‘Part of it all’ - Killed in World War II, Ralph Haldiman is remembered through letters and memories
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,” wrote British poet Laurence Binyon in his poem “For the Fallen.” He added, “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.”
Such a spirit of remembrance has for years inspired three brothers –Don, Paul and David Jungmeyer—to never let fade the memory of the sacrifice of their uncle, who was killed in action during his service in World War II.
Ralph Lehman Haldiman was born November 17, 1923, on a farm near Sandy Hook in an area colloquially referred to as “Haldiman Valley.” The youngest of six siblings, he attended school for several years at nearby Prairie Home before transferring to Jamestown High School for his senior year.
“He graduated from high school in May of 1942 and was vice-president of his class,” said Paul Jungmeyer. “He and his family were also members of Grace Methodist Church in Jamestown.”
Since he had an older sister living in Kansas City, Haldiman moved there to work for the Hall Brothers, which later became known as Hallmark. However, the young man soon received his draft notice, underwent his induction into the military and was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for in-processing in November 1942.
“We have all of the letters that he wrote to my mother (his sister) and also to his parents,” said David Jungmeyer. “These really provide us with a lot of insight into many of his experiences during the war.”
Assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces, Haldiman completed his initial training at Kearns Army Air Base near St. Lake City and was then placed in a path of training that would eventually land him overseas.
“I took my physical yesterday for aerial gunner and I made it o.k.,” the airman wrote to his family on November 21, 1942. “All I am waiting on now is to start my training as a gunner. I won’t get that training here at this field, so I expect to get shipped out in a week so.”
His assumptions proved correct and, on November 29, 1942, Haldiman was transferred to an airfield near Las Vegas. For the next several weeks, his letters to family describe the range of training he received in gunnery school. Then, on February 5, 1943, a short time after being promoted to sergeant, he was transferred to Buckley Field, Colorado, for additional training.
A record maintained by Haldiman notes that he continued his training at locations including Myrtle Beach and Greenville, South Carolina, the state of Washington and Grand Island, Nebraska. Through all of this, he was able to acquire proficiency as a right waist gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress. In early summer 1943, he returned home to the family farm in Missouri for a brief furlough, which became the last times his family members saw him.
“I was about four years old, I believe, but I can remember him sitting at the table with grandma and grandpa,” said his nephew, Don Jungmeyer.
The 20-year-old Missouri airman was promoted to staff sergeant on December 17, 1943, while at Wendover Army Air Base in Utah. Soon, word was received that he and his fellow bomber crew members would deploy overseas, necessitating certain preparations.
“Today I got my will made up,” wrote Haldiman to his parents on Christmas Eve of 1943. “I’ll send it along for safekeeping. I probably won’t be needing it, or you won’t, I mean.”
The following month, he boarded a troop ship and arrived in Peterborough, England, on January 25, 1944. He and the members of his aircrew flew their first bombing mission on February 22, 1944, striking targets in Germany. An engagement record maintained by the gunner reveals that as a member of the 457th Bomb Group, he successfully completed a total of nine missions aboard the B-17 they named “Silver Queen.”
In a V-Mail letter to his parents dated April 12, 1944, Haldiman remarked, “Just a few lines to let you know that I am o.k. and getting enough to eat. Yesterday I went to Poland. It was a long trip and I don’t care to do it again.”
Eight days later, April 20, 1944, Haldiman and his crew were flying a mission along the French coast to destroy V-1 flying bomb sites. The “Silver Queen” took a direct hit from enemy flak and broke in half. Only two of the crewmembers were able to parachute to safety; Haldiman was among the eight who perished in the incident.
Don Jungmeyer recalled, “Although I was quite young, I can remember standing in the front yard when an Army truck pulled up to the house and two officers came inside to inform my grandparents that Uncle Ralph had been killed.”
The body of the airman is interred in the Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium.
David Jungmeyer, who was not born until after World War II, feels that he has achieved a connection to his late uncle through the letters sent to family members during the war.
“I had grown up hearing people speak about him and the kind of person he really was,” Jungmeyer said. “Going through all of those letters really helped paint for me a picture of how tumultuous those times were and everything that was unfolding in World War II.” Concluding, he added, “And Uncle Ralph was a part of it all.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.