Richard “Dick” Heyne is a part of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation. A decorated veteran of World War II, Heyne served heroically as a B-24 Flight Engineer and Top Turret Gunner with the United States 11th Air Corps, 404th Bomb Group.
In honor of Veteran’s Day 2018, Face Aging MN would like to recognize Top Gunner Richard Heyne, who turned 96 last August.
Born in St. Paul in 1922, Dick was one of 326,000 Minnesotans who served in the armed forces during World War II. He graduated high school in 1940, enrolled at Macalester College and was drafted in 1943 at the age of 21.
Having to leave his family behind, Dick recalled what was going through his mind when he was drafted into the service as a young man.
“I just knew it had to be done,” he says. “Especially after Pearl Harbor, I didn’t question anything.”
Dick served in the military for one year as a Flight Engineer and Top Turret Gunner in the United States 11th Air Corps Division, 404th bomb group.
Initially deployed to meet his B-24 bombing crew at Muroc Air Base in the Mojave Desert, Dick and his crew first saw combat in flying missions operating from Shemya Station, Alaska.
Over the next year his crew flew thirty-six missions – ten to fifteen hours long – over water. Their targets were air strips, supply stations and naval bases in the Kuril Islands that formed the northern border of Japan.
“The first thing you admire is the pilot because flying a B-24 was not easy,” Dick says.
Today, Dick and his wife, Mary-Ellen, are the proud parents of four daughters and many beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The couple currently reside at Yorkshire of Edina senior living community, where a photograph of him in uniform hangs on a wall dedicated to the veterans living in the residency.
“It’s a great place, the people living and working here are caring people, they truly are,” says Dick, who turned 96 this past August.
Many memories from the war have stayed with Dick throughout his life, he says. He takes special pride when recalling the day in 1944 when his crew received the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross with clusters for their heroism in aerial flight.
“At the ceremony, our crew was standing on a landing strip and a general came by and pinned the medals on each one of us,” Dick says. “A large group of military men from the base then marched by and saluted us; it was a big moment because you felt like you really have contributed.”
Following his discharge in 1945, Dick was eager to return to Minnesota to begin the next chapter of his life. Dick embraced his passion for art and through the GI Bill, he attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for four years.
“It was interesting because my classes were filled with GI’s, and we all were working hard because we knew it was a huge gift that was given to us.”
After college, Dick was the head of the art department at 3M for seven years and then took the position as art director at Campbell Mithun Advertising and Marketing Agency where he stayed for 35 years.
“Advertising is a fascinating business, I loved it – it was always a challenge,” Dick says.
Through his work in advertising, Dick met Mary-Ellen, who at the time was the head of the media department. They have been married for 38 years.
“She takes care of me every day. She’s very important to me,” Dick says.
Dick and Mary-Ellen shared a special memory when they dressed up as baseball hall of famer Joe DiMaggio and Marylin Monroe for Halloween some years back.
“That was our best costume,” Dick and Mary-Ellen proclaim.
In his free time, Dick still enjoys art and watching baseball (he considers Twins legends Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett to be his favorite players), but looking back, it’s been the invitations to speak at schools and engage with students as a veteran that Dick considers a privilege and a true pleasure.
“It’s a good reminder during the year because veterans are at times in the background, and then Veteran’s Day brings the attention back,” he says.
“Today, schools make sure that young people never forget what men and women have sacrificed so we all have the freedom we have. It’s very encouraging.”