Ralph R. Pettyjohn, B-17 Ball Turret Gunner

Ralph Pettyjohn and Earl Joswick on their 2009 trip to the U.K. to visit 8th AF sites.  (Photo: Mary Berg)
(Above) Ralph's presentation to the 8th AFHS-Mn on Nov. 20, 2002.
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Ralph Pettyjohn, Ball Turret Gunner, B-17 Flying Fortress; U.S. Army Air Forces,
Eighth Air Force, 94th Bomb Group, 410th Squadron. (Bury St. Edmunds Air Base,
East Anglia, England), European Theater, WWII Veteran. (1943-45)
Presentation date: June 16, 2010
Ralph at Thorpe Abbotts Air Base, UK Trip 2009. (The !00th BG's Airfield)
Above: Ralph at The Red Feather Club, Horham Air Base. UK Trip 2009; 8th AF Bases, East Anglia, England  (Photos: Mary Berg)
VIEW "A Trip to the UK in 2009"
(a slide show with music on You Tube
in two halves.) Earl Joswick, Ralph Pettijohn, and Mary Berg traveled to the UK to visit Eighth Air Force Sites and Memorials.
See also the webpage about the Las Vegas Gunnery School.
(Below) Ralph at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas, Las Vegas. Ralph is seated at the end of the table. March 19, 1945
(Below) Ralph is seated second from the left. Hotel Last Frontier, Las Vegas, June 10, 1945.


On Wednesday June 16, 2010, Ralph Pettyjohn was the featured speaker at the Eighth Air Force Historical Society of Minnesota. Ralph described his many experiences in WWII as an Aerial Gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress (1), and his later training as a gunner for the B-29 Superfortress (2) just before the war ended.

Pilot Training in Wisconsin & Aerial Gunnery School in Texas

Ralph Pettyjohn initially went into the Army Air Forces Enlisted Reserve Corps (3) and did his flight training with the goal of getting into gliders. He did his Civilian Pilot Training (4) at Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and at the end of it received a private pilot's license. He was then sent home until he was needed. He never did start the glider program. He was called back by the Army Air Forces and went to Aerial (or Flexible) Gunnery school at Laredo, Texas (5) and then went on to Kearney, Nebraska (6) where his B-17 crew was formed. He was the ball turret gunner. (7)

B-17 Flight to Europe

He traveled to Europe with his bomber crew via Sioux City, Iowa and then Goose Bay, Labrador (8), which he remembers for its 12 feet of snow! (9) Then they landed in Ireland. After reaching the United Kingdom, Ralph and his crew became a part of the 94th Bomb Group, (10) 410th Squadron. (11)

Missions with the 94th Bomb Group

His third mission, on April 12, 1944 was memorable because of the Messerschmitt 109‘s and Fw 190‘s. (12) They lined up five abreast in head-on attacks, and ten or eleven B-17s were lost on that mission. Ralph‘s 24th mission was on D-Day, which he remembers vividly for the size of the invasion force.(13) His 26th mission was to Lyon, France where his B-17 made 500 foot drops of supplies to the Free French.

Recrossing the Atlantic

The 99th Bomb Group (14) came home at that time,and even though he had not completed 30 missions, Ralph had a 30 day leave, so he crossed the Atlantic on that boat. When they got to Atlantic City the officers were taken back to Europe to continue flying, but not the enlisted men, like Ralph. [The 99th‘s last mission was April 26th. V-E Day was May 8th, 1945.(15)]

B-29 Gunnery School

Ralph then wanted to get into B-29s, so he went to Las Vegas to study gunnery on the B-29. They B-29 had remotely operated guns instead of a ball turret. They sent him through the gunnery routine again. At B-29 Gunnery School, Las Vegas, (16) they trained in a B-24 with B-29 equipment. They got up at 3 am and flew from 6 am to noon. After Las Vegas he went to Albuquerque, New Mexico, (17) and on July 11th he took a trip.The war ended before he could be sent to the Pacific. [V-J Day (18) was on August 14, 1945.]

Documents and Photographs

Ralph brought with him a list of missions he went on, which his bombardier had kept. He later made a copy of it for his own records. He also brought many photos of battle damage to his B-17. One showed damage to the oxygen tank just above his head when a 20 mm cannon shell passed through it and it exploded. He was clearly lucky to have been unhurt. He said he could just barely squeeze the chest parachute into the ball turret, if he put it by his side. He also had several photos of battle damage to the engines of his B-17, where they had been hit.


Ralph Pettyjohn October 8, 1920 - October 18, 2011

Ralph Pettyjohn was born at home in Talmo, Kansa on October 8, 1920. He graduated from Concordia High School (Kansas) in 1938, then attended Chillico Business College Missouri in 1939. In 1940, he took a job with Edward Katzinger Company, now known as Echo Products. In 1942, he enlisted in the Enlisted Reserve Corps, where he learned to fly. Called to active duty in January of 1943, he originally volunteered for glider school but was reassigned and trained to become a ball turret gunner. Stationed at Bury St. Edmunds in England during World Wr II, he flew as part of a B-17 crew aboard the "Dorothy D" in 28 missions over Germany, France, and Belgium. Following the war, he graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1948 with a degree in Business Administration and worked for North American Life and Casualty in Minneapolis and Canada until he retired in 1986.

Ralph R. Pettyjohn

Pettyjohn, Ralph R. Age 91, of Inver Grove Heights, died on October 18, 2011. Preceded in death by his wife, DeEtta and son, Richard. Survived by children, Bruce and Sherri (Steve) John- son; grand- children, Seth (Melissa Binde) and Shala (Ryan) Paske; great grandchildren, Stella and Braden Paske. WWII Veteran of the 8th Air Force. Ralph retired in 1986 from N.A.L.A.C. Funeral service 10:30 AM Friday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 7600 Cahill Ave., Inver Grove Heights. Visitation at church one hour prior to the service. Burial 10:45 AM Monday at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Friends may meet at the cemetery at 10:30 AM Monday, Lane #2. Memorials are preferred in lieu of flowers to the Hammer Residences of Wayzata. Arrangements with the Roberts Funeral Home 651-455-2035

Published in Star Tribune on October 19, 2011