Purple Heart Sergeant
Ralph L. Lab

January 3, 1919 - January 11, 1944

Dover, Ohio - IJsselmeer, Netherlands

 


Ralph L. Lab was born in Dover, Tuscarawas County, Ohio on 3 January 1919, son of Henry A. Lab and Mary Ann Reiger Lab. He worked as a steel worker, possibly as a riveter when joined the U.S. Army Air Corps on the 20th August of 1941, in Columbus, Ohio. After basic training, Ralph became a Radio operator with the 533rd Bomb Squadron, 381st Bomb Group, operating out of Ridgwell, England. He and his crew arrived at the Bomb Group on 27 November 1943.

His crew consisted of:

Pilot 2Lt Donald E. Nason,
Co-pilot 2Lt Joseph J. Byser,


 

533rd Bomb Squadron

381st Bomb Group

Navigator 2Lt Athan Anagnos,
Bombardier 2Lt Charles D. Fiery
Engineer S/Sgt Buster T. Harrah,
Waist gunner Sgt Raymond C. Beus,
Waist gunner Sgt John R. Lantz,
Ball turret gunner Sgt Paul W. Stonich,
tail gunner Sgt George A. Whitney and
Radio operator Sgt Ralph L. Lab

Not much is known about the crew once they joined the 381st. The participated in the mission to Oschersleben on 11 January 1944. This was a so-called maximum effort mission, and the first major attack undertaken by general Doolittle who had just taken over command of the 8th U.S. Air Force in England. This attack would also be the first in conjunction with Operation Pointblank; the attack on all resources of the Luftwaffe; plane factories, air fields, oil installations, etc.

Oschersleben housed a Junkers aircraft factory. two other major targets today were Braunschweig and Halberstadt. 9 ships from 533 squadron flew in the attack. January 11th would see a massive air battle over the Netherlands and Germany. As the flight path for the bomber stream was straight from England to the targets (no dog legs to throw the Germans off), the  Germans, figured teh Americans were going for Berlin. As Berlin had not suffered an American daylight raid yet, the Germans wanted to prevent such an attack at all costs. They sent every available aircraft in the air. When the first of the bomb wings were a mere 25 miles from their targets, 8th USAAF sent out an abort message. The air fields in England started to get fogged in and HQ was afraid chaos would reign when hundreds of bombers would come home in dense fog and miss their airfields.

Here the mayhem started. Some of the bomb groups heard the abort and started searching for Targets of Opportunity, broke off from the main bombers stream to attack and then return home. Most of the leading bomb groups, however, found themselves so close to their target that they opted to stay the course and go for it. this caused the bomber stream to break up and leave many bomb groups and wings exposed to the German luftwaffe who was now amassing en force. Worst of all; the Fighter escorts heard the recall and returned to base, leaving the bombers without proper fighter protection. Shortly after 300+ German fighters attacked the Allied formations. Several accounts of veterans make clear that this day many saw so many enemy fighters they never saw them before or after. A total of 60 US Bombers were shot down. Not all fighters retreated. Five were shot down and on this day the only Medal of Honor for an fighter pilot in the ETO was won, by Major Howard who single handedly attacked 30+ German fighters who were attacking a US bomber formation. he shot down five German planes.

The 381st Bomb Group fared badly. Their planes were under attack from the Dutch German border on the way to target. No less than nine planes were lost. The 533rd Bomb Squadron of Sgt Ralph Lab, returned with only three of the nine planes.

Sgt Ralph Lab's B17 was hit by flak over the Netherlands. Over the Dutch German border, it was apparent the B17 couldn't keep up and the pilot 2Lt Donald Nason decided to abort the mission and return to England. The condition of the plane deteriorated rapidly and while flying over the IJsselmeer, no.3 engine caught fire. Then pilot Lt Nason order everyone to bail out. Sgt John Lantz, the left waist gunner, was the only one to survive. He later stated that he saw Sgt Ralph Lab and Sgt Paul Stonich in their parachutes floating over the IJsselmeer. Shortly after these men had bailed out, the plane exploded, crashing with the rest of the crew still inside, into the IJsselmeer. Sgts Lab and Stonich both did not survive. Their bodies have never been found.


Newspaper articles courtesy of Mr. Ron Reiger

2Lt Nason is buried at Margraten. 2Lt Fiery is buried at Ardennes American cemetery. Lt Anagnos, Lt Byser and S/Sgt Harrah have been reburied in the USA.

Sgt Beus, Sgt Whitney, Sgt Stonich and Sgt Ralph Lab are commemorated at the Margraten Wall of the Missing.

Sgt Ralph Lab's younger brother Bruce George Lab also joined the Armed Forces. He was a private with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. He was killed on 19 November 1944. Three days later his son, Bruce George Lab II was born. Today Bruce is buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium, close to Margraten Cemetery.


Margraten, The Netherlands

See Also:
2Lt Donald E. Nason
2Lt Joseph J. Byser
2Lt Athan Anagnos
2Lt Charles D. Fiery
S/Sgt Buster T. Harrah
Sgt Raymond C. Beus
Sgt Paul W. Stonich
Sgt George A. Whitney

Crew of 2Lt  Gordon W. Crozier
Crew of 2Lt Wilfred R. Perot
Crew of 2Lt Ernest M. Klein
Crew of 2Lt  Billy F. Chason
Crew of 2Lt Matthew J. McEvoy

Pvt Bruce Lab

Sources and Acknowledgments:
Mr. Ron Reiger of www.reigerfamily.com
MACR 1881
The Mighty Eight War Diary, Roger A. Freeman, Arms and Armour, London, 1990
381st Bomb Group memorial Association Website

Directions to Margraten American Military Cemetery

Posted 11 January 2006

If you have any suggestions, comments or additional information, please contact me.

This website is dedicated to the men and women who died and/or are buried in The Netherlands during World War II.

 

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