France honors combat veteran for heroism during WWII

By TAMARA BROWNING | The State Journal-Register (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 29, 2017

A local World War II veteran described by the consul general of France in Chicago as a hero has been recognized with the highest national decoration given by the French Government.

The Rev. Gerald "Jerry" Raschke, 93, was inducted Thursday as a Knight of the Legion of Honor by the Government of the French Republic for gallant service in France during World War II.

Consul General of France in Chicago Guillaume Lacroix said Raschke is a great man who "belongs to the greatest generation."

"A man who was ready to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and for our dignity," Lacroix said.
"In recognition of his heroic actions and to show his gratitude, the president of the French Republic nominated Mr. Raschke to the prestigious Legion of Honor, created by Napoleon Bonaparte, a man from Corsica, in 1802. It is the highest honor that France bestows upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for our country."

A resident of Springfield since 1997, Raschke served in combat in the European Theater during World War II as a gunner in the Army Air Corps (Air Force) with the B-26 Marauders ("The Boomerangs").

Raschke, along with his group in 1944 while still overseas, received the French military decoration Croix de Guerre avec Palme for acts of heroism involving combat with the enemy. He said his Legion of Honor recognition Thursday is the highest medal of France that can go to people like him.

"I was very excited about it," Raschke said.

On a mission

A June 7, 1943, graduate of North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, Raschke "was in uniform" June 11, 1943, serving in the Army Air Corps (Air Force). He was 18.

"I flew an airplane before I knew how to drive a car," said Raschke, whose high school friend, a pilot, taught him to fly a small Piper Cub airplane. "I wanted to go join the Air Corps, and they gave me the color-blind test, and I'm color blind. They said, 'You can't fly,' and so I said, 'OK. Then I'll wait to get drafted.'

"When I was drafted, I put field artillery first, armored division second, infantry third, so they put me in the Air Force. I was happy about that because I wanted to fly."

Raschke flew in combat in the B-26 Martin Marauder with the 320th Bomb Group, 441st Bomb Squadron, 12th Air Force, 1st Tactical Air Force, 9th Air Force.

Raschke flew his first bombing mission in 1944 from Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea that at the time belonged to Italy.

"We flew out of Sardinia, hitting Italy and France, and then our missions got to be so long. Then we moved to Corsica, so we wouldn't have so long flying, and then we went to France," Raschke said. "I loved to fly, and I was an 18-year-old kid, and that was very exciting. I admit I was scared when the antiaircraft fire came up. I curled up in my flak suit and stuff like that, but, no, I loved to fly."

During Raschke's fifth mission, he participated in the Aug. 15, 1944, Allied invasion of Southern France.

"Every airplane that we had was up that day. As we approached the French coast on the invasion, you see all kinds of ships and men pouring off and everything like that. It was a big thing," Raschke said. "I don't think we got much flak on that mission because there were so many planes up in the air defending us like that. I think it was a milk run."

'Bombs away'

In all, Raschke flew 61 missions in the European Theater. He was shot down once each in Italy, France and Germany.

"We had the best airplane you could imagine with the best pilots," Raschke said. "What happened in Italy (in 1944), which was the first one, we were over target, and it was 'bombs away,' and my bombardier said, 'Oh, Oh,' and so the bombs hung up in the bomb bay.

"I had to go back into the bomb bay to see if I could do something, and one of the bombs was cattywampus, and it was 250-pound bombs, had to shake that one loose, and then the rest of them fell, but the bomb bays were open so long that we were out of fuel, and so we made a landing in a little field north of Rome."

Sheri Ramsey said she is very proud of her father.

"He never talked about it at all when I was growing up -- about his experiences -- so I never heard any stories," Ramsey said. "Then he became unfindable when they were having reunions and stuff, and so then they found him again, and so then he started going to the reunions, and that's when I started hearing stories."


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