Legendary MAPS Tour Guide and World War II pilot Ralph Lynn passed away March 16 from complications after falling and breaking his hip. Ralph flew 32 missions as a pilot in the B-24 Liberator, including two missions on D-Day over Normandy. He flew these missions from April 5, 1944 to July 18, 1944. Sixteen of these missions were over Germany, 14 were over France, and two were over Belgium.
Ralph was born on October 26, 1919, on his grandparents farm in Mahoning County, near Canfield. Following the entry of the U.S. into World War II, he joined the Army Air Force. Though he already knew how to fly, Ralph kept that a secret and was sent for flight training near Forth Worth, Texas, then to Oklahoma for advanced training. He hoped to be assigned to the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter for flight training but was instead selected for multi-engine schooling, graduating in October, 1943.
Reporting to the 784th Bomb Squadron, 466th Bomb Group, Ralph was introduced to the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and did advanced training in New Mexico and Utah on the big four engine bomber. The unit was assigned to the 8th Air Force in England. Ralph went by way of the ocean liner Queen Mary, during which he contracted Pneumonia but was able to recover.
His first mission was in Calais, France, on April 5, 1944. On his second mission on April 11, his plane was hit by Me-109 enemy fighters and suffered extensive damage with two crewmen wounded. Falling behind, he and other pilot decided to fake going down and spun the B-24 down to 10,000 feet before they were able to pull it out of the dive, limping back home safely to England. By the time of the D-Day Invasion, Ralph had flown 19 missions over France, Germany, and Belgium. On D-Day, he flew two missions in support of the invasion. He completed 32 missions on July 18, 1944, and was then rotated home to serve as an instructor.
With the end of the war, Ralph used the GI Bill and went to college, getting his Master's degree in Kansas and doing post graduate work in Chicago. He then took a job with Scott Foreman, an educational textbook firm, where he worked until his retirement in 1985. He had thought about staying in the military but he and his future wife, Mary Ellen, talked it over and he made the decision to go into education.
Ralph came to MAPS after his wife passed away in 2006. Becoming a member of MAPS filled a void in his life after the death of his wife and he became one of the most respected and beloved members of the organization. He helped organize the MAPS Speaker Bureau and became one of the most prominent tour guides until his health forced him to cut back on his tours. Until that time, he had a tremendous stamina, and once when a group of elementary school children were complaining they were tired, he smiled and told them "I am in my 90s and if I can handle this tour so can you."
Ralph also had a tremendous amount of knowledge of aviation and many MAPS tour guides learned much from his talks to visiting groups. He was a favorite with younger audiences and took time to answer the many questions only little kids can come think of, with a gentle smile and his own brand of humor. Often times, letters would come in from school groups talking about their tour guide, but without being able to identify who it was. Inevitably, it was Ralph.
Early on in his career at MAPS, Ralph began reciting the famous World War II poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee. He did it with such passion and intonation that it brought a lump to the listeners throat, and often tears to their eyes. Ralph eventually would recite the poem from memory, and it became a tradition at MAPS to end a program with his recital of the poem.
Unfortunately, Ralph's health began to decline and he moved to be with his daughter, Cheryl, near Laurens, S.C.. It was hoped that his health would improve so that he would be able to move back to this area and again be with all his friends at MAPS. But it was not meant to be and on March 16, following a fall that broke his hip Ralph died from complications at the age of 98. To quote the end of "High Flight," Ralph has "put out his hand and touched the face of God".
Ralph Lynn was one of the greatest of "the greatest generation," a term used by Tom Brokaw to describe the veterans of World War II. His gentle manner, sense of humor, and friendship made MAPS a better place for all who knew him. In his honor, the April MAPS briefing was dedicated to Ralph and filled with comments from MAPS members about him. Ralph's funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21, at Central Presbyterian Church of Massillon, 47 2nd St NE. On Sunday, April 22 there will be a celebration of Ralph's life at MAPS at 4 p.m.
The entire MAPS family mourn the loss of this wonderful gentleman but take solace in the fact that Ralph made MAPS a better place and all MAPS members are better for having known him. May God bless you and may you rest in well deserved peace, Ralph.