Major Ralph Birton Praeger, son of Herman A. and Gertrude E. Praeger was born April 7, 1914, on a farm near Claflin, Kansas. He grew to manhood on this farm and took an active interest in helping with the farm work when not in school. At the age of 11 he drove the Model T Ford truck and delivered the wheat crop from the combine to market. He entered grade school in Claflin, at the age of 6 years, in 1920 and finished grade school in 1928. He completed the high school course of four years at Claflin High, graduating in 1932. While in high school he took an active part in athletics, playing football and basketball on the high school team. He played the flute and piccolo in the Band and Orchestra. He also sang in the School Glee Club and was on the debating team. He attended one year post graduate work in Claflin High following his graduation. He attended one year of school at Sterling College, Sterling, Kansas.
Major Praeger received an appointment to West Point from Congressman Clifford R. Hope of Kansas and entered that institution in 1934. While in West Point he played football as a substitute on the First Team.
He married Verda Evelyn Ames of Claflin on June 15, 1938, in the West Point Chapel. To this union was born one son, Ralph Burton Praeger, Jr., on November 25, 1941.
He was graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1938. After a short tour of duty with the Air Corps at Randolph Field, Texas, he was ordered to the 26th Cavalry (Philippine Scouts) at Fort Stotsenburg, P.I., in July 1939. When the war broke out he was commanding Troop C.
This troop was cut off in North Luzon when the enemy broke through the main defenses at Lingayen on 22 December 1941. Captain Praeger promptly commenced guerrilla operations against the Japanese. He struck his first blow against an important Japanese airfield at Tuguegarao, Cagayan on the night of 12-13 January 1942. Leading less than 100 men against 2,000, he took the enemy completely by surprise, seized the airfield and killed about 200 Japanese soldiers. For this brilliant feat he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by General MacArthur. He continued to harass the enemy garrisons in northeastern Luzon, isolating them from each other, and interrupted their communications so effectively that they were restored only after the fall of Corregidor.
Throughout 1942 he contained the enemy in a small area, and maintained free governments in Cagayan and Apayao until 1943, long after the remainder of Luzon had fallen to the enemy.
In October 1942 he established radio contact with the War Department, and provided the only means of communication between Luzon and the United States until his capture on 30 August 1943.
After his capture he was confined as a criminal by the Japanese. Finally, after nearly a year of imprisonment and starvation, he was courtmartialed in August 1944 and sentenced to death. He is believed to have been executed in Manila on December 3, 1944.
In his devotion to duty he set a shining example for soldiers everywhere. To him, more than any other man, is due the credit for initiating the great resistance movement in the Philippines.
Awards and Decorations:
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously, for extraordinary heroism in action during the period April 1942 to August 1943.
He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross—Oak Leaf Cluster, posthumously, for a daring night attack against the enemy at Tuguegarao, Cagayan, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 13 January 1942.
He was awarded the Legion of Merit, posthumously, for meritorious service between December 1941 and March 1942.
He was also awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.
—C. A. Pierce, Brigadier General, U.S.A.