Major Ralph Cheli
U.S. Army Air Force, 5th Air Force, 38th Bombardment Group, 405th Bombardment Squadron
B-25 Mitchell Pilot
Ralph Cheli was born in San Francisco, CA. His surname is pronounced "Chell-lee".
Cheli was the Commanding Officer (C. O.) of the 405th Bombardment Squadron, 38th Bombardment Group and was based at 17 Mile Drome near Port Moresby until he was lost on August 18, 1943.
On August 18, 1943, Cheli took off from 17 Mile Drome near Port Moresby piloted B-25D 41-30117 on the first low level strafing mission against Dagua Airfield. Over the target, shot down by enemy fighters and ditched off shore. Later, Cheli later earned the Medal of Honor for his actions that mission.
|Posthumous Medal of Honor (August 18, 1943)
Citation: "For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy. While Maj. Cheli was leading his squadron in a dive to attack the heavily defended Dagua Airdrome, intercepting enemy aircraft centered their fire on his plane, causing it to burst into flames while still 2 miles from the objective. His speed would have enabled him to gain necessary altitude to parachute to safety, but this action would have resulted in his formation becoming disorganized and exposed to the enemy. Although a crash was inevitable, he courageously elected to continue leading the attack in his blazing plane. From a minimum altitude, the squadron made a devastating bombing and strafing attack on the target. The mission completed, Maj. Cheli instructed his wingman to lead the formation and crashed into the sea."
Prisoner Of War (POW)
After the ditching, he and two other crew members survived the landing. Cheli was captured by the Japanese Army and became a Prisoner Of War (POW) and was transported to Rabaul. During early march detained at Tunnel Hill POW Camp.
On March 4, 1944 executed during the Talili Bay Massacre (Tunnel Hill Massacre) and his body was buried. Towards the end of the Pacific War, to cover up the executions and war crimes, the Japanese claimed that approximately forty Allied prisoners were killed by Allied bombing during an air raid while at Talili Bay after being evacuated from Tunnel Hill POW Camp and their bodies were cremated and their ashes placed into a single box. The Japanese rehearsed a story that the prisoners were killed when an Allied bomb scored a direct hit on their shelter. This was a lie to cover up the murders.
Recovery of Remains
In September 1945 when the Allies occupied the Rabaul area, they interrogated personnel from the 6th Kempei Tai who claimed the Allied prisoners who died during the Tunnell Hill Massacre (Talili Bay Massacre) were killed by an Allied bomb and turned over the box with their cremated remains. The Allies divided the cremated ashes the Japanese claimed were those killed at Talili Bay proportionally based on the number of victims (22 Americans and 8 Australians) with 3/4 of the ashes to the Americans and 1/4 of the ashes to the Australians.
Cheli was officially declared dead on March 6, 1944. After his remains were recovered, he was buried on March 21, 1950 at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in a group burial at section 78, site 931-934. A marker at section 78 site 930 below the group burial with a gold inlaid relief of the Congressional Medal of Honor and the inscription: "Ralph Cheli Medal of Honor Maj Army Air Forces World War II Mar 6 1944"
FindAGrave - MAJ Ralph Cheli (grave photo)
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