Raymond Edward Eckl was born on March 9, 1921 in Lemington, WI to Mary and Joseph Eckl. He passed away, with family by his side, on December 16, 2017.
Ray grew up on a farm in Wisconsin. He didn’t usually speak much about his younger years. However, he would patiently answer the many questions his children asked and they loved to hear the occasional stories about what life was like on the farm. Though it seemed that it was a lot of hard work and there were a few hardships that went along with that, he also expressed his enjoyment in spending time fishing, exploring, and hunting in the forests around his home.
At 18 years old, he headed out West to the warm and sunny San Diego, CA. There, he found work at an aircraft company where he could combine his three most notable passions - tinkering, inventing and working with airplanes, or anything mechanical. Shortly after being hired, he invented a jig to help assemble the airplanes more efficiently. His innovative spirit helped him to move up the ladder quickly. He really loved his work there, though it was short-lived due to the WWII draft.
Ray, along with his two brothers, Joe and Johnny, dutifully answered their call to serve their country. Ray wanted to be a military pilot, as his brother, Joe. However, because he had already been entered into the draft, he was ineligible to apply. So -for an extra $50.00 a month – he became a paratrooper! From 1942-1945, he served in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, attached to the 101st Airborne Division known as the “Screaming Eagles.” Under the command of Col. Sink, the 506th was trained in the Georgia hills and put through one of the roughest physical training programs in the Army. In addition to their extensive endurance and tactical training, they had many night jumps with full equipment and endured a 136 mile forced march in 72 hours, in the cold, wet December weather, setting the world’s record for an endurance march – previously held by the Japanese Army. It was said, after being sufficiently hardened, that the words “’colorful and rugged” could be applied to the 506th, wearing their blue trunks and jump boots! On June 6th, 1944 (D-Day) Ray took to the skies with the 506th. This was their first combat mission in Normandy, France over Utah Beach. Ray survived this jump despite sustaining multiple injuries under heavy fire and being captured. The 101st Airborne was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation. It was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that an entire division was honored in that way. He also received the “Certificate of Merit” from Major General Maxwell Taylor, recognizing him for Conspicuously Meritorious and Outstanding Performance of Military Duty during the Normandy Campaign, operation in Holland and defense of Bastogne, Belgium where he rendered outstanding service as a radio operator. Amongst his wartime medals, for valor, Ray received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with cluster. Ray’s love for planes and flying didn’t end at the end of the war. After he was released from duty, he went back to San Diego in hopes of obtaining work again at the same aircraft company. Due to the declined need for aircraft after the war, they were unable to offer his job back at that time. Some years later, they offered him a position, but he had other commitments by then and was sorry he couldn’t accept it. As far as flying, he was able to pursue his pilot’s license and recorded over 400 hours including solo night flights in his logbook. A business venture with a small juke-box company led him to Las Vegas, where he met his sweetheart and future wife, Joan Denton – or Wimpy’s daughter. He was immediately great friends with her father, Drexel “Jimmy” Denton, and frequented his restaurant often, where he and Joan met. They married on January 4th,
1960 and set sail on a cruise to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Joan has always loved the Hawaiian Wedding Song ever since, as she fondly recalls how it was played for them often wherever they went. They had five children and five grandchildren to whom he was lovingly known as “Pops”. He retired as a slot mechanic, working many years in the Las Vegas Hotel-Casinos. Ray was a strong and hardworking man of few words but well known for his jokes and firm handshake. To his family, he was known as a very patient, kind, and loving husband and father. Joan gives many thanks to him with gratitude for their life together. She shares that Ray was her ‘rock’, someone you could always depend on, and that he gave his all to his family. Ray was noted in saying that his highest achievement was having his family. He was respected, adored and immensely loved by his family.
He was preceded in death by his parents and five siblings; four brothers, Joe, Johnny, Ben, Norm; and sister, Marion. He is survived by his wife of almost 58 years, Joan; their five children, Ray Jr., Joe, Sheri, Lori, and John; five grandchildren, Luke, Ashley, Leah, Grayson, Avalinda; 23 nieces and nephews, and many great nieces and nephews.
We miss you!! …and we will love you forever!!!