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Ralph Lee Minker

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Captain Ralph Lee Minker, USA “was 18 when he entered Army Air Cadet training on his way to becoming a B-17 bomber pilot. He exchanged letters with his parents and two sisters throughout the war. After completing combat in 1945, he returned to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1947. Ordained a Methodist Minister in 1952, Reverend Minker served eight churches in the Delaware and Maryland Conference of the United Methodist Church before retiring in 1990. In 2005 Ralph Minker was inducted into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1995, Rev. Minker was active in planning the book and proud when it was published. He passed away from complications of the disease on August 5, 2008.

 

Sandra O'Connell and Ralph Minker were married in March 1980. Reading the Minker family correspondence and a meeting in 2000 with WW II historian, Harry Butowsky, led inevitably (after five years of work) to An American Family in World War II. She was the lead researcher and writer on Ralph’s missions and the home front issues. Prior writing experience includes nine years as technology editor for HR Magazine. Sandra has a Ph.D. from New York University.

Dr. Harry A. Butowsky serves as historian and web manager with the National Park Service History Program in Washington, DC. He is the author of World War II in the Pacific, a National Historic Landmark Study, six other Landmark Studies as well as sixty articles on military, labor, science and constitutional history. Dr. Butowsky teaches History of World War I and World War II at George Mason University, his Ph.D. is from U. of Illinois.” Captain Ralph Lee Minker is the co-author of An American Family in World War II.

According to the book description of An American Family in World War II, “On the morning of December 7, 1941, life for families across America was forever changed by events over which they had no control, but were to witness and play a part. An American Family in World War II is the moving story of one of those families — told largely in their own words. When Ralph “Lee” Minker Jr. entered U.S. Army Air Cadet training in 1943, he began a correspondence with his parents and two teenage sisters; letters that describe the rigors of pilot training and ultimately his life at “this air base I call home,” as he flew 37 combat missions over Nazi Germany. The letters from the family members to Lee bring a vibrant reality to the home front — rationing, bond drives, and the daily tension of war — through the people who lived it. Woven together with commentary by the editors, this is an intensely personal and richly detailed account of life in America during the harrowing days of WWII.”

 

Robin Friedman said of An American Family in World War II, “For all the books that have been written about the military, political, and domestic history of WW II, this book, "An American Family in World War II" (2005) is special in its personal character and in its immediacy. The book is a collection of some 200 letters written between February, 1943 and September, 1945, between a young man, Ralph L Minker, who left Dickinson University at the end of his sophomore year to enlist in the war effort, and his family in Wilmington, Delaware. Minker's correspondents include his father, Ralph Minker Sr., a minister and at the time of the letters the Superintendent of the Ferris Industrial School for Boys, his mother Edna, and his younger sisters Shirley and Bernice. At the time of the letters, Shirley was a student in a junior college while Bernice was in high school. This collection of letters was selected and edited by Captain Minker himself together with his wife, Sandra O'Connell and historian Harry Butowsky. In addition to the letters, the book includes useful background interludes on the progress of the War on the foreign and domestic fronts to set the story in perspective.


An American Family in World War II
Sandra O'Connell, Harry Butowsky Captain Ralph Minker  More Info

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Minker left college to enlist in the Air Force. He completed a rigorous and selective course of training to become an Air Force pilot and ultimately flew 37 combat missions over Nazi Germany between October, 1944 and April, 1945. At the time he became captain of a B-17 in the 447th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Force, Minker was all of twenty years old, a tender age to assume the responsibility of an office and bomber pilot with a crew of ten. Most of Minker's combat flights were in a plane he named the "Blue Hen Chick" after a Delaware unit during the Revolutionary War.

 

In reading this book, I was moved by the picture of a close-knit, cohesive middle-class American family consisting of parents and children that obviously care deeply for each other and that remain happy and in good spirits throughout the vicissitudes of the War. A comment at the conclusion of the book (p.419) aptly describes the letters as showing "an ordinary and an extraordinary story of an American family." The letters are replete with family news, descriptions of the domestic war effort, and family love and unity. In some respects, the letters describe an America that today seems remarkably innocent. We see Minker's two sisters as they graduate from Junior College and high schools, with their ambitions, efforts at singing, and boyfriends, his father, an active member of the community who spearheads several drives for war bonds, and his mother, who takes a job outside the home to assist in the war effort and writes many loving letters to her son. In addition to the scenes of warfare and of family life in an America geared for war, there are many small instances related, such as the birth of puppies to the family dog.

 

The letters also present a detailed picture of the training and travels a young pilot had to undergo. The reader follows Ralph Minker through his early training in Florida through the time he earns his wings and commission in advanced flight school in Texas in 1944. There are realistic portrayals of the life of a bomber pilot, as many of Minker's missions are described in detail. It surely was a difficult awakening to life for Minker, and many young Americans like him, who, as his father observed, would otherwise have spent late adolescence and early adulthood in pursuits other than warfare. This book was moving to read, and I found myself getting to know and care increasingly about young Ralph Minker and his family as the story progressed. When Minker left the service at the conclusion of the War, he returned to college and ultimately became a minister. The book could have used additional information on Minker's life, especially for the period immediately after the war. The adjustment must have been difficult, and the letters leave some loose ends. For instance, Minker maintained a correspondence with his high-school sweetheart throughout the period of his service, and we never learn what happened to this relationship when Minker returned.

 

The title of this review, "Eulogy of Affirmation" is taken from the title of a speech Ralph Minker gave in 1991 at the 46th anniversary reunion of the 447th bomb group. The speech is included in the book (p. 420). The phrase captures well the story of the selfless service that Minker and many Americans like him gave during the days of World War II. It is a story that may continue to inspire Americans during our own difficult times.”

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