Black Jack's Last Mission

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Ralph K. De Loach

Ralph K. De Loach was born in 1918 in Georgia and grew up in Saint Petersburg, Florida. He completed two years of college, was single and listed his profession as an actor before he joined the military.

On August 18, 1941 he enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet with serial number 14052305. He attended flight school, earned his wings, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant with serial number O-440981 and was sent overseas to the South West Pacific Area (SWPA).

Assigned to the 5th Air Force (5th AF), 43rd Bombardment Group (43rd BG), 63rd Bomb Squadron (63rd BS) as a co-pilot on Lieutenant Herbert Derr’s crew, usually flying B-17F "Tuffy" 41-24574.

He flew his first mission as pilot with his own crew on June 10, 1943 aboard B-17F "The Mustang" 41-24554.

On July 11, 1943 he took off piloting B-17F "Black Jack / The Joker's Wild" 41-24521 on a bombing mission against Rabaul. Returning, the bomber was caught in a violent storm and ditched into the sea off Cape Vogel. Afterward, the crew was rescued by a Seagull and PT Boat then returned to duty.

After the July 11, 1943 ditching of "Black Jack", he was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. De Loach resumed flying on August 15, 1943 in B-17E 41-2665. He flew seven more B-17 missions before a final weather reconnaissance in "Tuffy" on September 6, 1943.

Returning to civilian life, Ralph continued to live larger than life: In 1956 he became part of one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history as a “Marlboro Man”, appearing nationwide in Time, LIFE, Sports Illustrated, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker. He made movies in Mexico and spoke of flying in a Mi-25 Hind with Daniel Ortega as if it was an everyday occurrence.

In 1986, he traveled to Papua New Guinea and his journey back to Cape Vogel and to see his former B-17 is documented in "Black Jack's Last Mission" by Steve Birdsall. His photograph appears in National Geographic Vol. 173, No. 4 – April 1988.

De Loach passed away on September 22, 2007 in California.

NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - Ralph K. De Loach
FindAGrave - Ralph K De Loach (photos)



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