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Ralph Hoehn
Ralph Hoehn
Assigned: 491st Bomb Group, 852nd Squadron
Location of Service: Central Europe
Gender: male
Military Position: Pilot
From City: Delphos
From State: Ohio
Current City: Delphos
Current State: Ohio
Honored by Michael Ford

My War Stories
1941 (Courtesy Michael Ford, Delphos Herald). History records the Normandy Invasion as the pivot point in World War II. Several tri-county veterans participated in the campaign. Not all of them were infantry, slugging it out with German troops on the ground. Ralph Hoehn, 88, volunteered to serve in October 1941. He went to basic training the following February. The aviation cadet went through multiple rounds of training in the United States Army Air Force, including pilot training under Delphos resident Bob Bendele. The training was extensive and prepared him to fly B-24 bombers over Nazi-occupied France. In May 1944, Hoehn boarded a train for New England. “We took a train through Delphos and went on a boat from Boston to an air base in England. There were 10,000 airmen on the ‘New Amsterdam;’ it was the same size as the ‘Queen Elizabeth II,’ he said. Hoehn was assigned to a bomber group stationed at Metfield, England. “I was assigned to the 491st Bomb Group, 852nd Squadron. When I got there, they said we would fly 25 missions. When I had about 20 in, they said it would be 30. When I had about 25 in, they said it would be 35. It was getting toward the end of the war and we had the German Air Force whipped at that time,” he said. Of his 35 missions, the most memorable one took place just after Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. German troops on the ground were ahead in the score, so Allied air crews started hitting them from above. This included bombing troops near St. Lo. The sky over France was overcast on July 22, 1944, so orders to drop were reeled in. Some didn’t follow the change in plan. “We supposedly bombed our own troops. We were supposed to go in at 9,000; our boys were in trouble, so they decided to bomb ahead and bomb German troops. Some planes dropped their bombs and killed about 300 or 400 of our own troops. I talked to a guy from Ottoville who was on the ground; I met him in London afterward. We met by accident. He said the ground just shook down there. We kept dropping lower and lower because we couldn’t see. We finally just pulled up and didn’t drop our bombs,” he said. The Germans fought back. Hoehn said his navigator was shot down in the plane flying next to his and was taken prisoner until the end of the war. Hoehn’s aircraft was damaged, also. “My plane got shot up pretty bad and I didn’t have any navigation system to get back. We didn’t drop our bombs, so I went back across the channel toward home and I started losing oil pressure on three engines. I wanted to drop my bombs, but they said too many of our ships were in the channel. It was overcast and we had to go through 10,000 feet of clouds to get to our base. A fighter pilot said ‘you stay on my wing and I’ll take you down,’ so I did that and when I saw the ground, all I had to do was drop the throttle and put her down. That was about the scariest mission I had,” Hoehn said. In order to get reinforcements on the ground, the Army used planes without motors, called “gliders” to crash-land with troops on board. Hoehn remembers these planes being used during combat in Holland. “We had a low-level mission to supply ammunition in Holland. We went in at the tree tops and I had an engine shot out. Gliders were towed airplanes that didn’t have motors. They’d tow them in and cut them loose. They would glide in without making any noise and they were the ones that were in trouble. Fifty gliders landed in a field with about 50 troops in there. They were trapped and running out of ammunition and medical supplies, so we took them in,” he said. Hoehn also flew tactical missions to take out bridges, dams and construction area used to build U-Boats. “We dropped 2,000 pound bombs on them, he said. “We bombed anything. We were even supposed to bomb a Ford plant. We didn’t bomb it because they said they couldn’t see. I saw ‘Ford’ on it as plain as day. There were always clouds, though. A third of the time, we never saw what we were bombing,” he said. Hoehn returned to the United States just after the Battle of the Bulge. “I came home in December 1944 and was in California training to fly B-29s when the war in Europe ended. They figured they didn’t need us, so I got out,” he said. Hoehn was discharged in October 1945 and married his wife, Alice that year. The couple raised four children together. Hoehn retired from Lima’s Sohio oil refinery in 1982.