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Ralph Rich, Navy Cross


If you read the Navy Cross citation for Ralph Rich, you’ll possibly learn he was born on January 22, 1916, in the town of Denmark, South Carolina. While the date is correct, the location is not. Ralph McMaster Rich was born in Denmark Township, Ward County, North Dakota.

Rich’s father was a schoolteacher who took positions wherever he found them, and they moved around over the years. Ralph was the only member of the family who was born here in the state.

Primarily, the Rich family lived in Minnesota, and it was at the U of M that Ralph obtained a degree in forestry in 1939.

After graduating, Ralph enlisted in the US Naval Reserve and received flight training in Minneapolis. By May 1942, he was an accomplished pilot operating from an aircraft carrier in early WWII action in the South Pacific. Among the battles in which Rich participated were Wake Island, a raid on the Marshall Islands, and the Battle of Midway. For his actions, on this date in 1942, he received a prestigious Navy Cross, the citation of which reads:

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross to Ralph McMaster Rich (0-084139), Ensign, U.S. Navy (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron SIX (VF-6), embarked from the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV-6), during the "Air Battle of Midway," against enemy Japanese forces on 4 June 1942. As leader of a section of fighters in an escort group toward the main Japanese invasion fleet, Ensign Rich maintained continuous flight over enemy naval units for one hour, assuring United States dive bombers an unmolested approach. Later the same day as a member of a combat patrol he shot down in flames a Japanese Torpedo Plane approaching the U.S.S. YORKTOWN. Ensign Rich's outstanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

This award was presented to Rich posthumously. Shortly after the Midway battle, he was relocated to Hawaii. Exactly 2 weeks after his heroic actions at Midway, Lt. Rich was participating in gunnery practice over the Hawaiian Islands when the fold-up wing of his Grumman F4F “Wildcat” tore loose. He crashed into the sea; his body was never recovered.

The following year, the Navy named a new ship after him: the USS RICH. This ship was destroyed during the 1944 Normandy Invasion, but another USS RICH, a DD-820, was commissioned in 1946 and saw action until 1977.

By Merry Helm

Sources: Homeofheroes.com. Naval Historical Center.