28 2013 at 3:00 PM .  A second memorial service,  followed by a light lunch,  will be held  at the clubhouse at Huntington Park on June 29 2013 at 11:00 AM prior to departing for Paradise on Mount Rainier to disburse ashes..

Memorial contributions are requested to be directed to Hospice, the American Heart Assoc., or Disabled Veterans of America.

5 Responses to “Ralph Burbridge”

  • Lois Briscoe Kimball says:

    I was saddened to read of Ralph’s passing, but pleased that he had a long, active life. My family lived across the street from Ralph on Magnolia. My folks were Wesley and Sigrid Briscoe. Ralph & my dad played golf and mostly just chatted when passing on the street. I attended Queen Anne High School with his son Jeff.

    With loving thoughts our neighbor, friend, and gentle spirit Ralph,

    Lois Briscoe Kimball

  • Lois Briscoe Kimball says:

    I was saddened to read of Ralph’s passing, but pleased that he had a long, active life. My family lived across the street from Ralph on Magnolia. My folks were Wesley and Sigrid Briscoe. Ralph & my dad played golf and mostly just chatted when passing on the street. I attended Queen Anne High School with his son Jeff.

    With loving thoughts our neighbor, friend, and gentle spirit, Ralph.

  • Scott Fitzpatrick says:

    I was sad to hear of Ralph’s death as he was a real American Hero. I only met him a few times and he never mention his war record. I was good friends and a college roommate at Sigma Chi Fraternity of his son Jeff who preceded him in death, Ironically in a plane crash where Jeff was the flight instructor.

  • Jim Gohl says:

    My father was a WWII South Pacific Navy Veteran and sadly recently passed away in 2009. To the Burbridge family and friends, please accept my thanks for contributing to Ralph’s long and meaningful life. Please also accept for Ralph, my undying gratitude for his courage and for the countless unknown sacrifices he made for us all under fire. If anyone knows the dates of birth and passing with final resting places for other crew members G. Boyd Jr., Joe C. James and Hank Hyland I would very much appreciate it if you could post here. Live well in honor of those that fight for us.

  • Joe F. says:

    Responding to Jim Gohl message.

    Melville Guy Boyd (later became a POW)
    RIP 30 April 1966
    My father, LT Melville Guy Boyd, Jr, was the co-pilot on this mission at all of 21 years old. I grew up on his war stories, but until recently, was unaware of the photographs. On a wing and a prayer, indeed! My father survived the war. On 4 July 1943, his B17 was shot down and crashed on île D’Oléron, France. The bombardier, John Dunbar, was the only crew not killed or captured and documented everything in his book Escape Through the Pyrenees. At the end of the war, my dad was transported to the hospital at Ft. Dix, NJ and put under the care of LT Loretta M. Carney, RN, who became his wife and my mother. M. Guy Boyd passed away 30 April 1966 as a result of injuries incurred asa POW. http://www.aviation-history.com/boeing/b17tail.html

    There are many Joe C. James. If I knew where he was from, and how old he would be today would help.

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