Parade grand marshal was POW in Germany


By DAVE PHILLIPS
P-I Staff Writer


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Ralph Benjamin “Ben” Routon, grand marshal of Saturday’s Veterans Day parade, looks at a book given to him by his former bombardier’s mother. She made the book while Routon and his crew were held as prisoners of war in Germany during World War II

 

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For the wealth of military history he has, 84-year-old Ralph Benjamin “Ben” Routon is a modest man.

Upon learning that he was named the grand marshal for the upcoming Veterans Day Parade in Paris, Routon said, “It’s got to be an honor; whether I deserve it or not is something else.”

Routon enlisted with the U.S. Army Air Force on Nov. 16, 1942. From there, he flew 21 successful bombing missions, was held as a prisoner of war for six months in Germany, and received several awards, including the Presidential Citation, Air Medal European Theater of Operations Medal with a star for campaign in Italy and the Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster.

Routon was piloting a B-24 over a target in Munich, Germany, during World War II when his plane’s superchargers were struck by enemy fire.

“We had a little power, but we couldn’t maintain altitude,” Routon said.

“Peaks of mountains poked through the clouds. We had to go in blindly until we hit the mountains. There was no place to land.”

Routon had a decision to make, but, to him, it was not very difficult.

“I made the order to bail out. It was time to go. There wasn’t any choice.”

Upon landing in the remote mountains of Germany, Routon found his navigator hanging from a tree by his parachute. He later found his copilot.

Unfortunately, the men were found by the Germans, who then escorted

them at gunpoint to a prison camp in Germany.
German officers moved POWs between camps to keep them confused. Routon figured that this offered him an excellent chance to escape.

“The German guards were pretty lax; it was towards the end of the war,” Routon said.

“A buddy and I were on an embankment. We had friends in front of us and behind us to get the attention of the guards. We rolled down the hill, and we were loose for two or three days.”

The men would walk around at night and hide during the day to avoid being caught.

“One night, we were going down a gravel road and we saw two fence posts on each side. We got there and realized we were walking back into the camps,” Routon said.

He was a POW from Nov. 16, 1944, until the European Theater ended in May of 1945.

While the men were missing, the bombardier’s mother put a book together about the members of the crew.

Her son said that Routon “wanted to fly the biggest airplane there was.”

Parachuting out of an airplane was one of Routon’s most vivid memories of being in the service.

Another one was the people.

“My outfit of four officers and six enlisted men were all excellent people,” Routon said.

“All of them lived out of the (war). That was probably the most memorable thing.”

Routon was introduced to aviation while in college.

An aviation class was being offered and Routon was asked if he’d like to learn how to fly.

“No, I don’t believe so,” was his reply.

It took another inquiry before Routon agreed.

“At that age, you know you’re going somewhere,” he said.

“The reason I joined the Air Force was so I didn’t have to sleep in muddy trenches all the time.”

Routon became heavily involved with concrete after his time in the service was over, getting a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville before working for multiple concrete companies.

“In 1951, my dad was killed in an automobile wreck,” Routon said.

“He loved the farm; my mother didn’t care about it too much. I felt like I had to come back to Paris to run the farm and be with her.”

“The farm wasn’t enough. I wasn’t that much in love with it, so I started the first ready mix concrete plant in Paris and operated that along with the farm.”

Six years later, Routon sold the farm and the concrete plant, starting his own concrete construction company after taking an engineering job for a brief period.

He went on to work for Portland Cement in Middle Tennessee for 30 years.

Routon lives in Paris and has two daughters, Janice Routon of Henry County and Anetta Sykes of Florida.

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Routon Speaks

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Ben Routon, grand marshal of Saturday’s Veterans Day parade, speaks to a crowd of about 100 people at a Veterans Day program at the courthouse Sunday morning. Routon spoke about his experiences throughout his military career.

 

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Ben  Routon
Class of 1940

 

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Reprinted  from
The Paris Post-Intelligencer
Paris, Tennessee
November 8  and  November 12,  2007 Editions
USED  BY  PERMISSION

 

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