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Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

Dick Marsch, left, a World War II veteran cuts a cake in honor of his 100th birthday during his tour at Travis Air Force Base, California, while his good friends Marietta and Dermot O’Kelly look on, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Welch, 9th Air Refueling Squadron commander, presents a scarf to Dick Marsch, a World War II veteran who was celebrating his 100th birthday touring sites at Travis Air Force Base, California, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

Dick Marsch, a World War II veteran celebrates his 100th birthday touring sites at Travis Air Force Base, California, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

Dick Marsch, a World War II veteran celebrates his 100th birthday touring sites at Travis Air Force Base, California, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

An Airman looks at old photographs provided by Dick Marsch, background, a World War II veteran who was celebrating his 100th birthday touring sites at Travis Air Force Base, California, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

Travis celebrates World War II veteran’s 100th birthday

U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Leard, left, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander and Chief Master Sgt. Derek Crowder, 60th Air Mobility Wing command chief look at old documents provided by Dick Marsch, a World War II veteran who was celebrating his 100th birthday touring sites at Travis Air Force Base, California, October 29, 2018. Marsch flew the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Louis Briscese)

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.


He retold 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.


The event was not just a chance to celebrate a milestone birthday but for Travis Airmen to connect with Air Force heritage.


"It's 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 today."


As for 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.


“We bombed 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.”


The successful campaign allowed Army Gen. Mark Clark and the Fifth Army to push forward toward Rome, capturing the city in June 1944.


Marsch flew in the Martin Marauder B-26 from 1942 to 1945 while assigned to North Africa and Sardinia, Italy.


The planes 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.


Marsch 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.


In 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.


The 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.


Another flight involved Marsch delivering Italian USO troops to entertain detained Italian forces. He jumped at the opportunity.


Additionally, Marsch taught French and South African pilots how to fly the B-26.


Marsch 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.


The 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.


“When we weren’t flying, we were eating the farmer’s watermelons,” said Marsch.


His combat 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 1980s.


In 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.


His son said he was an avid golfer until about 10 years ago, when his back began complicating his game.


Jim Marsch 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.

“He’s not 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 by.”

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