Ralph H. Wandrey
49th Fighter Group (49th FG), 9th Fighter Squadron (9th FS)
In memory: Ralph H. Wandrey passed away June 25, 2020 at age 98.
Ralph Henry Wandrey was born November 15, 1921 in Mason City, Iowa. He graduated from Mason City High School in 1939. Next, he attended two years of college at North Iowa Community College graduating in 1941.
On January 24, 1942 enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) at Fort Des Moines as an aviation cadet with serial number 17042851. During August 1942 he earned his wings and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O-729389. In December 1942 sent overseas to Australia.
Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 49th Fighter Group (49th FG), 9th Fighter Squadron (9th FS) "The Flying Knights" as a fighter pilot flying the P-38 Lightning and was promoted to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. He was assigned P-38 Lightning Squadron Number 74 that he flew on his early missions until it crashed. In early 1944 he was promoted to the rank of Captain and his squadron converted to the P-47D Thunderbolt. In New Guinea, he often flew combat missions with fellow pilots including: Richard I. Bong, Carl G. Planck, Jr. and John G. O'Neill. He also flew a few missions with Charles Lindbergh. During his 20 months overseas, Wandrey flew a total of 191 combat missions and was credited with six aerial victories making him an "ace". Later in 1944 he was promoted to rank of Major.
Aerial Victory Claims and Missions
Wandrey was officially credited with six aerial victories between July 23, 1943 to March 13, 1944. He also claimed several damaged planes.
||Notes on claim
||First aerial victory claim head on firing at point blank range
|| Ki-43 Oscar
||Second aerial victory claim.
||Third aerial victory claim. Also claimed a fighter as heavily damaged.
||Fourth aerial victory claim, hit turning, smoking and headed down.
||Fifth aerial victory claim, became an "ace".
||Sixth aerial victory claim rolled over and fell into the sea.
July 23, 1943 – First Aerial Victory
On July 23, 1943 in the morning took off from Horanda Airfield (Horanda 4) as part of "Yellow Flight" on a mission to escort B-26 Marauders from the 22nd Bomb Group on a bombing mission against Salamaua. At 10:00am spotted a formation of aircraft approaching from the north and intercepted Ki-61 Tonys from the 68th Sentai. Turing into the enemy formation, Wandrey was flying at the tail end switched to turn in the opposite direction and encountered a Ki-61 Tony head on and fired at point blank range then rolled over and observed it disappear into the overcast and was sure it was mortally hit. Afterwards, credited with his first aerial victory claim.
July 28, 1943 – Second Aerial Victory
On July 28, 1943 in the early morning took off from Horanda Airfield (Horanda 4) as part of "Green Flight" one of ten P-38s led by Major Wood flying as close escorts for B-25 Mitchells from the 3rd Bombardment Group (3rd BG) on a bombing mission against Cape Glouchester. Also escorting were a dozen P-38s from the 39th Fighter Squadron. Over the target area, B-25s attacked several ships and targets near Cape Glouchester Airfield for roughly thirty minutes until enemy planes were spotted approaching from the east. After releasing their drop tanks, the P-38s engaged a large formation of Ki-43 Oscars and attacked at 8,000'. During four hit and run firing passes, Wandrey claimed a fighter shot down that was later credited as his second aerial victory claim.
October 8, 1943 – Survived Crash at Horanda
On October 8, 1943 in the late afternoon took off from Horanda Airfield (Horanda 4) piloting P-38 Number 74 on a test hop after being overhauled. Shortly after take off at an altitude of only 20', both engines failed and the plane settled on the landing gear at 120 mph and just missed parked B-26 Maruaders from the 22nd Bomb Group then passed over a drainage ditch sheering off the the landing gear and was flung airborne briefly before crashing into a grassy area beyond the dispersal area at the eastern end of the runway and caused a cloud of dust and smoke. Luckily, Wandrey was unhurt and able to exit the cockpit and run away before fuel fumes ignited and burned the plane. Upset about the crash, he began walking back towards base and hailed a jeep and returned to the the officers club and entered as fellow pilots were toasting him assuming he had been killed and had already divided some of his possessions, with Richard I. Bong claiming his leather jacket and Paul Yeager his Australian flying boots! After apologies, the gathering turned into a celebration to welcome him.
October 8, 1943 – Third Aerial Victory
On October 17, 1943 took off from Horanda Airfield (Dobodura No. 4) flying as wingman for P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 pilot John G. O'Neill leading "Red Flight" as part of a dozen P-38s from the 9th FS on a mission to intercept Japanese fighters and approached Oro Bay. Vectored by the ground controller, the formation made a wide left turn while climbing to 25,000' and flew towards Buna. A formation of enemy planes was spotted identified as Ki-43 Oscars and Ki-61 Tonys. The P-38s made a head on pass led by "Green Flight" followed by "Red Flight". Together, O'Neill and Wandrey attacked a pair of fighters turning and claimed both shot down with front quarter deflection shots. Afterwards, the pair turned into other enemy fighters and Wandrey claimed another as heavily damaged before they disengaged.
October 24, 1943 – Fourth Aerial Victory
On October 24, 1943 before dawn off from Horanda Airfield (Dobodura No. 4) flying to Kiriwina Airfield to stage and refuel then took off again on a mission against Tobera Airfield south of Rabaul flying close escort for B-25 Mitchells from the 3rd Bomb Group (3rd BG). Wandrey was flying as element leader with element wingman Lt. Del Moore in "Green Flight" lead by P-38G "Beautiful Lass" 43-2204 pilot John G. O'Neill with wingman 2nd Lt. John McLean. Reaching the coast of New Britain, the formation passing over Jacquinot Bay then over the mouth of the Warongoi River turned northwest. Inbound, "Green Flight" was flying at 6,000' in the rear of the formation. Over the target area, spotted ten Zeros and made an attack from the rear quarter and made several firing passes among clouds above Tobera Airfield and Wandrey and Del Moore claimed several as damaged. Finally, a pair of Zeros approached Wandrey and Moore head-on then broke off and both P-38 pilots opened fire hitting both inside a turn and observed them smoking and falling towards the jungle. Afterwards, Wandrey was credited with his fourth aerial victory claim.
October 29, 1943 – Fifth Aerial Victory "Ace"
On October 29, 1943 took off from Kiriwina Airfield on a mission to escort B-24 Liberators over Rabaul. Over the Gazelle Peninsula the P-38s intercepted enemy fighters. During the dog fight, Wandrey claimed one Zero shot down and returned to land safely at Kiriwina Airfield and later that evening flew back to Horanda Airfield (Horanda 4). Afterwards, Wandrey was credited with his fifth aerial victory claim and became an "ace".
November 7, 1943 – No Interception Over Rabaul
On November 7, 1943 took off from Kiriwinia Airfield flying as wingman for Richard I. Bong escorting B-24s over Rabual. Over Simpson Harbor, no enemy planes were spotted so the P-38s flew between the peaks of Mother (Mount Kombiu) and Daughter volcanoes then made a low pass over the Malaguna Road the main street in Rabual and claimed to observe vehicles pulling off the road to take cover before pulling up with anti-aircraft fire busting behind them. Afterwards, the formation returned without any interception.
November 1943 Conversion to P-47 Thunderbolt
During November 1943, the squadron converted to P-47D Thunderbolts due to a shortage of P-38 Lightnings. Wandrey was assigned his own P-47D Thunderbolt with his name and victory scoreboard. Like many pilots in the squadron, he considered it inferior.
December 10, 1943 – Duck Mission
On December 10, 1943 at 7:40am Wandrey took off from Gusap Airfield piloting a P-47D Thunderbolt on a patrol mission. Aboard was the 9th Fighter Squadron mascot a white duck wrapped in a sheet under the seat. The formation was alerted by ground controllers of approaching enemy fighters and prepared to intercept. Wandrey discovered his guns failed to charge and the duck had wriggled free and was flying around the cockpit. During the air combat, he was forced to make feint attacks without any working guns as the terrified duck flew in the cockpit shedding feathers and droppings. Despite these challenges, he was able to land safely cursing his bad luck with both the mascot and guns.
March 13, 1944 – Sixth Aerial Victory
On March 13, 1944 took off piloting P-47D Thunderbolt leading a formation of sixteen P-47Ds over Wewak.
At 11:00am at 16,000' over the target, the Thunderbolts spotted Ki-43 Oscars overhead. Wandrey ordered the formation to release their drop tanks and climb to intercept. Although the enemy fighters entered clouds, he managed to fire a long burst into the Oscar at the rear of the formation causing it to roll over and fell into the sea. Afterwards, Wandrey was credited with his sixth aerial victory claim, his last victory of World War II. He was one of only six pilots from the squadron to claim an aerial victory in the Thunderbolt.
April 16, 1944 – Guide on "Black Sunday"
On April 16, 1944 took off from Gusap Airfield piloting a P-38H Lightning along with P-38 pilot Gerry Johnson on a mission to help guide U.S. aircraft down the Ramu Valley. At take off, the weather was poor with several cloud banks and rain storms with spaces between them with a ceiling about 5,000' and gradually lowered. Roughly 25 minutes into their flight, the they saw a group of planes circling in a pocket of limited visibility and were able to reach them on radio and told them to follow and Wandrey led them out of the bad weather to safety while Johnson continued searching for other stragglers. Afterwards, the mission was dubbed "Black
Sunday" for the number of aircraft lost.
By May 1944, the squadron fully converted back to the P-38 Lightning. In September 1944 Wandrey was sent back to the United States for rest and recuperation.
While recovering in VA Hospitals, he wrote his memoirs, Fighter Pilot (1950) that were later reprinted in later reprinted in 1974 by Carlton Press Inc, 1979 published by Hearthstone Books and 2006 as a self-published spiral bound copy. He was active in scouting and an active in the Lutheran Church.
In May 2015, Wandrey received the Congressional Gold Medal honoring the American Fighter Aces in a ceremony in Washington D.C. during May 2015.
Wandrey passed away on June 25, 2020 at age 98 at Maplewood Assisted Living in Hayden, Idaho. On July 25, 2020 he was buried with military honors at Elmwood Cemetery in Mason City, Iowa in the family plot.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ralph H. Wandrey
USAF Historical Study No. 85 USAF Credits For The Destruction of Enemy Aircraft, World War II Alphabetical: Wandrey, Ralph H. page 195 (PDF page 202)
Fighter Pilot (1950/2006) by
Ralph H. Wandrey
Protect & Avenge (1995) pages 175-176 (July 23, 1943 first victory), 178 (July 28, 1943 second victory), 196-197 (October 8, 1943 crash), 203-204 (October 17, 1943 mission and victory), 206-208 (October 24, 1943 mission and victory), 210-211 (October 29, 1943) 214 (November 7, 1943), 222-223 (December 10, 1943), 238-239 (March 13, 1944 victory), 240 (P-47 photo), 245, 254, 359 (index Wandrey)
Black Sunday (2000) by Michael Claringbould pages 59, 116 (index Wandry)
Yates Funeral Home - Ralph H. Wandrey November 15, 1921 - June 25, 2020
Ralph H. Wandrey passed away peacefully on June 25, 2020 at Maplewood Assisted Living in Hayden, Idaho. He was born in Mason City, Iowa on November 15, 1921. He graduated from Mason City High School in 1939 and from North Iowa Community College in 1941. He was sworn into the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 20, 1941 and graduated from the Army Air Corps flying school in August of 1942. He was sent to the South Pacific in December of 1942 where he served for 20 months flying 191 combat missions, many with the American Ace of Aces, Richard Bong, and a few with Charles Lindbergh who served briefly as an advisor. Ralph attained the ranking of Major and became an “Ace” scoring 6 confirmed victories and many probables. While recovering in VA Hospitals, he wrote and published a book, “Fighter Pilot”, a memoir of his activities during WWII. He received the Congressional Gold Medal honoring the American Fighter Aces in a ceremony in Washington D.C. in May of 2015.
After returning from the war, Ralph was very active in scouting, leading explorer post 8 and scoutmaster of troops 2 and 116 in Mason City. For years of service he was awarded scouting’s Silver Beaver Award and The Lamb Award. He was active in the Lutheran Church serving in many capacities in Mason City’s St. James Lutheran Church, then in Cottonwood, Arizona at Lutheran Churches, ending at Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church. He moved to Idaho his last few years and was a member of Peace Lutheran Church. He will be laid to rest in a family graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery in Mason City, Iowa.
Ralph was preceded in death by his wife Verla, in 2002 after 58 years of marriage and one son, Gary Wandrey, of Cape Coral, Florida. He is survived by one son Kurt Wandrey and wife Diann, of Kerrville TX; daughter Connie Shaffer and husband Cary, of Appolo Beach, Florida; daughter-in-law, Mary Wandrey, of Cape Coral, Florida; 7 grandchildren; and 9 great-grandchildren."
FindAGrave - Ralph Henry Wandrey (photo)
Globe Gazette "Ralph Wandrey's wartime heroics live on" by Jerry Smith November 8, 2020
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