Ralph Lower was 22 on Dec. 7, 1941. Far from his Spokane birthplace that Sunday, he was handed a gun and told to patrol California’s Moffett Airfield.
By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor that day, Lower had left school at Washington State College, now WSU. He was in flight training at Moffett, an Army Air Corps base in the Bay Area.
“They issued us rifles, and we had to patrol around the airport,” Lower said in a 2012 interview with The Daily Herald, recalling what President Franklin Roosevelt described as “a date which will live in infamy.”
Lower, who flew an impressive 52 missions in a B-25 Mitchell bomber during World War II, died Nov. 24. The longtime Everett man was 99.
In a week centered around remembrances of former President George H.W. Bush, who died Nov. 30, Lower’s family memorialized another World War II hero. Bush had flown 58 combat missions in the war’s Pacific Theater.
Lower’s daughter, Sandra Raguso, said her father’s celebration of life, with full military honors, was Saturday on Bainbridge Island, where she lives with her husband, Rod Raguso.
“He had the Distinguished Flying Cross, the same medal that George H.W. Bush had. Both of them were from the Greatest Generation,” she said.
Like Bush, Lower’s future was shaped by the attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the United States and its young men into war.
After earning his wings and second lieutenant bars on March 16, 1942 — also the day he married his sweetheart Clydena Carson — Lower was assigned to the 12th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces, known as the “Earthquakers.”
He was soon in North Africa with the Army’s 9th Air Force, flying a B-25 Mitchell bomber. According to a Boeing Co. history of the twin-engine plane, it was “perhaps the most versatile” and the most heavily armed aircraft of the war. It was used for bombing, strafing, photo reconnaissance, submarine patrol and as a fighter.
From July 1942 to September 1943, Lower and his crew flew 52 bombing missions in a B-25 nicknamed “Desert Warrior.” Their air support helped the British 8th Army in a push against German commander Erwin Rommel’s forces. By May 1943, the Allies had defeated Axis forces in North Africa.
It was all perilous duty. “German anti-aircraft guns were very accurate. We would come home with holes in our plane almost every mission,” Lower said in the 2012 interview.
In the fall of 1943, he and his crew flew the “Desert Warrior” home, and then on a U.S. tour. Welcomed as heroes, they stopped at refineries being built to produce fuel for the war effort, and coaxed people to buy war bonds.
He was in the Air Force during Sandra’s childhood. They lived in Morocco, later at a base in Upper Heyford, England, and other places before he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1961. Settled in Everett, his wife’s hometown, he worked for Boeing as an industrial engineer and systems analyst.
Here, Lower became an avid boater and joined the Everett Yacht Club. They had five boats through the years, all named “The Brass Goose.” The club’s commodore in 1982, he was featured as its oldest member in a 2009 Herald article.
Clydena Lower died in 1997, and Lower later remarried. Along with his daughter and son-in-law, he is survived by his sister, Elaine Parkison, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wives Clydena and June, and his son, Terrence Crandall Lower.
Sandra Raguso said her dad didn’t talk much about the war until late in life. His grandchildren — Angela DeLoach, TJ Raguso, Wendy Bachofer and David Lower — were more apt to “pull this information out of him,” she said.
David Lower, 45, served in the Army and is now an intelligence analyst who lives in Florida.
When Lower was stationed in Germany, his grandfather came to visit. While driving to Munich on the Autobahn, he said his grandfather had him take an exit to an airfield where he’d once flown C-27 cargo planes. “It was really interesting,” Lower said. “He was a very calm, humble guy.”
His grandfather’s “Desert Warrior” has been replicated by the model airplane company Airfix, and there are even decals with Ralph Lower’s name on them. Through a magazine article about the model, he was able to find families of his grandfather’s flight crew.
On Aug. 31, 2013, when Ralph Lower was almost 94, he had the chance to go back in time — but without the dangers of enemy fire.
“We took him in a B-25 at Paine Field,” Rod Raguso said. The family made donations for the restoration of a B-25D Mitchell bomber, nicknamed “Grumpy.” It’s part of the Historic Flight Foundation collection.
Sandra Raguso said her father’s name is engraved on a plaque in the airplane.
“The whole family went up,” she said. “We’ve got a picture of all of us in front of it. He’s there grinning.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pearl Harbor event
Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and their auxiliaries will host a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day dinner 5-9 p.m. Friday at the Martin-Osterholtz Post 9417, 301 Third St., Gold Bar. All are invited. There will be a spaghetti dinner, silent auction, book sale and more. Donations accepted, with proceeds benefiting veterans. Information: email@example.com or 425-299-2591