MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Ira Richter, a resident of Manhattan, was known by his family as a hardworking family man who took pride in his work and protected those around him. Richter is also described as being humble about his combat experience during World War II which earned him the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.
“I called him a hero one time. I said ‘you’re a hero, Uncle Ira,’ and he said ‘I’m not a hero. The heroes are all dead,’” said Brad Barez, nephew.
Richter was a flight engineer in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII and flew 465 missions in the China Burma India Theater according to his enlistment record. His crew flew troops and cargo for hundreds of miles each way over the Himalayas, a storied and treacherous route known as the “the Hump.”
“That was a rough place to be, flying over those Himalayas, you know. No time off, no furloughs, no nothing. You just worked, did your job,” said Helen, Richter’s wife of 69 years.
Richter was once the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed all of his fellow crew members. The airmen were transporting thousands of gallons of gasoline and due to the extra weight on the aircraft, weren’t able to clear a mountainside ridge.
“The plane hit and the tail spun off. He went one way and they went the other. Anyone who was in the bulk of the plane, imagine thousands of pounds of gasoline going off. None of them made it,” said Barez.
According to Helen and Barez, Richter once saved his crew and aircraft from an enemy fighter planning to bomb their aircraft.
“He slept on the wing of his airplane because he had heard the Chinese we’re going to come up and blow up the plane. So he slept on the wing that night and he shot the guy ‘cause he spotted him,” said Helen Richter.
“(Ira) said ‘I saw a guy die eight feet in front of me with a colt .45, the same as General Patton had. He was trying to blow up my friends,’” said Barez.
At 91 years of age, Richter passed away “peacefully” leaving his wife of 69 years, Helen, to tell the stories he kept to himself for decades.
“For years he talked nothing about it and didn’t want to talk about it. So it was in the last five or 10 years that he really talked more about it. That’s just something you didn’t talk about,” said Helen.
Update: Richter's family is no longer accepting donations for funeral expenses.