TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — When Richard “Dick”
Marsch took to the skies over southern Europe during World War II in the 1940s,
the stakes of his missions varied from lethal to humorous.
the stories of some of them, including his 65 combat missions, during an Oct.
29 visit to the 9th Air Refueling Squadron auditorium at Travis Air Force Base,
California. The visit coincided with the veteran pilot’s 100th birthday.
was not just a chance to celebrate a milestone birthday but for Travis Airmen
to connect with Air Force heritage.
important that we honor and celebrate with our veteran family and remember
their legacy,” said Maj. Dominik Niziol, C-17 pilot and 60th Air Mobility Wing
Commanders Action Group director.
“We have a proud history dating back before
1947; and as time passes, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for our
Airmen to hear from our WWII aviators who set the stage for the Air Force of
combat missions, Marsch fought in the Battle of Anzio, a six-month siege in
1944 to break a German supply line in Italy. The centenarian said pilots bombed
railroads and bridges in an effort to disrupt the supply chain of Axis forces.
those bridges repeatedly,” said Marsch. “It turned out to be a success because
we did isolate the German forces. They were unable to supply the troops and
they finally had to break the line and start moving back up in Italy, which is
what (we) wanted to do.”
successful campaign allowed Army Gen. Mark Clark and the Fifth Army to push
forward toward Rome, capturing the city in June 1944.
flew in the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North
Africa and Sardinia, Italy.
flew in formation, Marsch said, so closely that their wings overlapped. They
would take their cue from the bombardier in the lead aircraft, aiming for the
far ends of the bridges.
said this was done without the support of fighter aircraft. He said fighters at
the time were unable to carry enough fuel from American-held locations to reach
the drop zone and return safely. However, Axis powers typically kept their
fighters farther north, meaning the most difficult obstacle for Marsch and the
other pilots was anti-aircraft fire.
addition to combat missions, Marsch flew a variety of other taskings. A
December 1943 flight to Algiers, Algeria, picked up mail for troops who may not
otherwise have received letters in time for the holidays.
holiday mail delivery, which occurred shortly after he arrived in Italy, made
him the go-to person in his unit for additional duties. Marsch said other
missions took him around the Mediterranean Sea, bringing troops to rest camps.
flight involved Marsch delivering Italian USO troops to entertain detained
Italian forces. He jumped at the opportunity.
Marsch taught French and South African pilots how to fly the B-26.
enlisted March 27, 1942, in the Army Air Corps. He received his wings and his
commission Feb. 6, 1943, and began training on the B-26.
100-year-old said American forces were training more pilots than they had
landing space, so he was among a group that practiced on the Stearman PT-13 in
the field of a farmer near Ontario, California.
weren’t flying, we were eating the farmer’s watermelons,” said Marsch.
tour lasted one year, from November 1943 to November 1944. After the war,
Marsch joined the reserves and returned to work for AT&T. He married a
clerk who worked in his father’s jewelry store and had four sons. His son Jim
Marsch, the youngest of four, said he worked for AT&T Company in various
capacities, moving to several cities in the western United States before
landing in San Francisco, California. He retired from the company in the early
retirement, he moved to Fairfield, California, to be closer to his son and
grandchild. In addition to his four sons, he has three grandkids and two
great-grandkids. His wife died in 2012.
said he was an avid golfer until about 10 years ago, when his back began
complicating his game.
said when he grew up that his father wasn’t forthcoming about his experiences
during World War II, learning more once the younger Marsch became an adult.
somebody to really bolster or build up himself and those experiences he had,”
said Jim Marsch. “He seems to have found the good memories to remember that era