Funeral honors 100-year-old Daytonian once shot down during WWII

Richard "Dick" Boesch, a longtime Dayton resident, died Feb. 17, 2021, at the age of 100. He was a World War II vet who flew 61 combat missions. He is shown at Friendship Village. CONTRIBUTED
Richard "Dick" Boesch, a longtime Dayton resident, died Feb. 17, 2021, at the age of 100. He was a World War II vet who flew 61 combat missions. He is shown at Friendship Village. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Funeral services were conducted Wednesday for a 100-year-old Dayton man who flew 61 combat missions in World War II, including one in which his plane was shot down.

Richard V. “Dick” Boesch died Feb. 17.

Allen Johnson called Boesch an American hero.

Johnson met Boesch, who was nicknamed “Tin Ear,” through a mutual friend at Friendship Village Retirement Community in Dayton. The friend asked if Johnson would interview Boesch and write a story, which he completed weeks before Boesch’s death.

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Boesch’s mind was “still sharp and he can remember details from 75 years ago when he was flying B-26 airplanes over Germany,” Johnson wrote.

Boesch enlisted in 1943 and was assigned to fly the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber with the 34th Bomb Squadron of the 17th Bomb Group.

He told Johnson that in his first nine missions, he served as the tail gunner on the six-man crew.

“That was a very hazardous position in that most fighter attacks came from the rear and the first thing they saw was the tail gunner,” Johnson wrote. “Also evacuating from the rear gunner position in case they had to bail out was very hazardous as he had to crawl through a narrow tunnel to get in and out of his gun compartment.”

Richard "Dick" Boesch, a longtime Dayton resident, died Feb. 17, 2021, at the age of 100. He is shown at right with his crew. He was a World War II vet who flew 61 combat missions. CONTRIBUTED
Richard "Dick" Boesch, a longtime Dayton resident, died Feb. 17, 2021, at the age of 100. He is shown at right with his crew. He was a World War II vet who flew 61 combat missions. CONTRIBUTED

Boesch moved to the nose of the aircraft later as the bombardier/navigator as he continued to fly missions into Germany to bomb the airfields.

“On his 30th mission over Germany, his aircraft was hit by flak,” Johnson wrote.

They managed to set a heading back toward France, and the pilot rang the “bail out” signal, three rings on the alarm bell. The crew evacuated the plane, deploying parachutes.

Here is how Boesch described to Johnson what happened next:

“As Dick floated down, he was able to see the other five crewmen. They landed in a relatively small field and immediately five French women came running to help them. The women escorted the crew to a small village where they help to address some of the scrapes and scratches the men had received during the bailout and landing and fed them fried eggs. That evening there was an air raid, and the women took Dick and the crew into a bomb shelter tunnel. Dick was lucky that the pilot had been able to turn the airplane back towards the Allied lines before they bailed out and they had landed in France, 15 miles on the Allied side of the front lines. Someone from the free French Army contacted the American authorities and Dick said the crew was picked up the next day and driven back to their 34th Bomb Squadron.”

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Johnson asked Boesch what he was thinking as he was floating down from the damaged airplane.

“I thought my mother would get a telegram saying that I was “Missing in Action,” Boesch said with a smile.

The crew received 10 days of rest then was assigned another plane.

Boesch flew 52 missions as bombardier. During his tour, he was involved in the bombing of the Brenner Pass on the Austrian/Italian border, and the crew’s success was featured in an article in the Stars and Stripes that declared them the “Bridge Busters.”

Johnson noted: “The 59-mile-long Brenner Pass was one of the most strategic passes in the Alps between Italy and Austria. It had 22 tunnels and 60 large bridges built into the pass. The pass was vital to the Germans because the rail link through the pass carried their supplies from Germany and Austria down into Italy. The most effective way to bomb the pass would be to follow up the 59-mile-long valley, hitting tunnel and bridge after tunnel and bridge. Unfortunately, the Germans and Italians had put over 500 heavy artillery pieces in the pass to protect it. Flying directly up the pass would have been sure death. Therefore, the only logical way to bomb was to fly across the narrow valley. The problem with that is, the bombardier had only 15 seconds to identify the target out of the myriad of peaks and valleys and drop his bombs on the bridge. Dick squadron made a number of bomb runs on the Brenner Pass and were successful in destroying multiple bridges.”

For his service, Boesch received the Air Medal with five Oak Leaf clusters, three Bronze Stars, a Distinguished Unit citation from the Army and the French Knight of the Legion of Honor medal from the French Government for his “courage and commitment” in helping free France.

At the end of the war, Boesch flew home as a passenger on a B-24 bomber.

After his Army stint, he went to work at Frigidaire manufacturing in Dayton, where Johnson said Boesch met his future wife, Millie Simons. After three years at Frigidaire, Boesch moved to Genuine Auto Parts, where he worked 30 years until he retired.

His wife died in 2008, and Boesch moved into Friendship Village, where he celebrated his 100th birthday in 2020 amid the pandemic.

A Mass of Christian burial was held at Precious Blood Catholic Church in Dayton. Interment will follow at St. Remy Cemetery in Russia, Ohio.

Arrangements were handled by Baker-Hazel & Snider Funeral Home.

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