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Ronald Lee Helder

Military

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
GENERAL ORDERS:
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.

Service

People

  • John Barcus

    Military | Staff Sergeant | Waist Gunner | 44th Bomb Group The Flying Eightballs
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  • 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-24 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 | Commanding Officer, Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    John Riley Kane (January 5, 1907 – May 29, 1996) was a colonel in the United States Army Air Corps and later 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...

  • Harold Korger

    Military | Colonel | Bombardier Navigator | 98th Bomb Group
    Lt. Harold Korger was a bombardier in the 344th Bombardment Squadron, 98th Bomb Group, 9th Air Force. He flew on the famous mission, Operation Tidal Wave, Aug 1, 1943, to knock out the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. ...

  • 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
    James Rex Lindsey ...

  • Robert Nespor

    Military | First Lieutenant | B-24 Command Pilot | 98th Bomb Group
    1st Lt. Robert James Nespor, Jr. was a B-24D command bomber pilot in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bombardment Group, "The Pyramiders", and the 330th Bombing Squadron. For the huge mission to bomb the oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, on Operation...

  • Jack Wood

    Military | Major General | Chief of the British-American Air Component, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces Mission to Franc | 389th Bomb Group
    Born in Fairbault, Minn., in 1907, we won his wings by 1929. He rose swiftly through the ranks achieving the rank of Colonel and took command of the 20th Combat Bomb Wing of the Eighth Air Force. The following November he was named executive of the...

Show more

Units served with

  • 8th Air Force

    8th Air Force


    Eighth Air Force Bomber Command became the Eighth Air Force on February 1944, it oversaw bombardment of strategic targets in Europe until 1945. ...

  • 389th Bomb Group

    389th Bomb Group

    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

Aircraft

  • 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 on Aug 16, 1943 on a...

  • 42-40402 THE SANDMAN

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, named, THE SANDMAN, was flown by Lt. Robert Sternfels in the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 345th Bomb Squadron, on Operation Tidal Wave, the famous mission to destroy the German held oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania. SANDMAN...

  • 41-11825 HAIL COLUMBIA - LITTLE CHIEF-BIG DOG - GRUMPY - HAIL COLUMBIA

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D, HAIL COLUMBIA, 41-11825, was assigned to the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron. It was first assigned to the 344th Squadron's CO, as Col. John R. Kane's, personal aircraft until Kane became the 98th Bomb...

  • 41-11768 KICKAPOO

    B-24 Liberator
    The B-24D Liberator, 41-11768, named, KICKAPOO, was piloted by Lt. John S. Young from Dallas,Texas as part of the 9th Air Force, the 98th Bomb Group, and the 344th Bombing Squadron, which arrived in North Africa in early 1943. This airplane was...

  • 42-40753 'Ole Kickapoo'

    B-24 Liberator
    #42-40753 - B-24D 'OLE KICKAPOO' - A Consolidated B-24D bomber from the 389th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force, and the 564th Bomb Squadron from England, with it's Command Pilot, 2nd Lt. Lloyd Hughes, and his crew, who flew on "Operation Tidal...

Missions

  • Operation Tidal Wave

    1 August 1943
    Operation TIDAL WAVE. B24D 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 B...

Associated Place

  • Benina

    Military site : airfield

  • Mellaha

    Military site : airfield

  • Berca

    Military site : airfield

  • Lete

    Military site : airfield

Events

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

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

Based 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 1948

Re-Interred
Fort McPherson National Cemetery
Maxwell, Nebraska
PLOT C, 1281

Revisions

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

Black Sunday - Michael Hill

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

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/3381033/ronald-lee-helder
https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/38160015/ronald-lee-helder

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

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

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

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

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

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

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

FindAGrave - Ronald Lee Helder

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

FindAGrave -- Ronald Lee Helder

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

Black Sunday - Michael Hill

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

Into The Fire -- Duane Schultz

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

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
Sources

The Hall Of Valor Project

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

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
Sources

Added spaces to "Summary biography" for readability.

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

Grave marker: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=3381033

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

AAM Database.

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

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

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