1st Lieutenant

Ralph E. Bower III

d. 04 April 1978

Ralph and Captain Gregory M Torres were killed when their F-4D crashed on a training mission.  Both were charter members of the 480 TFS that was reactivated in 1976.

Remembrance from a classmate at West Point:

Ralph Emerson Bower III was born in Spokane, WA, to Ralph Emerson Bower, Jr, ex-Class of June ’43, and Margaret Jane Bower. Ralph’s dad served in the Air Force and became an Episcopal minister after retiring. Ralph attended Healdsburg (CA) High School, where he was on the wrestling team, played tennis, and was in the band. He also was a member of the Episcopal Young Churchmen Club. He graduated from high school in June 1970.

In August 1970, Ralph and I met when I walked into a barracks room in the 47th Division at West Point. “Coondog” Cooney and “Duke” Ellington were there also. We all thought the room had ghosts in it, and we shared many laughs there. Ralph and I roomed together many times during our four years at West Point, and one of the funny things we all remember is Ralph’s great love for instant macaroni and cheese. He even developed a technique for making it in the room.

Ralph had an adventuresome spirit, and Ralph, Larry Bethel, and I traveled during the summers together. We went to Spain, Turkey, and Greece one year, and the summer after graduation we went to Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines, and Thailand. On our travels together, we learned that Ralph was full of life, very intelligent, caring, and a loyal friend.

At West Point, academics, sport parachuting, and Sue Perry took up most of Ralph’s time. Sue, Ralph’s future wife, was the daughter of COL Milum Perry, who was stationed at West Point while we were cadets. When not spending time with Sue, Ralph did have to study, but he picked up concepts faster that anyone I have ever known. He also enjoyed talking about the philosophy of life. He really cared about people, and he showed it in a quiet way. He never boasted about anything except Sue. Ralph was the closest friend that I have ever had, and I will always consider him my brother.

When Ralph graduated in June 1974, he chose the Air Force, in part because his dad had been an Air Force bomber pilot and also because he really wanted to fly. He mastered the art of flying, graduating at the top of all of his classes and receiving his choice of aircraft. He chose the F-4.

After graduating from flight training, Ralph married Sue. Ralph loved her tenderly and cherished her. They were best friends, and you could see Ralph’s devotion to Sue in his eyes when he talked about her.

Ralph’s first assignment was with the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Spangdahlem, Germany. They lived in a small, rustic home in the country, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was Ralph’s nature to live somewhere quiet so he could be in touch with nature. I visited them in Germany, and when we awoke early one morning, we walked out onto the porch that overlooked the valley and watched the sun rise. The mist was rising as the sun came up.

Although it was cool, I felt the warmth and closeness of brothers between us. Ralph and I had attended the Episcopal church at West Point, and this was a special moment. That morning, we talked about life and what it had in store, and Ralph talked about his philosophy of life. It was truly a religious experience. We talked about our lives with our wives, our careers, and the children we hoped would be born. Ralph told me how much he loved Sue and how lucky he was to love flying as much as he did. We laughed about some of the mistakes we had made in life. Little did we know that, soon afterwards, Ralph’s F-4 would go down, killing him and his navigator.

Ralph died tragically on 4 Apr 1978. Sue lost a great husband and friend, the Air Force lost a rising star, and the Class of 1974 lost a wonderful classmate. I personally lost the best friend I have ever had, but God took Ralph from us because he had other plans for him. We learned from Ralph’s death that life is precious and that death can happen anytime. Ralph knew the importance of living life to the fullest every day, and he was happy every day he was alive.

Sue and I brought Ralph’s body home to be buried in the West Point Cemetery, and I remember crying uncontrollably during the service. Some people you cry for, some you weep for, and others you lose control over. I lost control that day and really was not any help to Sue.

It saddens me that this world lost Ralph Bower. I personally lost a great friend and a brother in arms, but I have faith that we will meet again in God’s perfect world.”