World War II veteran laid to rest in north Iowa

Ralph Smith was a ball turret gunner on B-17 named the 'Homesick Angel', and flew on D-Day.

Posted: Jul 9, 2018 8:52 PM
Updated: Jul 10, 2018 6:25 AM

THORNTON, Iowa - During an emotional service Monday, a Thornton man who served in World War II was laid to rest.

Ralph Smith died last Monday at the age of 97.

In addition to being a farmer, he served in the Army as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 named the "Homesick Angel", completing 52 successful missions in air offensives in the Europe, Normandy, Northern France, and Rhineland campaigns, and was in the first bomb group ahead of the Allied invasion on D-Day.

During the service, friends and family remarked on how inspriational Smith was to them.

Leon Sheets is Smith's son-in-law. He remembers Smith for being proud of his service.

"His time on the B-17 got to be his go-to and his comfort place. His service for the country was ... you lit him up, and serving his country, he was proud of it. Something happened and that was his go to place and he would talk about it," Sheets said.

Gerald "Red" Haugland has been a friend of Smith's for many years, and remembers him for his work ethic.

"He would help you whenever he could and you'd wanna help him. He was one of these individuals that made life enjoyable that because you knew him, you'd say 'that's the kind of guy I'd wanna be around,'" Haugland said.

He added that Smith's passing is another reminder of a fading chapter of history.

"There's so many of the veterans now that are leaving us every day, and they were the backbone of this country, for sure."

While Sheets noted that Smith had a serious side to him, he also had a memorable light-hearted side.

"Make it fun for everybody around, that was his style to be jovical and be chatting," Sheets said.

Sheets adds that to honor veterans like Smith, it's important to show respect to the flag and the national anthem.

"The next time the flag walks by or the anthem, you assume the proper position. The ladies and gentlemen that served and protected us, they deserve that opportunity for respect."

Smith was awarded a Diploma of Recognition to the American Soldiers Engaged in the Battle of the Disembarkation and Liberation from France, received four Bronze Stars and a Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war ended, Smith turned to farming, and farmed west of Thornton for most of his life. He was a long time member of the Board of the Farmers Cooperative at Thornton, as well as a lifetime member of the Iowa Cutting Horse Association and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1999. He was able to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. in September 2011.

Smith is survived by his two daughters, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, as well as his brother Bill and sister Lucretia.

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