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Ronald Lee Helder


2nd Lt. Ronald Lee Helder was a B-24 pilot in the 8th Air Force, the 389th Bomb Group, and the 564th Bombing Squadron in WWII. He flew as Co-pilot with his friend, Command Pilot Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes, in the B-24D Lt. Helder called, Ole Kickapoo, although this name was never painted on his plane. Lt. Helder was killed in action flying the mission to Ploesti on Operation Tidal Wave. He and his Command Pilot Lt. Lloyd "Pete" Hughes demonstrated exceptional leadership, flying skill, and determination to destroy and bomb their assigned target at Campina, north of Ploesti. On their run into the target, they found the area already burning and exploding from the bombs of the pilots of the 93rd Bomb Group, who had broken away from their leader, Col. K.K. Compton, who had been ordered to turn south away from Ploesti at their IP by Gen. Uzal Ent, the Mission Commander. As they approached their target refinery, code named, Red Target, at Campina, Romania, just north of Ploesti, they took two direct hits by flak, which blew open their left wing and bomb bay gasoline tanks, and both tanks were now streaming huge streams of gasoline behind them. Both pilots could see a wall of flames ahead, blocking their path to Campina but elected to fly straight through the flames knowing that they would certainly be set on fire by them. When their B-24 emerged from the wall of flames, it was now streaming long sheets of flames from both the left wing and bomb bay gas tanks. Pete Hughes and Helder's friend, Col. Philip Ardery, flying close behind them was amazed to see them continue to fly with their B-24 burning like a blow torch, straight and level toward their refinery, Red Target, and lay their bombs right into it. Ardery, then, saw the two pilots pull up slightly and slow their plane, seeming to try to give their men some altitude to bail out, but, then, they began to settle into the Prahova dry riverbed for a forced landing. As they descended, Ole Kickapoo's left wing folded, and it crashed into the ground in a fireball, instantly killing both of the pilots, Pete Hughes and Lee Helder. Two of their crewmen, of four, who crawled out of the burning wreckage survived their serious burns to become POWs. Both pilots were Killed in Action (KIA) at Ploesti, while on TDY to the 9th AF for the Ploesti raid in B-24, Ole Kickapoo, 42-40753.

For his bravery, his flying skill, and his absolute determination to accomplish his mission with no regard to his own safety, 2nd Lt. Ron Lee Helder was posthumously awarded the Army Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.

Ronald Lee Helder was born in Carson, North Dakota, on March 9, 1917. He was born to Floyd and Ann Helder and had an older sister named Esther. After Ronald's father was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, they moved to Inwood, Iowa to be closer to the family. When Ronald was three, his father passed away. Ronald attended grade school in Inwood, Iowa and later moved to Montrose, South Dakota. He graduated from Montrose High School as valedictorian of his class in 1935. He worked at Power City Drug Company in Sioux Falls during the summers while he attended South Dakota State College in Brookings, South Dakota. After graduation in 1940, Ronald became a pharmacist at Power City Drug Company.

Ronald entered the military service on July 19, 1940, at McCord Field, Tacoma, Washington, where he served in the medical detachment. From December 5, 1941 to December 10, 1941, Helder was on a boat en route to Pearl Harbor. Ronald and the crew were only two days out of San Francisco when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Their boat was forced to return to San Francisco. Helder later entered the Army flying school in Roswell, New Mexico. He was graduated from the flying school and earned his commission as a second lieutenant on March 9, 1943, which was also his 26th birthday. In June of 1943, Lt. Helder was sent overseas and stationed in Libya. His cousin, Joann Oberlander, wrote about the mission on which Lt. Helder perished:

Participation in the raid [of the Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania] was voluntary and to show the high morale of the American Air Force, many fliers volunteered despite the fact that they were told of the opposition expected and their probable chances of not returning. They had extensive practice before the raid including low altitude flying – so low that the planes frequently clipped off the tops of Arab tents…. Over 150 planes took part in the mission. The bombers were all hitting the oil field targets, and the area was a mass of flames. On the day of the mission, August 1, 1943, Lt. Ronald Helder, as co-pilot of a B-24 bomber that he called 'Ole Kickapoo' was reported missing in action. Later, his mother received word that Ronald had been confirmed as killed in action in the raid. The War Department letter dated October 29, 1943, said in part: "It is with profound regret that I must confirm the telegram of recent date in which you were informed of the death of your son, Second Lt. Ronald L. Helder, 0-740807, U.S. Army Air Corps. An official casualty message from the Commanding General of the Middle Eastern Area stated that your son failed to return from an operational mission on 1 August 1943, and he has been carried as missing in action since that date. Information has now been received from the Romanian Government through the International Red Cross stating that he died on 1 August 1943. This would indicate that he was killed in action on the date he was previously reported missing in action, and it has been so recorded on the records of the War Department."

For his services to his country, Lt. Ronald Helder received the Distinguished Unit Citation, the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Medal and the Purple Heart.

Lt. Helder's remains were later returned and buried in a common grave at Fort McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell, Nebraska, with three other members of the 389th bomber group, the "Sky Scorpions," who were all in the same plane. Ronald also has a marker located at the Helder family plot in Richland Cemetery near Inwood, Iowa. Ronald has been missed by all who had come to love him over the 26 years that he lived. He was a great guy who will be remembered for his service to his nation. This entry was respectfully submitted by Julee Lueders, Spearfish High School, Spearfish, South Dakota, March 18, 2002. Information for this entry was provided by Mrs. Joann Oberlander, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, cousin of Second Lieutenant Ronald Helder.

Crew of the 'Ole Kickapoo' who died at Campina, Romania Aug 1943:
2nd Lt Lloyd "Pete" Herbert Hughes
2nd Lt Ronald L. Helder
2nd Lt Sidney A. Pear
2nd Lt John A. McLoughlin
T Sgt Joseph E. Mix
T Sgt Louis N. Kase
S Sgt Avis Kenneth Wilson
S Sgt Malcolm Clay Dalton

ACTUAL CITATION from General Order No. 89, Headquarters Ninth U.S. Air Force, 16 September 1943

SECTION I...Awards to the 564th Bombardment Squadron

Paragraph 1. By direction of the President, under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved 9 July, 1918 (Bull. W.D. 43., 1918), and in accordance with authority delegated by the War Department, a Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to each of the following-named officers and enlisted men:

RONALD L HELDER, 0-740807, 2nd Lieutenant, 564th Bombardment Squadron, 389th Bombardment Group (H). For distinguishing himself by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in action while participating in operations against the Ploesti Oil Refineries of Roumania on 1 August 1943. While participating in a long and dangerous minimum-altitude attack on a heavily defended enemy oil installation, the aircraft on which Lt. Helder served as co-pilot was severely hit by anti-aircraft fire just before reaching the target, causing a great sheet of gasoline to pour from the bomb bay tank. Because the target area had previously been bombed and the flames from burning oil tanks soared high above the bombing level of the low-flying B-24 type aircraft, to continue over the target was hazardous in the extreme; yet rather than disrupt the formation by dropping out, or jeopardize the success of the mission, the plane, with the skillful assistance of Lt Helder, held fast to its course, the bombs were dropped, completing the task, but at the cost of igniting the pouring gasoline, and resulting in the crash of the aircraft. By his gallant and heroic action in the face of certain disaster, Lt Helder brought great credit upon himself and the United States Army Air Forces. Lt. Helder is missing in action. Next of kin: Mrs. Ann Helder, (mother), Palo Alto, California.

The citation above is typed verbatim from the general order, so no need to change punctuations, i.e., Lt. instead of Lt and there is no period after his middle initial in the original citation.



  • John Barcus

    Military | Staff Sergeant | B-24 Waist Gunner | 44th Bomb Group The Flying Eightballs
    Assigned to the 66th Bomb Squadron, the 44th Bomb Group (the Flying 8 Balls), in the 8th Air Force, USAAF. Shot down over Foggia, Italy 16-Aug-43 in the B-24D, 41-23778, Lady Luck. ...

  • Lloyd Hughes

    Military | Second Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 389th Bomb Group
    Lloyd Herbert Hughes Jr., better known to his friends, as "Pete," flew his fifth mission, as pilot of a B-24D Liberator bomber in an attack against the Axis oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania. He was killed August 1, 1943 when his plane was severely...

  • John Kane

    Military | Colonel | B-24 Bomb Group Commanding Officer / B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    John Riley Kane was a colonel in the United States Army Air Corps and, later, in the United States Air Force. He received the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Congressional Medal of Honor, in World War II, for his leadership, courage, and...

  • Harold Korger

    Military | Colonel | B-24 - B-52 Bombardier | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Harold Francis Korger was a B-24 bombardier in the 344th Bombardment Squadron, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 9th Air Force, based in Benghazi, Libya, 1943. He flew on the B-24D, Hail Columbia, with the Element Group Leader Col. John R. Kane, on the...

  • Royden LeBrecht

    Military | Captain | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Royden Louis LeBrecht was a B-24D command pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bomb Squadron. He flew his B-24D, he named, The Squaw, on Operation Tidal Wave, the large mission to destroy the German held oil refineries at...

  • James Lindsey

    Military | Flight Officer | Co-Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    2nd Lt. James Rex Lindsey was Lt. Gilbert Hadley's co-pilot on Hadley's B-24D, Hadley's Harem, in North Africa. He participated in, and had completed his part of the bombing mission, Operation Tidal Wave. But, Lt. Lindsey and Lt. "Gib" Hadley were...

  • Robert Nespor

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  • Jack Wood

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Show more

Units served with

  • 389th Bomb Group

    389th Bomb Group

    The 389th Bomb Group, known in more familiar terms as "the Sky Scorpions", flew strategic bombing missions in B-24 Liberators from Hethel, England. They also sent detachments to join bases in North Africa at Benghazi No. 10, Libya, between 3 July 1943...

  • 564th Bomb Squadron


  • 41-23817 - Suzy Q

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named, Suzy Q, flown by Pilot Lt. Robert I. Brown and commanded by Col. Leon Johnson, led the 44th Bomb Group on the Aug 1, 1943 Ploesti raid and was the most famous ship of the 67th Squadron. The plane was lost along with the 67th's plane,...

  • 42-40402 - The Sandman

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator bomber, named, The Sandman, was named, and flown, by Lt. Robert Sternfels and his co-pilot, Lt. Barney Jackson, in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 345th Bomb Squadron, on Operation Tidal Wave, the famous mission to...

  • 42-40753

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, 42-40753, was a Consolidated B-24D bomber from the 389th Bombardment Group, of the 8th Air Force, and the 564th Bomb Squadron from England. It's Command Pilot on Operation Tidal Wave, was 2nd Lt. Lloyd Hughes, and his crew. They flew on...


  • Operation Tidal Wave

    1 August 1943
    Operation TIDAL WAVE. B-24D Liberators attack the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. The bombers flew low to avoid radar detection and dropped time delayed bombs. Out of the 177 B-24s that took part in the raid 167 managed to attack their targets. 57...

Associated Place

  • Benina

    Military site : airfield

  • Mellaha

    Military site : airfield

  • Berca

    Military site : airfield

  • Lete

    Military site : airfield


Event Location Date
Born Carson, Grant County, North Dakota, USA 9 March 1917

Son of Floyd Wesley and Ann E [Partidge] Helder.

Based 1943 – 1 August 1943

Assigned to 564BS, 389BG, 8AF USAAF.

Died Ploiești, Romania 1 August 1943

Killed in Action (KIA) while on TDY to 9th AF for Ploesti raid in B-24 'Ole Kickapoo' 42-40753

Buried Fort McPherson National Cemetery Maxwell, NE 23 August 1950

Fort McPherson National Cemetery
Maxwell, Nebraska
PLOT C, 1281


Date Contributor Update
01 March 2022 23:18:36 decwriter Changes to service number, biography and awards

Added to awards and bio section. Lieutenant Helder's citation is directly from the general order. His only Air Medal listed him as missing in action.

Date Contributor Update
09 September 2021 08:25:57 Al_Skiff Changes to biography, awards and events

Date Contributor Update
07 September 2021 08:59:08 Kickapoo Changes to biography

The Great Ground-Air Battle Of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart

Date Contributor Update
22 February 2021 00:23:22 Kickapoo Changes to person associations

Black Sunday - Michael Hill

Date Contributor Update
15 December 2020 13:27:41 Al_Skiff Changes to service number, highest rank, biography and events

Date Contributor Update
11 December 2020 03:11:40 Kickapoo Changes to biography

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

Date Contributor Update
11 December 2020 03:03:27 Kickapoo Changes to biography

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder ---- personal archives - John S. Young, Jr.

Date Contributor Update
10 December 2020 18:16:24 Kickapoo Changes to biography

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

Date Contributor Update
10 December 2020 18:05:35 Kickapoo Changes to biography

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

Date Contributor Update
10 December 2020 17:08:40 Kickapoo Changes to biography

FindAGrave -- Ronald Lee Helder

Date Contributor Update
09 December 2020 11:33:11 Kickapoo Changes to nickname

Black Sunday - Michael Hill

Date Contributor Update
09 December 2020 11:31:49 Kickapoo Changes to person associations, place associations and aircraft associations

Into The Fire -- Duane Schultz

Date Contributor Update
09 December 2020 11:20:10 Kickapoo Changes to biography

Ploesti The Great Ground-Air Battle of 1 August 1943 - James Dugan & Carroll Stewart - Second Lt. Ronald Lee Helder - Wikipedia

Date Contributor Update
09 December 2020 10:21:52 Kickapoo Changes to role, biography and awards

The Hall Of Valor Project

Date Contributor Update
13 September 2019 20:30:08 jmoore43 Changes to service number and events

Added S/N and events (Born & Buried) per info on Find-a-grave MEMORIAL ID 3381033.

Date Contributor Update
13 September 2019 19:35:54 jmoore43 Changes to biography

Added spaces to "Summary biography" for readability.

Date Contributor Update
15 July 2016 22:35:23 Rajordan Changes to middlename

Grave marker:

Date Contributor Update
13 March 2015 09:28:30 Al_Skiff Changes to biography, events, unit associations, aircraft associations and mission associations

AAM Database.

Date Contributor Update
27 September 2014 18:24:29 AAM AAM ingest

Drawn from the records of the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Savannah, Georgia / MACR 157