WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
As a member of the 491st Bombardment Group, Ralph Hoehn piloted B-24 Liberators for 35 missions over Europe in World War II. For that, he will be presented the Distinguished Flying Cross at the Air Force Materiel Command Freedom's Call Tattoo 2010 on June 25.
A Delphos, Ohio, resident, Mr. Hoehn joined the military in October 1942. He entered flying training in San Antonio and earned his wings in late 1943. He and "10,000 other Airmen" set sail from Boston to Birmingham, England, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Mr. Hoehn recalled that the ship, the New Amsterdam, was "very fast, was not escorted, and had to zig-zag across the Atlantic to avoid U-boats." He said that despite the rough seas, he never got seasick and was one of only two people who showed up for one of the meals during the five-day voyage.
Mr. Hoehn said that his first mission was, as a co-pilot, to bomb Munich. He was the pilot on all the subsequent missions, and he "bombed just about everywhere but Berlin."
Mr. Hoehn said, "We were shot at on almost every mission. Sometimes the skies would be dark with smoke from FLAK (antiaircraft fire) ahead of us and behind us. The FLAK would shake the plane. It was especially thick if we hit the same target twice -- the Germans were ready for us the second time."
Saying that he did not encounter German fighters very often, and that he did have P-51 Mustang escorts, Mr. Hoehn did see at least one German jet.
"Of course we'd never seen jets before, but they were fast. It's a good thing the Germans weren't able to produce very many," said Mr. Hoehn.
He added that a mission he was not on resulted in 17 of 27 B-24s shot down.
"That was one of the last big gasps of the fighters that Germany put in the air," Mr. Hoehn said.
After his 35 missions, Mr. Hoehn went home for 30 days, married his fiancé and then went to California where he was to train on B-29 Superfortresses to bomb Japan. As it turned out, the war ended before he got the chance, and he left the service in October 1945 and returned to Ohio.
He worked at BP Chemical in Lima, Ohio, until his retirement in 1982. Throughout much of his working life and after, Mr. Hoehn kept bees, growing from seven hives to 500 colonies. He said that in his best year, he collected 60,000 pounds of honey, which sold for five cents a pound at the time.
Asked about his fears during World War II, Mr. Hoehn replied that he prayed a lot.
"There was a chaplain who would be at the end of the runway when we were leaving on a mission, and he'd bless each plane as the pilot hit the throttle to take off."
Acknowledging that the Distinguished Flying Cross was being awarded a little late, Mr. Hoehn nonetheless looks forward to the Tattoo. He said that 90 people, including the family of his original navigator, are coming to watch the presentation.
The sixth annual Freedom's Call Tattoo kicks off June 25 with gates opening at 4 p.m. on the grounds of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Tattoo is free and open to the public. In addition to Mr. Hoehn's Distinguished Flying Cross presentation, the Tattoo will include flyovers, additional stage events and narration. This year's Tattoo theme of 'Reflections on 60 Years' will also commemorate veterans from the Korean War.
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