He served as a U.S. Navy Lieutenant aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Tulagi (CVE-72), on which he saw active duty in the Mediterranean and the Pacific theaters from 1942-45. He earned a Bronze Star for inventing a method to deploy British bombs from American aircraft.
As a journalist, Ralph worked as a newswriter for WCCO radio in Minneapolis. There in 1947, together with his long-time friend Ralph Backlund, he received the Award of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Variety Plaque Award, and the Heywood Broun Award, all for their radio documentary series, Neither Free Nor Equal, about prejudice and discrimination (55-minute RealAudio sound track; requires free RealPlayer or equivalent). In 1948, he received the Peabody Award for another radio documentary series, As the Twig is Bent, about juvenile delinquency.
Ralph lived in New Canaan, Connecticut for most of his working life, working in New York City and later from his home. He retired with Vivian to North Eastham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near his daughters Jill and Mary. He was a member and the newsletter editor of the Eastham Historical Society and the Cape Cod National Seashore, and was active with Friends of the Library and Nauset Fellowship there as well. He and Vivian traveled extensively throughout Europe. After Vivian’s death, he moved to western Washington and lived near his daughter Melissa.
As a writer, Ralph received literary praise and success for his many historical works about the exploration and settlement of the United States and on polar exploration. He authored several books, including the popular The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indians, (1964), To the Pacific with Lewis and Clark (1967) for which he won the Golden Spur Award of Western Writers for best book of juvenile Western non-fiction, Heroes of Polar Exploration (1962), and several other works. In addition to his books, Ralph was a longtime editor at American Heritage Magazine, and later at The Franklin Library division of The Franklin Mint. During that time he wrote commentaries for a number of other books.
Ralph said that he had always wanted to be a writer and editor. After being involved in publicity, ghost writing, news, and other journalistic ventures, he became intrigued with the possibilities that lay in history. He said that the characters and plots were better than anything he could make up. But he loved bringing history to life, lifting it from the stuffiness of a schoolbook. His hope was that “…by making the past real and provocative, I can help at least some readers to better understand the present.”
Ralph was a man of words: His home was filled with books and, until his illness, he always sharpened his mind and entertained himself with word games. He had a good sense of humor and sharp wit. He enjoyed telling stories of his childhood in the upper plains of Minnesota and of his wartime shipboard experiences. He was a great gardener, loved nature, and enjoyed woodworking and other crafts. And he enjoyed good chocolate, now and again.
Ralph is survived by his three daughters and their husbands: Jill & A. Richard Miller of Natick, MA, Mary & Robert Leech of Harwichport, MA, Melissa & Jim Hardtke of Edmonds, WA, and his only grandson, Adam Hardtke of Bellevue, WA.
Donations in his name may be to The Alzheimer’s Association (Western & Central Washington Chapter, 12721 30th Ave NE, Suite 101, Seattle WA 98125 or Massachusetts Chapter, 36 Cameron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140) or to American Indian Relief Council (PO Box 6200, Rapid City, SD 577009).This obituary was written by the Andrist sisters (see above).