TOWN ‘N’ COUNTRY — Ralph Delgado Jr. had the image of a P-51 Mustang tattooed inside his right forearm at age 80. It was in that fast propeller-driven fighter plane that Delgado lived his best moment in World War II — when he shot down one of the jet fighters that the Germans had introduced late in the war.
Delgado loved telling that story at reunions of the 354th Fighter Group. The Town ‘N’ Country man, a retired lieutenant colonel, died May 4. He was 94.
“He was always there for us, and for his grandchildren, too,’’ said Katherine Mudafort, the youngest of his three daughters. “He was a very family-oriented dad.’’
Delgado recounted the story of shooting down the jet, a Messerschmitt Me 262, during a 2013 interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
The Me 262 — the first operational jet fighter in history — was introduced in August 1944 and used mainly to attack Allied bombers. By Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Me 262s are said to have shot down more than 500 Allied planes.
Allies destroyed a number of the jets, but most were shot down while they were taking off or landing. They were too fast otherwise for propeller-driven aircraft, Delgado said.
As Delgado related in the interview, he and three other pilots were returning to base from a strafing mission in March 1945 when he spotted an airfield below.
“I said, ‘Hey, there are some jets down there.’ I could see four,’’ he said.
The group dived on the airfield, and the flight leader started shooting at two of them, telling Delgado to take another. The jet in front of Delgado cleared the runway and was making a hard turn in a circle. When the jet started flying straight, Delgado fired his six 50-caliber machine guns and saw smoke coming out of the cockpit. The pilot bailed out, and the jet crashed. The flight leader shot one down, too.
Delgado said he always recited the Lord’s Prayer as he taxied before taking off on a mission. He remained tense until he heard the flight leader say it was time to go home. “That was a moment of joy.’’
After the war, Delgado returned to his home state of New York and joined the reserves. He met and married Conchita Guerra, his wife of 68 years, who predeceased him. The family moved to Puerto Rico, where Delgado joined the Air National Guard, flying F-86 jets. He retired from the military in 1975.
“He was always very close to his daughters,’’ Mudafort said, recalling happy trips to the beach and amusement parks with her father.
He was described as an “amazing family man’’ in the obituary filed with Boza and Roel.
“His family was everything to him,’’ it stated, noting that he taught them the importance of loving God, country and family.
Ralph Delgado Jr.
Born: Oct. 25, 1924 in New York City, NY
Died: May 4, 2019 in Tampa, FL
Survivors: His three daughters, Priscilla Hatch, Diana Benitez and Katherine Mudafort and her husband SGM Richard M. Mudafort; five grandchildren, six great grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Contact Philip Morgan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3435. Follow @philipmorganTBT