Dick Ratzlaff was born on May 24, 1942, in Aberdeen, South Dakota. He entered the Navy through the School of Pre-Flight on June 13, 1964, and was commissioned an Ensign upon completion of Naval Flight Officer School in February 1965. ENS Ratzlaff attended F-4 Phantom II Replacement Air Group training with VF-121 at NAS Miramar, California, from February to September 1965, and then served as an F-4 RIO with VF-92 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) from September 1965 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on March 20, 1966. After spending 2,522 days in captivity, LCDR Ratzlaff was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at the Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois, and then attended U.S. Naval Post Graduate School from September 1973 to September 1974, followed by service with Fighter/AEW Wing Pacific from September 1974 to October 1977. After completing Military Justice School, CDR Ratzlaff served as a JAG Lawyer with the Naval Legal Service Office in San Diego, California, from December 1977 until he was medically retired from the Navy on August 8, 1980. Dick Ratzlaff died on February 28, 1981, and was buried at the Dearborn Memorial Park in Poway, California.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. On 20 June 1968, his captors, completely ignoring international agreements, subjected him to extreme mental and physical cruelties in an attempt to obtain military information and false confessions for propaganda purposes. Through his resistance to those brutalities, he contributed significantly toward the eventual abandonment of harsh treatment by the North Vietnamese, which was attracting international attention. By his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.