Monday marks the 67th anniversary of D-Day, so look for my story on World War II paratrooper Ralph H. Mann in The Morning Call and on its website, www.mcall.com.
Ralph was a sergeant in Headquarters Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. He was 21 when he jumped
into Normandy in the early morning darkness of June 6, 1944. He’s 88 now and still living in the town he grew up in, Coopersburg.
Years ago, Ralph wrote a book about his experiences for his family at the urging of his sister Fern Mann, former president of the teachers union in the Allentown School District. It was Fern who got in touch with me in May 2010 when I ran a query in the newspaper in search of Lehigh Valley D-Day vets. She sent me Ralph’s book, A Red Devil from Coopersburg, Pa., on a CD. (The soldiers in the 508th PIR were nicknamed the Red Devils.)
My search for D-Day vets also turned up E. Duncan Cameron, who hit Omaha Beach as a private in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. Duncan’s story became the D-Day anniversary piece that year for my series, War Stories: In Their Own Words. I made up my mind at the time to do Ralph’s story in 2011.
He made it easy for me. The CD has a great amount of detail, plus maps, his Army records, letters he wrote and received, and photos, including many that he took with a Kodak camera he carried across Europe. He covers all
of his training and combat from D-Day until an accidental shooting in January
1945, during the Battle of the Bulge, put him out of the war. He goes on to write about being hospitalized with a bullet wound in Paris and England, rejoining his regiment at the end of the war against Germany and going home.
What he wrote became the backbone of the story. I could use it to jog his memory and support his oral account.
I visited Ralph three days in May at his home, and we went over his experiences for hours with my digital recorder running. On the last day, Morning Call photographer Monica Cabrera shot video of him, a re-interview that made the story richer. With so much material, I narrowed the scope of my story to Ralph’s experiences on the one day, D-Day. Then I added several paragraphs about the day he was wounded, because the circumstances were so bizarre.
Ralph will be among the D-Day vets who will be honored Monday in Nazareth
Boro Park at the annual picnic put on by the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. I’ll be there to applaud him and the others.