Ralph Diefenbach, Jr., 1930-2012: Korean War vet got Purple Heart 50 years after service


Ralph Diefenbach, Jr., a retired Toledo police officer and a Korean War veteran who received a Purple Heart 50 years after being discharged, died Tuesday at Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg. He was 82.

Mr. Diefenbach’s daughter, Linda Narges, said her father probably died of heart failure.

“He was having constant chest pain,” she said. “He knew it was time to leave the Earth. He told me he wasn't going to live any longer than his father. His father died when he was 82.”

Mr. Diefenbach spent 16 years as a patrolman with the Toledo Police Department, retiring in 1975, according to Toledo police records.

He started on a walking beat — that “movie cop” kind of officer, walking the streets with a nightstick, said his stepdaughter Melinda Feiklowicz.

He eventually moved into a patrol car, working in all parts of the city, although he retired from a desk job to which he was assigned to after being involved in an on-duty car crash.

“He loved the police force,” Mrs. Feiklowicz said. “He was very disappointed when he was hurt on the job to have to go back to a desk job. He really, really enjoyed being in a car and he loved his partners.”

Although he loved his job — and his two older brothers, Donald and Charles Diefenbach, were Toledo police officers — he discouraged his children from joining the force, Mrs. Narges said.

Mrs. Narges said she and her family worried constantly about the safety of her father and uncles because of rioting and civil rights movements during the 1960s.

“When you have a father who is a police officer, and family, back then it was very stressful,” she said. “We could tell they were coming back at 11 at night or 1 a.m. because they used to flash the big beam light into our apartment. That’s how we knew they were safe.”

Before joining the department in 1959, Mr. Diefenbach, a lifelong Toledoan, dropped out of Libbey High School when he was drafted by the Army to serve in the Korean War.

He was stationed in Kapyong, Korea, standing guard at a bridge when his unit took on enemy fire, according to a Blade article published in 2002 when Mr. Diefenbach received his Purple Heart.

As the group of military police retreated, he fell and broke his leg; he was hospitalized for 43 days as a result.

His brother Don, who had been in Korea serving at the same time, urged his brother to seek recognition. Mr. Diefenbach contacted a fellow veteran, who put together the application for him.

It wasn’t until October, 2002, that he received his Purple Heart. “Things like that get lost in a war, and it just didn’t mean much to me at the time,” Mr. Diefenbach told a reporter.

Don Diefenbach died eight months before his brother’s ceremony to receive the Purple Heart, which Ralph Diefenbach told The Blade at the time was his only regret.

Mrs. Narges said her father was proud of the award, although he always said “it was no big deal; it was just one of those things. He just thought, ‘Oh well, if it happens, it happens.’ ”

In retirement, Mr. Diefenbach and his late wife, Mary Ellen Diefenbach, who died in 2007, made dollhouses together. He was quiet with people he didn’t know, Mrs. Feiklowicz said, “but he could talk an arm and leg off of you if he knew you.

“In fact, I called him motor mouth,” she said.

Mrs. Narges said she took care of her father for the last five years, which allowed the two to reconnect.

“When you take care of an elderly parent, it takes everything out of you to see them go downhill,” she said. “You know, I’ve gone to college and I must have missed that course on dying because I sure wasn’t prepared for it.

“Even though you know it's going to happen, you’re never prepared.”

Surviving are his son, Richard Diefenba,h; daughter, Linda Narges, step-daughters Melinda Feiklowicz and Marsha Wilkinson, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation is to be from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday with special services starting at 7 p.m. The funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace Lutheran Church in Toledo.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Grace Lutheran Church or Hospice of Northwest Ohio.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.