WW II Veterans Ralph Manley and Chuck Huber [Part_1]
KSMU is profiling local World War Two Veterans throughout September, leading up to Ken Burns' epic seven-part documentary "The War", beginning September 23rd on Ozarks Public Television. Here are the expanded interviews produced by Mike Smith, with Ralph Manley, paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division, and Chuck Huber, B-17 co-pilot, originally broadcast September 11, 2007.
Ralph Manley, like most Americans following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, felt duty bound to contribute to the war effort. In December 1942, halfway through his senior year at Springfield High School, Manley joined the U.S. Army. After basic training, parachute training and demolition-espionage school, Ralph Manley was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. In January 1944, Manley and other soldiers from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, boarded a troop ship in Boston and headed out for England. Manley says it took 12 days to get there because of the German submarine threat to the convoy he was traveling in.
In England, while Manley's physical and military training progressed, he was reminded many times that an enemy was trying to kill him. He says the Germans would bomb London nearly every night and would also launch "Buzz Bombs" into England from bases in France and Holland.
On June 5th 1944, Ralph Manley, battle ready, reported to an airport near London and learned that his first combat mission was to take place that night. The invasion of Europe, code named Operation Overlord was to take place the next morning.
A demolitionist, Manley's mission, and that of his fellow paratroopers from the 101st, was to drop behind enemy lines prior to the assault on Normandy's beaches, then capture intact or destroy railway and roadway bridges and intersections, and disrupt German communications.
Prior to departure, Manley's unit was visited by the Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Walking among the paratroopers, Eisenhower stopped in front of Ralph Manley, shoot his hand and said "You're about to embark on a great crusade, and I wish you good luck." Manley says that exchange pumped him up so much he felt like he could "take on the whole German Army by myself." But before Manley could take on the whole German Army by himself, he had to have help getting into the plane he would soon jump out of. With all the weapons, parachute and other gear strapped on to him, the 180 pound soldier weighed over 400 pounds.
As soon as Manley's plane crossed over the French coast, German anti-aircraft rounds hit the plane. Manley says the tracer rounds made it "look like the 4th of July." The aircraft, carrying 18 paratroopers, took several hits and caught fire. Manley was one of only 5 paratroopers to jump out of the plane before it crashed. Manley was to spend the next 6 weeks fighting Germans on French soil.
Ralph Manley's next mission, Operation Market Garden, would come in mid September 1944. Conceived by British General Montgomery, the plan was to drop allied paratroopers into Holland, take control of key highways and bridges, and clear the way for British armor to spearhead an attack into Germany. Manley says the armor was supposed to "be there in 48 hours, but it didn't arrive for nearly 2 weeks."
Operation Market Garden's paratroop drop, subsequent skirmishes, battles and eventual failure, was depicted in the film "A Bridge Too Far." Exploits of the 101st Airborne Division on D-Day were highlighted in the film "The Longest Day." In December 1944, Ralph Manley would take part in yet another war story Hollywood would tell..."The Battle of the Bulge."
Ralph Manley was on leave in Paris when word came to report to duty stations. When he reported to his commanders, he was sent to the Belgium city of Bastogne with orders to hold the city and its strategic crossroads. The Germans would lay siege to, and or attack the town for 10 days. Manley and his fellow paratroopers from the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions held the line even as they were short on supplies, ammunition, and proper winter clothing.
Ralph Manley came home to Springfield in November 1945. His twin brother Roland, a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, did not return. Preparing for a jump into Sicily, Roland's plane was mistaken for German, and was shot down by friendly fire.
Ralph Manley earned 2 Bronze Stars and 5 Purple Hearts during his service. Shrapnel remains in his body even today. And even to this day, Manley says he would serve again if needed. "The war did not make me bitter" he says, "It made me better, because I have such a deep appreciation for our freedoms. America stands for all those things other countries only dream of. Oh I love it, and I would fight for it again"
For KSMU's Sense of Community Series, I'm Mike Smith.