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Memorial Day: A World War II flyer remembers ...


Bill Ransom was one of 10 men on a special mission 60 years ago during World War II. During the past 18 years, Bill and his wife, Barbara, said they have successfully completed their retirement mission: Finding happiness in Farragut.

U.S. Army Air Corps Staff Sgt. Ransom, a right wing gunner with the 463rd Bomb Group, 774th Squadron as part of a 10-man crew, flew 50 bombing raid missions in B 17G aircraft from their base in Foggie, Italy, into Germany from early 1944 to July 1945. As a right wing gunner, Ransom was responsible for giving cover to his crew — repelling enemy gunfire and aircraft advances — as his crew bombed such German land targets as train depots, factories and railroads.


Bill talked about how German “flak,” or explosive rounds of enemy gunfire, would damage U.S. aircraft wings and pose danger. “You could be shot down at any minute because the flak was just terrible,” he said. “But they took the wings [fixed] and they put ’em back and flied the next day.”

As for Bill and his crew members, “they are almost like family,” he said, adding that he still keeps in contact with Jep Williamson of Mississippi.

“They meet in a different town every year,” Barbara said. “Every Christmas we correspond. Bill’s the closest [to Williamson].”

The 463rd has had two reunions during the past 15 years: 1990 in Colorado Springs, Colo., and 1995 in Richmond, Va.

Saying he fought bitterly cold temperatures at high flying altitudes “up to 35 [thousand feet],” Bill also fought bitter hunger pangs with Spam.

“They were late coming in one night … they’d been gone a real long time, flown a long mission, and they got back late at night and he was so hungry, and they gave him Spam and he said he thought that was the most wonderful thing he’d ever had,” Barbara said.

Bill wrote in his personal diary on Nov. 9, 1944: “… Jep and Sullie are on a night mission now. Yesterday, the crew got mail. All except me. I’m still waiting for mine.”

Another entry, this one Nov. 22, 1944, read: “Today’s mission was Munich. I was really worried when I heard. Today they told us more tips on the firing of the guns. I was worried … took off at seven-fifteen. Alan got gas pains over the target. … bombed in vapor trails at twenty-nine thousand [feet]. Didn’t have enough gas to get back. Refueled at Ancona. Had to wait for twenty planes before takeoff. Missed chow. …”

A Nov. 23 diary passage read: “Thanksgiving, had turkey with all the trimmings. Best meal I’ve had in the army. … Today was Sullie’s birthday. Took a bath today, all the crew did except Roaden.”

Originally from Georgia, Ransom went to Kansas State University as a 19-year-old in 1943 where he received military training for one year prior to his deployment to Europe.

Upon Bill’s deployment, “they went over on a ship, and he said that they [Germans] were sinking ships, and so he took his blanket and every night he’d go out on the deck and he’d wrap himself in that blanket so he would be able to jump if it was torpedoed,” Barbara said. “He didn’t want to die on that ship.”

An engineer working in the fire-protection field, Bill’s work led he and Barbara to Farragut — settling in Fox Den in 1971 — where they stayed five years. “We were one of the first twenty-five houses built in Fox Den,” Barbara said, adding that businesses in general and grocery stores specifically were so sparse in Farragut back then, “you had go all the way to A and P up at Lovell Road to get a loaf of bread, that’s how remote it was.”

Bill said his five years in business-related ventures in the Volunteer State led him “all around Tennessee.” The Ransoms left Farragut in 1976, but they sure didn’t forget the area.

In 1987, “we came back here and retired because we love East Tennessee,” Barbara said. “We like family people, and we just think that … all those customs that Tennesseans have are wonderful customs. We were happy to be a part of that atmosphere of raising children. Our children had a wonderful upbringing out in Fox Den. …”

Bill added, “we love it here. People here love family. I said, ‘I don’t want to be in Georgia no more, I want to go back to Tennessee.’”

Married 55 years and currently living in Glen Abbey subdivision, Bill and Barbara have six children and 12 grandchildren. “We have had a very, very good life,” Barbara said. “We have been blessed.”

Ransom’s youngest son, Jeff, took his 81-year-old veteran father and mother to Washington D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial last October. “He just loved it, it meant a lot to him,” Barbara Ransom said. “We were just very touched.”

Expressing his feelings about the meaning of Memorial Day, Bill said, “I think this is the most beautiful country in the world.”

 

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