Though he had an incredible tale to tell, Brigadier General Richard Rann was not one to brag about his accomplishments. His life story, however, was too big not to share. One friend, in particular, Don Tirrell, had a way of drawing out the stories.
The last story he heard from his friend was five days before Rann passed away, Thursday, Oct. 9.
“He always picked out an experience he had that we could talk about,” Tirrell said. “This one time he was flying out of England in a P-51 plane to protect some B-24 Bombers that were going on a bombing run and all of the sudden, he said ‘I don’t know where they all came from, but there was a whole swarm of German fighter planes.’ He said, ‘I shot a couple of them down and then I realized there was a plane on my tail.’”
“At first he though it was one of his own planes, but he discovered it was a German fighter plane,” Tirrell continued. “One bullet that the guy shot went right by him and blew apart the latch that held the cab down. He said it felt like he got hit. Another shot went on the other side of him that left a hole the entire length of the airplane. He said ‘it must be that the pilot ran out of ammo, because he pulled up alongside me, looked over at me and saluted me,’ and he said ‘I saluted him back.’”
Tirrell said that story is the perfect example of the kind of person that Rann was.
“I’ve never known anyone like him,” Tirrell said.
Rann’s passion for flying started as a young boy growing up on a farm near Perry. It’s the passion for airplanes that bonded Rann and Tirrell as the two developed a friendship that began in the 1950s when Tirrell called on the Charlotte veterinarian regularly to check on his livestock.
Rann developed a veterinarian practice in Charlotte following his time in the United States Air Force during World War II. He flew 120 combat missions during his time in the Air Force, but his military service really started with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941. Rann didn’t qualify to join the United States Armed Forces at the time, so he began training in England with the Canadians. As soon as he could, he transferred to the US Air Force. By then, he had trained for two years in England, flying Hurricane fighters.
Rann’s final mission during World War II resulted in his plane getting shot down, the third time he had been shot down in combat. Tirrell recalled the story as Rann told it.
“He said he wandered by foot into a German camp and was taken prisoner for 18 days,” Tirrell said. “I asked him how he was treated and he said he was treated well. By then the Germans knew they were defeated.”
Rann’s distinguished military career saw him earn a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross w/1 OLC, Air medal w/9 OLC, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Outstanding Unit Award, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle East Campaign medal w/1 Silver Star, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon.
After serving as a veterinarian in Charlotte for about 10 years, he reenlisted in the Air National Guard. There he climbed the ranks and was named Brigadier General in 1975. Rann was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 12, 2002.
The man Tirrell knew and became friends with over the years was kind, caring and humble. The stories he shared with his friend centered around a common interest, not on himself, Tirrell said.
“He was like a cat, he had nine lives,” Tirrell said. “The things he went through, he never should have been around this long.”
Fortunately for those who knew him, he was able to use all nine.