World War II Experiences
"Timeless Voices" Oral History Project
Ray Richman, 398th Bomb Group Executive Officer
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
Interviewer: Don Christensen
Interview conducted at the
398th Bomb Group Annual Reunion
Phoenix, AZ, December 1, 2007
The 398th has been interviewing its members as part of the Timeless Voices of Aviation project. More information about the project and a current list of video interviews can be found at 398th Timeless Voices Interviews. In addition to the video interviews, some of the interviews have been transcribed to text.
Ray Richman, 398th Bomb Group Executive Officer
600th Squadron, Eighth Air Force
DC: Interviewer, Don Christensen
RR: 398th Executive Officer, Ray Richman
DC: Today is December 1st, 2007 and we’re at the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association Reunion in Phoenix, Arizona, and my name is Don Christensen. Ray, would you please introduce yourself?
RR: I’m Raymond L. Richman, R-I-C-H-M-A-N. I was Captain [John G.] Weibel’s 1st Adjutant of the 600th Bomb Squadron and then I became Executive Officer when the previous Executive Officer moved up to the group headquarters. I am a member of the 600th Bomb Squadron and I was with them from the day it was initiated.
And, indeed, it was kind of an interesting way that I was chosen to be Captain Weibel’s Adjutant. About a few days before I was asked by him if I would join him as Adjutant, we had an U.S.O. group come to our base at Alfreda, Washington, and it was a black group. Well, we previously had U.S.O. groups with all white dancers and singers and so on, and this was a black group. I was Adjutant at the time of a, I guess, the predecessor of the 398th of the 600th Bomb Squadron. I invited the crew, after they had performed, to the Officers’ Club. I was told that isn’t something that one ought to do, that they were to go to the Non-Com Club to be entertained. I said, “How many of the earlier groups have we sent over to the Non-Coms to be entertained after their concert?” Exactly zero.
Well, for some reason – well, I guess we know the reason – the next day, everybody was furious with me, okay. My secretary, the wife of a Sergeant in Communications, came into my office. She started to cry and say that she couldn’t continue to work for me because her husband objected. Well, needless to say, as an officer, I considered these things part of a normal crisis one faces in an organization and I just continued to pursue my position and so on.
A few days later, Captain [John G.] Weibel, whom I had met previously a few days before, came into the office and he said, “I guess you got your butt in a sling?” I said, “No, I don’t feel that way.” I said, “These people will get over it and it’s something they shouldn’t be doing anyway.” You know what he says, “I am putting together the staff for the 600th Bomb Squadron and I would like you to be my Adjutant.
What’s really interesting about this story is that he was from the South, from Georgia. He just felt that he wanted somebody as his Adjutant who was tough enough to say ‘no’ to whatever is expected of him. Well, I joined him in the 600th Bomb Squadron in Spokane, and, of course, we ended up returning to Alfreda. Then, we were assigned to Rapid City, South Dakota as a Training Group. We trained flight crews and their crews and they would be shipped out to active bomb groups.
But, finally it came our turn and we were happily surprised with the – I don’t know Captain Weibel was but I was too – we were going to be prepared for service abroad. Well, there was a lot of inference about the group and about the squadron, and it’s taking shape and so on, from Rapid City, South Dakota, we went on from our port of embarkation.
Oh, I should tell you another incident, though. We were having weather problems in – well I can’t remember whether if we were in Rapid City or Alfreda – and the 2nd Air Force suddenly ordered us to proceed to Great Falls, Montana. So, on a night that proved to be very cold, 40 below, we got on a train and we headed for Great Falls, Montana, and we arrived and it was 40 below. But on the way, the train began to freeze up. The last two cars had Russians in it who had been involved in some Pacific activity and were now going to be returning to Russia through the United States. So, they had to move forward where the rest of us were and there was a terrible confusion, it had to be. Well, we welcomed them and they stayed together in their part. But, that’s how it got us to Great Falls in this terribly cold weather. Makes me wish that we – the earth can’t get too warm for me. [Laughs]
DC: Right, right.
RR: But, anyway, being young and so on, I remember our Transportation Officer, a chap by the name of Lieutenant Albany?, was an ice skater. And, he said, “You know, they have a nice rink downtown.” So, he said, “Would you go along?” and I said, “What are you talking about? Go out in this weather? You must be crazy!” And he said, “No, you know, come on!” So, we did. We got a Jeep; it was cold as hell. We got a Jeep and we went ice skating while it was 40 below outside. Well, that tells you a little about something of morale because nothing fazed us really at that time.
We went through Boston for our embarkation and we went by train and I was the Troop Commander on the train. We go there alright, passed very close to my home in Chicago and well, I couldn’t see anybody in Chicago, needless to say. We arrived at the embarkation camp in the Boston area.
Well, the only incident there, which gives you some idea of the kind of things that can kind of happen in this Army. I was Payroll Officer and I was paying off the troops and I was wearing my .45 pistol and it had bullets in it. Jim Walsh, the Executive Officer comes in and says, “We are getting all our arms inspected by the Base Commander and so I need your pistol.” I said, “I don’t have to give up my pistol during my payroll operation. Tell him I’ll see him later.” He said, “Come on, you are not in any danger of payroll being stolen.” So, I said, “Okay, you take the responsibility,” and I gave him my pistol.
About 30 seconds later, I hear a pistol go off. I knew it was my pistol; it was the only one likely to have any ammunition in it. Jim Walsh came back and just a minute later, as white as a sheet. He had been standing in front of the Sergeant who was inspecting the pistol when it went off.
DC: Oh, dear.
RR: Of course, he could have killed somebody.
RR: Well, Base Commander decided that this was about to be tolerated. He sent word that I was to appear immediately in this office. Well, it was during the payroll, I went to see a Base Commander and he says, “We won’t tolerate the misuse of firearms on my base!” and I said, “If I were you,” – now I was only a 2nd Lieutenant at that time, maybe a 1st Lieutenant already, I am not sure – and I said, “If I were you, I’d be doing the same thing. I’d be offended if people who misuse arms.” He says, “Well, it was your pistol that went off!” and I said, “Yes, but it was your inspector who shot it off,” I said, “Apparently, he didn’t know that with a pistol when you pull the clip, you better check the chamber to see it doesn’t have a bullet in it.”
Well, we made our way from Boston to Liverpool. This was April of ’44. The liner was called The Washington at the time, but it had been known under another name and it slips my memory just at the moment. But, it was our only transatlantic steamer. It wasn’t even a steamer; it was probably a motorboat. Oh, I don’t know how it was propelled.
But, it was a very eventful crossing. We were zigzagging across. We weren’t with any other ships and we were avoiding submarines by constantly changing course, randomly. Of course, on one of those occasions, we also had an instance where it tipped too much and all of the plates and everything just fell off the dining room tables, onto the floor. These are instances that are really not important to fighting the war but it gives you something of the human aspects of it, I think.
Anyway, we got to Ireland, and there was this beautiful, green island. We had just left Boston, which was gray, covered with snow and as we got in sight of Ireland, there was this beautiful, green panorama. It was really wonderful. So, spring came much earlier to Ireland and to England.
We went around the north of Ireland and to Liverpool, where we then were transported to Nuthampstead.
Nuthampstead was a great experience. We had a great bunch of crewmen with us. They distinguished themselves; we had some very serious casualties. Captain [John G.] Weibel went down, I think, within two weeks of our arrival [18 June 1944, in Hamburg, Germany as Acting Command Pilot]. At Nuthampstead and that, that was quite a loss. I just admired him greatly. He was a Commander you really could be proud of. He was firm, believed in discipline, but he believed in discipline that was germane to the task that the individuals faced.
I remember on one occasion, an earlier Executive Officer, wanted to ground the – not ground the crewman, wanted to prevent the crewman from getting any passes because the barracks failed their inspection. I remember Captain [John G.] Weibel, who was a disciplinarian himself, saying that disciplining the troops was a prerogative not of an Administrative Officer of the crewman, but of the Operations Officer or of the Commander. He let them know. He said, “We’ll decide whether there is an infraction of discipline or not.”
On the early missions, well, we had lots of casualties, even to the end of the war. It’s quite an experience that I shared with loss of crewmen, of having your buddies go down in this fight. But, I never, never heard anybody complain about what we were doing. Now, compare that, for example, to the people now opposing a war which is losing maybe 3, 000 a year, and here we were losing, what about, more than 100,000 a year. It’s a different war, I guess.
Anyway, I knew all the first crewman who flew over with us. Well, they had been with us, training other squadrons, many of them. So, I knew all of them and I served so many memorable crews, I won’t mention any one in particular, they are all stellar. [Captain John G.] Weibel was succeeded by [Captain Edwin] Bruce Daily, who was another great Commander. Believed in discipline but was fair and the only time he felt a disciplinary action was required was when the mission was jeopardized in some way.
The war is coming to an end. We were starting to plan our 200th mission party and I was asked to take charge of it, to arrange entertainment, to plan the day’s events, to transport all of the guests – we had just hundreds of girls from Letchworth and other places near the base – bringing them to the base. We had to organize that. We had to organize seeing them home, I don’t know, ten, eleven o’clock at night.
It was to be our 200th mission party. Actually, it had taken place earlier. It was given a different name because by May 25th  – I am not positive of the date, but it was pretty close to the date the war ended, maybe. Well, no, it was after war was ended, because we weren’t going to complete those 200 missions. We ended up with I think 192 or 194 or 196[the 398th flew 195 missions]. So, we didn’t call it a 200th mission party. Well, as I said, I arranged the transportation, most of that was my responsibility, including the hiring the talent. I thought it was interesting that one of the comedians who participated was Monty, who I think became, Monty Python.
RR: Well, I don’t know if he would remember that or not, but I have the program and all of the entertainers on it and that list, and there is his name.
Well, by the time the war ended – oh, I better tell you a little more about the Executive’s duties. The Executive is in charge of all the ground personnel; Ordnance, Communications, Engineering, Recordkeeping, Reporting, and that sort of thing. And, so I would frequently go out to the line to see the crews take off, got loaded and sometimes take off.
I was Officer of the Day the day a V-2 or V-1, the one that it was a guided airplane; I think it’s the V-1. The V-2 was the tough one, the one that was powerful and that I encountered later on in London. The V-1, I was Officer of the Day, which means I patrolled the area around the planes and so on, checking on the guards of the airplanes and seeing that they perform their duties. Oh, and I guess it was early in the morning, 5:30 or 6:00, that this V-1 exploded. We heard it. We call the control tower and said, “Yes it was close,” I said, “Do you know where it landed,” they said, “No, we aren’t sure but probably in the area of two to three miles.” Turned out to have fallen in our bomb dump.
DC: Oh boy!
RR: And, thank goodness, it did not hit anything. That’s also – of course, our bomb dumps were stored the bombs in a way that the whole thing wouldn’t go up. But, nevertheless, it landed in our bomb dump and it didn’t cause any damage.
The other incident that I had, of course, I was in London. I was just on a pass and was walking from the Red Cross facility where I had been, where I spent the night. And, walking through Marble Arch to the Officers’ Mess in Grosvenor Square in London, and I had just reached the street. I had left from the Marble Arch station, I might have walked the whole way, it wasn’t that far distance. And, I turned off to go to Grosvenor Square, when a V-2 exploded, right at Marble Arch, killing some WAFFs, our women who were housed at Marble Arch in one of the hotels there, and it just struck a bus. I dashed back to the scene and, of course, it was a typical, horrible scene of bodies and so on. Of course, the fact that I had been there about three minutes before makes it stand out in my memory.
RR: Um, the other thing that I was – I was an attorney before the war, and applied through Officers’ School and was accepted and became a 2nd Lieutenant. But it was on my records that I was an attorney and other Squadron Commanders knew that and whenever an occasion came up of a charge or a court martial charge, I was asked to come in and the first half dozen instances, I was Defense Counsel. Then, I was appointed by Colonel Hunter [Colonel Frank P. Hunter, Jr., Group C.O./Pilot] to be the Trial Judge Advocate, which is a prosecutor. I was the law member of Special Court Martial and towards the end of the war, I was President of a General Court Martial and we had not very many, but we had a few cases of – a case of impersonating an officer, one was a bigamy charge which was, I guess an officer was getting ready to marry – it wasn’t a bigamy charge because he never really got married – but it was unprofessional conduct. The family of the bride-to-be decided to check on his background in the States and someone discovered that he was already married.
RR: It was an interesting case. But, there were other cases, violence, that which driving had caused the deaths of innocent people, things like that. So, my duties ran the gamut of first, the Ground Official – I was the Mess Officer while we were in the United States and so, we had the Christmas party in December 1943 in Rapids City, South Dakota, and we arranged for the turkeys to be baked in the ovens of a bread manufacturer in Rapids City and the Officers served it to the Enlisted men.
RR: And, I thought that was a great occasion. That was on Christmas 1943
Well, I separated from the 398th because I decided to return to civil life and was transferred to the 306th Bomb Group in Thurleigh [RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England] and that was a marshaling area for troops that were going back to the States. We moved from there over to a fighter base in France and then we went by boxcar from Northern France all the way down to Marseilles, where we boarded a liberty ship that had been converted into passenger use and we sailed for Norfolk. The problem that we had is that liberty ships, especially without cargo, and had a disposition in waves, storms, and so on, to pitch and the screws would come out in the water and just spin. Boy like crazy!
So, the Captain had to order just the slowest movement of the screws. It took us 24 days to get from Marseilles to Norfolk on this liberty ship! [Laughter]
DC: Sounds like the Mayflower!
RR: 24 days it took! But it was, well, it was the end of the war and that was end of my duties, the end of my service. I returned and went to the University of Chicago in January of ’46, one week after I had returned to Chicago and pursued a degree, thanks to the G.I. Bill, getting a PhD in Economics and I have been teaching Economics ever since. But, my civil life I have already remembered but not only the incidents that I related here, but many others that I couldn’t tell you about.
There were occasions for disciplinary actions. I was responsible for the disciplining of any ground crew member. I knew that neither Colonel [Edwin Bruce] Daily, nor I, they didn’t object to our informing them of any infraction that we found, for example; dirty rifles, guards showing up to duty at night to patrol the runways, to patrol the planes, showing up with dirty rifles. We considered that to be a serious indication of the lack of preparedness for what could happen.
RR: And so that was one of my duties was disciplining and we had to make some reductions in rank. But, that’s part of the business of leadership in fulfilling your responsibilities, which I was happy to do.
DC: What was your rank as Executive Officer?
RR: I think when I became Executive Officer, I was Captain and I was made Major sometime early in 1945.
RR: I stayed in the Reserve afterward and became a Lieutenant Colonel. So, I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for, oh, another ten or fifteen year.
DC: Uh-huh. And, so you were with the 600th Squadron, so the other three squadrons each had an Executive Officer of your duties?
RR: Of course. I knew them all.
DC: Yeah, right
RR: I knew all the Squadron Commanders and I knew all the Operations Officers.
Yes, we didn’t have many formal meetings, let’s say the four Execs getting together.
RR: But frequently Colonel [Earl J.] Berryhill or the Colonel might, if he was upset with something that was going on, he might convey it to us. Very often he conveyed it to all the Officers. But, there was at least two occasions, when [Colonel Earl J.] Berryhill met with just the Execs. He was Executive Officer of the group and we were Executive Officers of the squadrons. He just met -- he was a tough guy and he would say that we were falling down on this or that or the other thing and that we’ve got to get the people tightened up on whatever it was that need to be tightened.
But, no the meetings were mostly informal. I met them really at the Officers’ Club or something like that.
DC: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Did you ever attend daily briefings [or] mission briefings?
RR: Yeah, I can’t recall any briefing.
DC: But one of your duties was to debrief?
RR: No, it was not my duty. But I would often go to the debriefing with Captain Massey and Lieutenant Crawford, our intelligence people of the group and just to welcome these people back and to see what was going on, to learn what casualties we might have suffered, and so on. Well, I did this, my guess at least once every week or so.
DC: Alright, alright. In your court martial experience, where did those take place?
RR: They would take place in, oh, it could be in the Officers’ Club, I can’t remember it. We didn’t have any specific room for it because they, it was probably less than two court martials a month. I think in the whole time that I was there, there might have been ten court martials in our unit plus the court martials that I participated in outside the unit, in general court martials.
But I can’t recall, you say where, I suspect it took place in the Officers’ Club. But, it could have taken place in any, in a briefing room.
RR: But, I don’t recall it taking place in a briefing room.
RR: So, it just, I don’t really recall what space was allocated for that purpose.
RR: Now, as a Trial Judge Advocate or Defense Counsel, I had to travel to interview witnesses. I spent a lot of time in London and other areas where incidents occurred, interviewing all the witnesses and so on. Well, of course, there was always a pre-court martial proceeding in which we wanted to find out if anything justified a court martial, so that most offenses resulted in just reprimand and maybe slight limitations on coming and going but not much else.
DC: Uh-hm. Uh-hm. So, you say then after the war, you earned your PhD in Economics, so you were in that field rather than law after the war.
RR: Yes, yes. I did practice law a bit, not much, but I am still a member in good standing of the Illinois Bar.
RR: So I maintained it because I often have consulting with lawyers more than actually being a lawyer. But, I have some substantial cases, not many.
DC: Uh-huh, uh-huh. How long have you been coming to the group reunions?
RR: This is the second one.
RR: The last one was in Richmond and that was many years ago. But, you see, time has a different effect on different people. For example, I married an English girl and at my wedding, Captain [Jim] Bestervelt was one of our pilots, was my best man. I met him in Richmond and I said, “Gee, Jim, I haven’t seen you since the wedding,” and he said, “What wedding?” I said, “When I married Helda,” and he said, “I don’t think I know Helda,” and I said, “Jim! You were best man!” [Laughter] I had to remind him!
DC: Right. Have you been back to the old base?
RR: Yes, yes I have.
DC: Have you?
RR: As a matter of fact, among my duties was dealing with civilians who had problems with our soldiers and so I would have to try to straighten it out but there wasn’t anybody accused of theft but they were accused of abusing personal relationships at one time or another. And, one of our pleasant duties in dealing with this is that I met the mother of Elaine Tyler, who was here as one of the British Friends of the 398th. She was pregnant and when Elaine was born, she asked me to come to the christening. So, another Officer and I went to the christening and I am Elaine’s godfather. [Laughter]
DC: Oh, that’s great, that’s great!
RR: So, you see the duties vary. But being a godfather was not a duty, I volunteered for that.
DC: Right, right, excellent, excellent. Those are some great stories, Raymond.
RR: I don’t know if they belong in the history of the squadron or not, but for what’s it is worth, it gives it a kind of a flavor for what it’s like.
DC: For sure, for sure. Yep, well, I thank you very much for coming in and sharing that.
RR: I’m really glad. I hope this will help at least clarify a little bit on what the ground crew did.
DC: Right, yeah. I hear we have heard from a number of members of flight crews, but like I say, I talked to one ground crew and now from the Executive Officer. These are all great perspectives.
RR: Yes, I think it is needed because it was a community of soldiers and I think, I think we were marvelously unified in a sense of what our mission was. You know, I think it’s amazing until just how –well I can’t recall a single incident, there may have been one, but I can’t recall a single incident where a crewmember refused to fly.
RR: And given the fact that they had been exposed to the flak and so on, I think it’s amazing but I never – I don’t think there was a single incident in which they cracked up. I didn’t even have any psycho problems in the 600th that I can recall of and, given the kind of pressure that the crews were under, I think it’s fantastic.
DC: Yes, it is. And I have noticed in my interviews that I have not heard one complaint about anyone was treated or complaints about superior officers, or anything.
RR: Well, there was some complaints after Colonel Hunter [Colonel Frank P. Hunter, Jr., Group C.O./Pilot] died.
RR: He set a standard of performance that was really flawless.
The interviews ends.
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- Major Ray Richman was the 600th Adjutant for CO Major John Weibel and afterwards became the 600th Executive Officer. Major Richman later reported to Major and then Col. Bruce Daily after Major John Weibel moved to 398th Air Exec.
- The above transcription was provided by Jan Silverstein, one of our 398th volunteers in May 2011.
- The transcription was obtained from a video file.
- Punctuation, grammar and minor word changes may have been made to improve readability.
- Additional information may be shown in brackets [ ].