Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Tribute - Don C. Rich

Don Charles Rich (Uncle Don) was born on Halloween in 1913, he was 13 years older than Grandpa Ben.  Uncle Don was 28 1/2 years old  when he entered the US Army Air Corps in April of 1942.  He received his basic training in Texas, and for the next year,  trained at airfields in San Diego, Wendover, Texas and Nebraska.  He was shipped overseas in June of 1943.

He flew in a B17, known as the Flying Fortress, and was a top turret gunner.  During August 1943, he and his crew made a safe landing at a US bomber base in England, with only one of its four engines functioning.  It was the first time this feat had been accomplished in the European theater of operations of the US army.

Two months later, on October 14th they were not so lucky.  Seventeen days before his 30th birthday, his plane was shot down.  His family received word that he had been listed as missing in action somewhere in the European area of war.

Aunt Lene (his sister) remembers being down in the fields near their home when his mother (Grandma Laura Rich) received the telegram, and hearing her anguished cries.

A month later, the family was informed via telegram that he was a prisoner of war.

In March (1944) they received a letter from him stating that the Germans were holding him as a prisoner of war in Austria, near Vienna, but that he was in good health.  His letter read as follows:

"I suppose by now you have heard that I am a prisoner of war.  We were shot down Oct. 14.  Everyone got out of the plane without being hurt.  I had a couple of burns on my arms, but they are all right now.  How is everything at home?  I surely hope you are all well.  Has it started to snow there yet?  We can only write twice a month, so don't expect too many letters.  Tell everyone hello and don't worry as I am all right".

Uncle Don never talked to us about the war, or his time in the prison camp.  Honestly I'm not sure if anyone asked him about it in any depth.  He was held in Stalag Luft 3, and later moved to Stalag B-17.  He was most likely one of the 4000 POW's in Stalag B17 who were evacuated as the war was winding down in April 1945, and who began an 18 day march of 281 miles to Braunau, Austria.

The war ended in May of 1945,  and after being held for 1 1/2 years as a prisoner of war,  Uncle Don came home to his family in Morgan in early June.
Charles Rich (Father), Don Rich, DeLore (Ben) Rich, Gail Mortenson (brother-in-law), Grant Rich, with Barry Mortenson (nephew) in front.   Circa 1945
Aunt Lene spoke of a time shortly after he arrived home, when his mother was making him some oatmeal for breakfast.  As she made it, she discovered that it had weevil in it, and she was upset and apologizing to Uncle Don as she went to throw it out.  He brushed away her apologies, and said it was just fine, and that he had eaten MUCH worse.

Uncle Don never married, but was close with his brothers and sister and their children.   He went to work at Swifts, and then later for Joe and Blair Francis on their ranch  in Woodruff as a ranch hand. He owned his home and about 80 acres in Richville.  He enjoyed farming and raising cows, and he always kept a horse in his corral.  He was a tough, gruff old guy, who didn't put up with any nonsense. Rog helped him on his farm with his horses and cows and hauling hay over the years, and we eventually bought his farm, and built our home where his used to stand.  I'm so glad our kids got to know him, and came to love him as another grandpa.  One of my favorite memories is of his interactions with Landon.  He used to say, "Come here "old man", and would grab him in a bear hug and tousle his hair.

Uncle Don developed diabetes in his later years, and since we lived closest to him I would go down and give him insulin shots every morning.  I was glad for this time with him, he never complained, and always thanked me.   Rog always checked in and visited with him daily, helping him with anything he needed.  What a great guy he was.  Uncle Don died on February 18, 1993 at the age of 79, a member of the Greatest Generation.

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