Falling From The Sky (VIDEO)

Vet talks about his days as a paratrooper in WWII

World War II veteran reflects on his time in the service, and talks about a portrait of himself drawn by a Japanese prisoner.

Richard Ketterling sits behind a hand-drawn portrait of himself. He gave a Japanese prisoner a few dollars to make the picture while he was on guard after World War II was over. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Richard Ketterling sits behind a hand-drawn portrait of himself. He gave a Japanese prisoner a few dollars to make the picture while he was on guard after World War II was over. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

With a desire to discover more in life outside of the family farm, Richard Ketterling volunteered for military service at the height of World War II in 1944.

Ketterling, a 1944 graduate of Hettinger High School, said that he had never been outside of the state, and wanted to try something different when he enlisted.

“I volunteered for induction,” Ketterling said. “I was just a young kid and wanted to do something different, I hadn’t been out of the state of North Dakota.”

His father wanted him to stay and help with the family farm, but he joined the service on June 21 shortly after his graduation.

The government assigned him to the Army branch of the military, and Ketterling was put in the artillery division. He couldn’t remember exactly when or why, but he eventually volunteered to be a paratrooper.

He did his training in Ft. Benning, Ga. where he made his first five jumps. Following his beginning instructions he was pushed on to advanced training where he completed more jumps, and finished his training.

He said you didn’t have time to be scared when making jumps.

Ketterling remembers being on the plane, with 12 men on each side. And when they were given the command, one by one they all jumped.

“When they say ‘go,’ well you just follow the guy ahead of you,” Ketterling said.

He said that if your nerves started acting up, you ran the risk of being pushed out of the plane; one way or another, Ketterling said, you were jumping out of the aircraft.

Training was very rigorous. Ketterling remembers, and said it closely mirrored that of the Marines.

“Training in the paratroops was really tough,” Ketterling said. “It was physical training from morning till night.”

He also had some education in larger weapons as a member of artillery. Paratroopers would be trained to jump out of the plane after a box of a disassembled cannon was dropped. They would land and convene at the dropped box and assemble the weapon for use.

When he was shipped out of the United States Ketterling landed in the Philippines, where he would stay for nearly his entire military career.

When reflecting on his time first landing overseas, he said the one thing he noticed was that the number of crashed Japanese planes far outnumbered American planes.

“Our pilots, evidently, were a lot better than there’s,” Ketterling said.

He was a part of a small battalion of paratroopers and artillery men, and eventually they were transported, by boat, to another island to replaced lost troops.

Ketterling said he never had to jump into live combat, be he was ready if would have been called upon. Many of his jumps during training included being dressed in full gear and equipped with a rifle.

“Oh yeah, you were fully equipped,” Ketterling said.

He spent 18 months in the military, before an accident ended his career. He was accidentally shot by a fellow soldier during a gun-handling incident, and spent three months in the hospital.

Ketterling returned to Hettinger and held various jobs around the area until 1970, when he settled in at the county courthouse as a County Tax Director. He retired in 1988.

He has stayed involved with the Legion Club since he became the first manager in 1948. He has been a member of the American Legion for 68 years.

Ketterling doesn’t carry many mementos from his time in the military, but he does have one. A portrait of himself, hand drawn by a Japanese prisoner.

After the war, Ketterling was guarding some members of the Japanese military, and one was good with the pencil. So, to help the gentlemen out, Ketterling gave him some money and the man drew for a photo of him. He has it framed and in his home to this day.

Ketterling, turning 90 years old recently, doesn’t talk about his service much, and is pretty humble about his time as a soldier, but he would have stayed in the service had he been able to.

“I’m proud of my service, but I never made a big deal out of it,” Ketterling said. “If I would have the opportunity, I think I would have stayed in myself.”

Ketterling said that he has a grandson currently serving in the Air Force.