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, "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, and all but two of their crewmen who crawled out of the burning wreckage and survived their serious burns to become POWs. - Both pilots, 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 Air Force's Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying 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 Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross 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
Ronald Helder's DSC citation reads : AWARDED FOR ACTIONS ~ Distinguished Service Cross
DURING World War II
Service: Army Air Forces
Battalion: 564th Bombardment Squadron
Division: 9th Air Force
Headquarters, Ninth U.S. Army Air Force, General Orders No. 89 (1943)
CITATION SYNOPSIS: The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant (Air Corps) Ronald Lee Helder (ASN: 0-740807), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Co-Pilot of a B-24 Heavy Bomber in the 564th Bombardment Squadron, 389th Bombardment Group (H), NINTH Air Force, while participating in a bombing mission on 1 August 1943, against the Ploesti Oil Refineries in Rumania. During a long and hazardous attack against a vital enemy oil installation made at low-altitude by a formation of B-24 type aircraft, Second Lieutenant Helder acquitted himself with great skill as his aircraft flew through one of the most heavily defended areas of Europe. When the plane on which he served was severely damaged, and, despite the fact that gasoline was streaming from two of its damaged fuel tanks, he continued on, in the face of almost insurmountable odds. Over the blazing target, Lieutenant Helder, with heroic calm and unflinching loyalty, remained steadfast at the controls. The personal courage and zealous devotion to duty displayed by Second Lieutenant Helder on this occasion, at the cost of his life, exemplified the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 9th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.
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||Carson, Grant County, North Dakota, USA
||9 March 1917
Son of Floyd Wesley and Ann E [Partidge] Helder.
||1 August 1943
Assigned to 564BS, 389BG, 8AF USAAF.
||1 August 1943
Killed in Action (KIA) while on TDY to 9th AF for Ploesti raid in B-24 'Ole Kickapoo' 42-40753
||Fort McPherson National Cemetery, Maxwell, NE
Fort McPherson National Cemetery
PLOT C, 1281