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Ralph C. Keen

Palmer resident Ralph C. Keen, 97, died April 7, 2010, at Palmer Veterans and Pioneers Home.

"Ralph was a native of Pennsylvania but having resided in Palmer since 1964, he was truly an Alaskan," his family wrote. "As in life, he passed away courageously, surrounded by family and friends." He will be laid to rest next to his wife, Sophie, at the Fort Richardson post cemetery in an honors service at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Ralph was born Feb. 10, 1913, to Harry A. and Mabel M. Keen in Millheim, Pa., the fourth of eight children. He attended school in Millheim until the eighth grade, at which time he went to work to help support his family. Ralph enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1933 and served for five years in the artillery division before he began his career in the U.S. Air Force in 1939 as an aircraft mechanic. His service to our country led him on a journey across the nation and around the world. His career also led him to his wife, Sophie M. Poltrack, whom he married in Winchester, Va., on Nov. 3, 1941.

In July 1942, during World War II, he was sent to North Africa. From what was then called the Gold Coast, Ralph flew, as a mechanic, a weekly route across northern Africa, carrying supplies to the forces fighting Rommel close to Cairo. In November 1942, Ralph was transferred to India, where his crew flew C-47s and C-46s over the Himalayas supplying the Flying Tigers, who were fighting the Japanese in China. Ralph was in Africa and India for more than two years. During the Korean War he was stationed in Japan.

After serving almost 25 years and in two wars, Ralph retired from the Air Force in 1958 as a master sergeant. He moved his family to Ogden, Utah, and then to Cheyenne, Wyo., working for Land Air on National Guard aircraft.

His love of Alaska began in 1952 when he was stationed at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks. He spent his free time hunting and fishing in the Swede Lake area before the Denali Highway was built. After his return to Alaska in 1964, he worked on Elmendorf Air Force Base He retired in 1972.

His favorite pastimes were hunting and fishing with his son, son-in-law and friends, as well as rebuilding old military Weasels they used for hunting rigs. Until his health no longer allowed, he kept a large garden and raspberry patch, and grew the best tomatoes in the Valley. Even when his sight began to fail, he continued to grow tomato plants in his greenhouse.

Ralph was preceded in death by his wife, Sophie; his son-in-law, Herb Wilbur; and all his siblings.

He is survived by his son, Roy (Marie) Keen; his daughter, Cheryl Wilbur; and his granddaughter, Sabrina Wilbur.

He was a gentle man and led a long and fulfilling life. He will be incredibly missed.

Arrangements are with Legacy Funeral Homes & Cremation Services-Kehl's Palmer Chapel.

Source: Anchorage Daily News, 11 April 2010



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