|Mr. & Mrs. John Paul Ragsdale|
Gary D. Simmons in Southern Oklahoma sent us the following information concerning the death of a WW II Sgt. Edward M. Ragsdale who died in a parachute accident, in Kansas, five months prior to the story that appeared in the Life Magazine, dated November 20, 1944. There are two other articles of other WW II servicemen who had died following this one.
Note: Picture of Sgt. Edward M. Ragsdale not available. Sgt. Ragsdale’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Paul Ragsdale (on the left), were featured in Life Magazine, November 20, 1944, page 32, along with several other parents who had lost son/s in WWII. At the time of the story, "Families Speak for Their War Dead," a son, Lt. John Paul Jr., had been killed earlier on a bombing mission over Germany. Sgt. Ragsdale had died parachuting in Kansas five-months prior to the story. Another son, 19, was also an Army flier. It is unknown if the remaining son survived the War. Mr. Ragsdale was a veteran of WWI. In the previous month of October alone, 19,183 Americans had died. Roosevelt and Truman had just been reelected as President and Vice-President previous to this issue of Life.
Aircraft B-17F, 42-29929, departed Ardmore, June 14, 1944, at 1130 Central War Time (CWT) on a high-altitude, seven plane formation training flight. They were to fly a “round robin” cross-country camera bombing exercise to Wichita, Kansas to Salina, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri and return to Ardmore. At the controls were 2nd Lt. Padrial B. Evans, pilot, and 2nd Lt. Harold R. McGahan, co-pilot. When the aircraft was approximately 35-miles south of Salina, near McPherson, Kansas, Number 2 engine began surging and the oil temperature started to rise. After several unsuccessful attempts to correct the performance of the engine, Lt. Evans and Lt. McGahan concurred that they could not maintain speed to keep up with the other aircraft. They lowered the landing gear to signal the leader that they were leaving the formation.
After aborting the formation, they feathered Number 2 engine and headed for Smoky Hill Army Air Base, Salina, approximately 35 miles north. When they were north of Salina, Number 3 engine began detonating badly with smoke coming from the top of the cowling. They reduced the throttle setting but the cylinder head temperature went to 300-degrees. Unable to correct the problem, they attempted to feather the propeller and oil began to come out freely where the smoke had been. The propeller would not feather due to low oil pressure. Lt. Padrial had alerted the crew previously to prepare to go overboard and sounded the alarm to parachute immediately when the engine did not respond. The parachuting was underway, approximately 1410 CWT, five to eight miles north of Smoky Hill Army Air Base.
The aircraft reached Smokey Hill Army Air Base on engines Number 1 and 4 and landed without incident. They were informed shortly that seven of the eight men who parachuted had been found and were being brought by a farmer to the airfield.
Sgt. Edward M. Ragsdale, radio operator, who was last to jump, he wasn’t found on the day of the incident but was located the next day. He was observed to be adjusting his parachute harness by the last man to leave the aircraft. No one saw him jump. Attempts to locate him were hindered by darkness and his body and open parachute were not found until late the next day.
After inspection of Sgt. Ragsdale’s parachute, it was the opinion of the Accident Investigation Committee that the parachute deployed and opened properly after the rip-cord had been pulled. They speculated that since he had the heavy winter flying jacket over the parachute harness and had on heavy bulky gloves, he did not get the rip cord pulled in time for the chute to open fully to break his fall to the ground.