1st Lt. Ralph Wade Kittle, Sr. (O-828187) was born on 19 July 1920 in Ringgold, GA., where his father was a partner in a lumber mill and cotton gin and the owner of several houses. After his father died in 1924, Kittle helped his mother and sisters by raising chickens and collecting rent from their tenants during the depression. He graduated from Catoosa County High School, attended Mercer University in Georgia and graduated from the University of Chattanooga in 1941. He worked briefly for the Tennessee Valley Authority while attending Chattanooga College of Law at night.
He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942 and attended flight school and officer training school in Colorado Springs. On 3 December 1944, Lt. Kittle was selected to fly the famous “City of Savannah”, the 5,000th airplane to be processed through Hunter Field, GA. The gleaming new B-17 bomber (seen at left) was paid for by Savannah’s citizens and schoolchildren. After a concert of military tunes, a prayer by the base chaplain for the blessings on the bomber, Kittle and his crew took off for England. The men and aircraft were assigned to the 388th Bomb Group at Knettishall. Kittle and his crew flew other aircraft during the first months of 1945. But on 5 March 1945, mission #272 was to be the last flight for 1st Kittle and the famous “City of Savannah.”
After his liberation, he returned home on 21 June 1945. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart with an oak leaf cluster. The Army Air Corps sent him to California to appear with Cary Grant and Dorothy Lamour at events to sell war bonds for the war in the Pacific, and he was discharged as a captain in October 1945.
Within day, he enrolled in the University of Virginia law school on the G.I. Bill, and lived close to the university grounds due to his wounds. He served on the managing board of the Virginia Law Review and was editor-in-chief of The Virginia Spectator magazine, as well as student assistant to the dean of the law school. He married Cornelia Ely and shortly after his graduation from law school in 1948, moved to New York City, where they lived for 25 years and raised their three children.
Kittle joined the New York law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwelol, where he specialized in labor law. In 1953, he became counsel to the Senate Labor Committee and Sen. Robert A. Taft, and worked on the drafting of the Taft-Hartley Act. For the next 32 years, Kittle worked for International Paper Company, first as a labor lawyer and later as vice president in charge of government relations. He opened its Washington office in 1970. In response to growing government regulation of the paper industry, he created and managed the largest corporate government relations program in the country, through coordinated constituent “grass-roots lobbying” by company employees in 36 states and 127 Congressional districts. He logged more than 2 million air miles, much of it on the shuttle, and was a familiar figure on Capitol Hill.
Kittle served as an advisor to numerous Congressional committees and advisory boards on legislative policy. In 1966, he was a participant in the National Conference on Air Pollution and, starting in 1968, he served three years as a member of the President’s Advisory Board on Water Pollution Control. In the 1970’s, Kittle became active in issues relating to education and employment opportunities for women and minorities. He was chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mary Baldwin College, a member of the Board of Directors of the Hispanic Women’s Center, a member of the Advisory Council of the Women’s Institute at American University, a trustee of Lee’s College in Jackson, KY and a member of the Education Task Force of the New York Urban Coalition. He also served as a special consultant on equal employment opportunity for the U.S. Department of Labor and a member of the Advisory Committee on Women to the secretary of labor.
He retired from International Paper in 1985, and became a counsel to the McNair Law Firm in Washington on government and legislation, and a member of the District Export Council of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He was a member of the Folger Shakespeare Library Council and the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, and the Keswick Hunt Club. Kittle died at age 80 on 27 March 2001 in Keswick, VA. He was buried in the Grace Episcopal Church Cemetery in Cismont, VA.