WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of World War II veteran Ray Randall in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Randall was born in Glendale, California on February 18, 1922 and was named after his paternal grandfather. His dad was a World War I veteran who wasn’t involved in his life. He was raised in Chicago in the same neighborhoods where his mother grew up and he even attended the same elementary school where she was once a student.
As an athlete, Randall played several sports and found success in track and field as well as cross country. “I was undefeated in my races in Chicago,” he said. His accomplishments earned him a scholarship to the University of Chicago where he was a member of the track team.
During his senior year of college, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an aviation cadet, but deferred so he could finish his degree, but the military had other plans for him. “They called me up,” he recounted, around his birthday. Randall wore the present he received throughout his time in uniform – a Movado watch that he still owns.
Randall served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He trained in many locations stateside including the Newport Army Air Field and Blytheville Army Air Field which served as a flight training school.
“When I went to basic flight school in Newport, Arkansas, my instructor, he had two students, we were his first students after he got his wings. We flew a PT-19,” Randall recalled. His previous instructors had taught him some maneuvers that he showed his new teacher. “I thought, I’m going to have fun with this guy. He’s a real nice kid, not much older than me, but a big guy. I put it in a spin and held it in there until 3,500 feet and pulled it out. I thought he was going to die. I was just having fun.”
On May 23, 1944, Randall received his wings and days later he was on his way to New York to be processed for overseas deployment. He flew from the Big Apple on July 3, 1944 and stopped in several locations for refueling including Algiers where he was able to meet with his brother-in-law.
Randall was assigned to the South-East Asian Theater. He served as a pilot of C-47 and C-46 transport aircraft over “The Hump.” These dangerous transport missions over the Himalayas provided supplies to American and Chinese forces fighting Japan and were typically parachute dropped in. He flew 220 missions.
“This is jungle, but you had bare spots every once in a while. It might be a very small area a couple hundred feet wide and you’re supposed to drop these things above treetop level,” Randall said. “The pilot had to signal when the guys would drop them.” He said sometimes it was a “guessing game.”
Early in his military service, Randall was responsible for reporting intelligence information such as foreign interference or traitors. He suspects this is why he had the opportunity to fly missions for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime intelligence agency and precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He was also selected to participate in an OSS-sponsored jungle survival school.
One of Randall’s most frightening experiences as a pilot occurred while taking off with a plane full of injured troops along a river. “You had to use all kinds of ingenuity.” He remembers getting as far back in the field as possible, revving up the engine and the half flaps on the wings.
“I was judging what we had to do but I was getting closer to that river and a lot of rocks. We just got flying speed enough to stay out of the water,” he said. “That’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”
When the war ended and Randall was able to return home, he made the journey on a troop ship to New York. “We dropped anchor in the harbor. We could see the lights and the cars and everything. It was because we were the first ship back and they wanted to have a big parade the next morning,” he said. After he disembarked, he placed a call to his wife Shirley and his mother.
“I was glad to do what I did and I was glad to get back,” Randall said.
Following the war, Randall had a successful career working for Libby’s and Allen Canning Company, which brought him to Rogers. “It’s the greatest place in the world to live.”
“As a member of the Greatest Generation, Ray honorably served his country and has remained humble about his time in uniform. I’m grateful for his service and sacrifice to our nation and his willingness to share his memories for future generations of Americans,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Randall’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.