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World War II fighter pilot's adventures main focus of Independence Day celebration in Grandview this year

GRANDVIEW - "Liberty will not descend to a people; a people must raise themselves to liberty, it is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed."

Perhaps that quote by Charles Caleb Colton can best sum up the impetus behind the 32nd annual flag raising ceremony in Grandview, slated for Saturday, July 4, and made possible by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Grandview Ward.

It also sums up the service of LTC Milton Herman Ramsey, ASAF, Ret., for this nation.

Ramsey was shot down over northern France on Jan. 29, 1944, and spent five months in the French underground, slowly making his way to Spain.

The dogfight in the air, as Ramsey calls it, occurred in German territory.

"I've heard anywhere from eight to 20 airplanes had jumped us," he said, adding everything was happening so fast there was no time to count how many enemy planes had descended upon them. "There were so many airplanes there, what worried me was a mid-air collision."

During the fight, Ramsey said he's certain he shot down two enemy planes. "And I was going to try and hit a couple more."

The problem was that he soon realized he was the only friendly in the air.

"There was no time to think, you just react," he said.

The canopy of his P-47 had been hit, but the plane was operating ok, he said. But he had no other choice other than to bale. "It had some holes in it, but it was flying ok. It was a tough old plane."

Ramsey had only baled once before and it was a bad experience-he hit the plane and knocked himself unconscious.

The plane had no ejection seat, so Ramsey knew he had to make an escape through the canopy. Because of the damage from the bullets, he couldn't open it, so he turned around and kicked it with both feet. He then rolled the plane upside down so it'd drop him. It failed. So he rolled it upside down again, this time pushing the stick forward. "The tail comes up real fast and it just threw me out," he said.

Ramsey landed in France and hastily began to cover up his white parachute with dirt because the enemy would be able to spot it against the ground from the air.

He took off running and hid in a nearby barn filled with cows. "I just laid down in the straw. Things had happened so fast, I needed time to think. Then here the farmer came with a pitchfork. I took off and ran up the road a mile or two.

"I really had to sit down. I knew they were looking for me and I knew I wasn't too far away from my plane."

Eventually, he found another farm to hide out at. "The farmer brought me food out. He'd leave it for me, cognac, coffee, cookies, fish," he said, adding that he would hide, let the farmer put the items out, then make a run for the food when the farmer couldn't see him. Finally, the farmer caught him. "He told me, 'You can't stay here, this is the worst place to be. They're looking for you and they're going to find you."

Ramsey said the farmer wasn't a part of the French underground, but knew people who were, so he took him to an elderly woman's home. She was involved in the underground.

After that, he'd stay in different homes. "They kept moving you around, shuffling from home to home."

Ramsey couldn't go outside, he had to stay hidden in the homes.

At one home, he and another friendly in the underground had to take off running because the Gestapo came knocking at the door. Ramsey later learned they took the male homeowner as prisoner. "He never made it back."

After several months, Ramsey was finally able to begin a journey over the Pyrenees Mountains, which would get him safely to Spain. He said he couldn't go to Switzerland, because he'd be stuck there until the war ended.

On the first trip, though, he said, "We got shot at when we were at the top. We had to turn around and go back."

A group of people, including Ramsey, then made another attempt over the mountains. "It was a good thing we were young at the time, because it was a tough climb," he said. Sometimes, they had to make the journey on all fours instead of upright.

Ramsey said there was a wealthy companion in the group that would buy their way out of trouble. That came in handy when they needed a guide and couldn't find anybody willing to help them. Some, he said, were too terrified of the Germans. But the wealthy fellow provided the funds to bribe to get a guide. "He was paying his way out."

At one point over the mountains, Ramsey said, "The Germans knew we were moving through there and they started after us."

Because of that, the group had to stay on the move.

At one point, Ramsey was so exhausted he told them to continue on without him. He said he sat down, took out his water bottle and added a packet of sugar.

"It gives you such quick energy. I was able to catch back up with the group."

Finally, they made it to Spain. He said the only reason Spaniards helped them was because the American government was paying them money. "Otherwise, they wouldn't have been too friendly."

After a month, Ramsey boarded a plane, headed to the sanctuary of England, a friendly country.

Ramsey's nephew, Fred Ramsey, will be the featured guest speaker at the Fourth of July event, which begins at 9 a.m. at Grandview's Stokely Square. Ramsey will tell his uncle's story, which is featured in the book "Apple Knockers: Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot."

Books will be available at the Independence Day celebration, which will also feature music and recognition of Lower Valley scouts who have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout status since July 4, 2008.

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