John Ketzner, a decorated World War II hero who worked for 45 years as an executive with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and its successors, Chessie and CSX, died Tuesday of complications from high blood pressure at Stella Maris in Lutherville.
Mr. Ketzner spent months as a prisoner of war in Germany after his plane was shot down, earning the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Prisoner of War Medal and France’s highest honor for a foreigner. As a B&O, Chessie and CSX executive, he traveled the world and oversaw the computerization of the railroad’s stores, purchasing and inventory controls, retiring as an expert in modern railroading inventory processes.
But the wry 98-year-old, “a quintessential Greatest Generation guy,” was unassuming despite his accomplishments and devoted to his roles as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather, said his son Jon Ketzner, of Cumberland. The longtime Parkville resident’s 30th great-grandchild is expected in February.
“His standard toast was to thank my mother for being so patient, allowing him to travel all over the place as part of his job, and allowing him to be a success,” the younger Mr. Ketzner said. “And then he would thank his children for making it necessary.”
John Stephen Ketzner was born in Cumberland on May 11, 1921 to Ralph Ketzner, a railroader, and the former Mabel Cronin, a homemaker. Members of the Ketzner family had worked for the B&O since 1850, and he started at the company before graduating from Fort Hill High School in 1939.
He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941, and he deployed as a navigator to the Eighth Air Force in England, where he flew a B-17 Flying Fortress. On Aug. 24, 1944, Mr. Ketzner’s plane was shot down over Germany, killing most of his crewmates and consigning him to several months in a grueling prisoner-of-war camp. He was freed by the Russian Army as the war ended, and returned to Cumberland.
In addition to being awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters and the POW Medal by the U.S., Mr. Ketzner was invited to the French Embassy in Washington in 2016 to receive a medal recognizing him as a Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor for a foreigner, in gratitude for his courage and service in liberating the country from the Nazis. He was one of nine veteran airmen from the Eighth Air Force featured in the 2019 HBO documentary “The Cold Blue."
Mr. Ketzner married the former Mary Elizabeth Carter in 1945. The pair moved to Cromwell Bridge Road in Parkville in 1962 and raised four children in a marriage that lasted nearly 70 years. Mrs. Ketzner preceded him in death in 2015.
“These World War II guys that replaced the smell of blood and war in their nostrils with baby powder, to me that’s what’s remarkable,” Jon Ketzner said.
He never attended college but worked for 45 years at the B&O, retiring in 1983 as the assistant vice president of purchasing and stores. He also served on boards of CSX subsidiaries and was a leader in computerizing, and introducing some of the first analytics for, the railroad’s stores, purchasing and inventory processes.
The job gave him a chance to travel, which took him back into an airplane for long flights to train manufacturers in Europe and Asia, Jon Ketzner said.
“He never flew again once he retired," his son said.
After his retirement, he enjoyed road trips, Eighth Air Force reunions and visits with his family, his son said.
“He got suckered into doing a whole lot of babysitting in his day,” the younger Mr. Ketzner said.
He was a member of St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Parkville for 50 years, and belonged to several service and social organizations.
Mr. Ketzner also was preceded in death by his three sisters, Mary Knieriem, Frenchy Brown and Carole Hatfield. In addition to his son Jon, he is survived by three other children, Beth Ketzner of Baltimore; Joseph Ketzner of Wilmington, Del.; and Laura Hanna of Nottingham, as well as 13 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.