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MAJ Ralph Cheli

MAJ Ralph Cheli

Birth
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, USA
Death 6 Mar 1944 (aged 24)
Papua New Guinea
Burial Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA
Plot Section 78, Site 930-934
Memorial ID 19379 · View Source
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World War II Medal of Honor Recipient. He received this honor in October 1943 following his aerial assault at the Japanese-held Dagua Airdrome in New Guinea two months earlier. After graduating from high school he enrolled at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In February 1940, during his junior year, he left Lehigh to enlist in the US Army Air Force as an aviation cadet. He undertook primary flying training at Tulsa, Oklahoma; basic flight training at Randolph Field (now Randolph Air Force Base, a part of Joint Base San Antonio), Texas; and multi-engine advanced training at Kelly Field (now Kelly Air Reserve Base, a part of Joint Base San Antonio), Texas. In November 1940 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to Miami, Florida as a B-17 Flying Fortress co-pilot in the 21st Reconnaissance Squadron, under the 3rd Bombardment Wing of General Headquarters Air Force. After attending the Chemical Warfare School at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, he rejoined his unit at MacDill Field (now MacDill Air Force Base), Florida, where it had been attached to the 29th Bomb Group. After the US entered World War II in December 1941 he was promoted to the rank of 1st lieutenant three months later and flew anti-submarine patrols in the Caribbean Sea as a B-17 pilot with the 43rd Bomb Squadron of the 29th Bomb Group. In June 1942 he was promoted to the rank of captain and transferred to the 38th Bomb Group at Barksdale Field (now Barksdale Air Force Base), Louisiana, where he became the operations officer of the 405th Bomb Squadron "Green Dragons." The following August he led a flight of B-25 Mitchell aircraft from Hamilton Field, California, to Australia in the first air movement of B-25s to the Southwest Pacific war zone. Two months later the 38th Bomb Group moved forward to Port Moresby in New Guinea where he became commander of the 405th Bombardier Squadron in January 1943. In March of that year he was promoted to the rank of major and during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, he led his unit in the first daylight "masthead" (low level) attack against a Japanese shipping convoy, one of the first skip bombing raids. On August 18, 1943, while leading his group of B-25 Mitchells on a low level attack of two Japanese airfields, his aircraft was hit by Japanese Oscar fighters, causing its right engine to burst into flames while still 2 miles from the target. 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. He pressed the attack despite the damage to his aircraft, and from a minimum altitude, the squadron made a devastating bombing and strafing attack on the target. He then crash-landed his aircraft bomber at sea, a little over a mile from shore. He was initially believed to be killed in the crash, but post war evidence indicates that he survived but was executed in March 1944 at the age of 24 by the Japanese while a prisoner of war on Rabaul, in New Guinea. Other than the Medal of Honor, his military awards and decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. The Arnold Air Society chapter at his alma mater Lehigh University was named in his honor. The US Air Force installation Cheli Air Force Station. near Maywood, California was named in his honor. His Medal of Honor citation reads: "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."

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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MAJ, US ARMY AIR FORCES WORLD WAR II


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 5 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 19379
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for MAJ Ralph Cheli (29 Oct 1919–6 Mar 1944), Find A Grave Memorial no. 19379, citing Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .