Branch of Service: Army
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Service years: 1941-1945
Glen Rock: Lived on Midwood Road, Glen Rock
Born on May 30, 1920, Charlie Ruthberg grew up during the Great Depression in Middletown, New York. His flying ambitions began when he was but six years old when his older brothers put him in a peach basket on a clothesline leading to a barn sixty feet away from the second story of their house. They put a helmet and goggles on him and let him go. Ever since Mr. Ruthberg had dreamed of flying. To try and emulate the feeling his brothers would put him on gliders attached to the back of their car to suspend him in the air. Seeking to learn how to fly an actual aircraft he began talks with his local milkman, a pilot who owned a Piper plane. In exchange for helping him deliver the milk, the milkman would give Mr. Ruthberg flying lessons in his plane, which was located twelve miles away on an airfield which he had to ride his bicycle to every time.
Charlie Ruthberg graduated high school in June of 1939, two months later Germany attacked Poland, and Europe was thrust into the next war. Seeing this developing and wishing to do something, he pleaded with his mother to sign papers allowing him to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. She would not allow it. Unable to join the fight against the Axis Powers, Mr. Ruthberg went to college at New York University while living with his nearby aunt and paying her $5 a week for rent. He finished his first year of college with the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC), where he learned more about the military. While in his second year of college, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. This was the event that caused Mr. Ruthberg to enlist in the Air Corps the following spring. After ten months of training, he became a Second Lieutenant. He worked with B-24 bombers, the largest produced heavy bomber in the US arsenal. He officially entered World War II in 1944 by being sent overseas to Italy with the 15th Air Force.
Charlie Ruthberg flew his bomber in formations of several hundred other B-24s over Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other surrounding countries. The flights would usually require him to sit in his pilot’s chair for about 10-11 hours per mission. Their missions typically included destroying ball-bearing plants, railroad and ammo depots, oil refineries and synthetic oil plants, communications, and airfields. Some notable places and events he was involved in were the bombings of Regensburg, Germany to destroy airfields and oil depots, the bombings of Po Valley, Italy, and the bombing of Wiener Neustadt, Austria, where an aircraft factory and two prison camps were destroyed. The most dangerous parts of these missions were flak (anti-aircraft fire from the surface) and the German aircraft, particularly the ME-109s, and the jet fighters on their part. However, the 15th Air Force was protected by the greatest group of pilots in the sky: the Tuskegee Airmen. They were the all-black 332nd Fighter Group, a division of the 15th Air Force, who were trained at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute. They flew P-51 Mustangs, one of the greatest aircraft used in the war, and truly were the best of the best. So much so, that they never lost a single bomber to enemy aircraft. Mr. Ruthberg credits them as the reason he survived the war, stating, “That is why I am here today.”
When asked about what Italy was like during the American occupation, Charlie Ruthberg responded with several stories. While there, a squad member would walk to the Red Cross station to pick up various items like cigarettes or candy. One day while walking back 2 men threatened him by putting knives up to his sides and leading him into an alley and robbing him. Another day saw several members of the squadron walking to an empty town with red flags up and promptly turned around, reaffirming that American-occupied Italy was far from a safe place before World War II was over. Another scary part of Italy for the 15th Air Force was the fact that their runway led straight to a valley off of the top of a mountain, meaning that the B-24s would need to actually freefall to gain speed on takeoff.
Charlie Ruthberg remained active in the Air Force until 1947 and was stationed back home in the United States. The question facing most veterans coming back from war is if or when they will find a job. Mr. Ruthberg, however, chose to go back to school rather than rejoin the workforce. He went to Syracuse University where he met his wife. Upon graduating and needing a job, his father-in-law approached him and offered him a job at his family-owned Drapkins Stationers located in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He retired from that job in 1986.
Charlie Ruthberg moved to Glen Rock with his wife, Jocelyn who was in one of the first kindergarten classes of Central School. Jocelyn and Charlie raised two daughters and were active citizens in the Glen Rock community. He spent his spare time crafting various items such as desks and birdhouses. He belonged to the United Flying Octogenarians, a group of 1,200 members comprised of pilots from around the world who must be over the age of eighty to join. He often was found selling “Buddy Poppies” outside of the local Kilroy’s, serving veterans and the VFW. Glen Rock lost Charlie Ruthberg this spring at the age of 101.
Born: 1922 Middletown, New York
Died: 2023 Glen Rock, New Jersey