Edward D. Radbill, 94, of Philadelphia, a World War II flight engineer who inspected planes in the Lend-Lease Program and later became a postal claims agent, died of leukemia Wednesday, Dec. 8, at his home.
Mr. Radbill was born and raised in Northern Liberties. He attended Central High School, but dropped out to help support his family during the Depression. Daughter Marcia said he told of getting up at 4 a.m. to help his mother wheel a cart to get inexpensive food at the docks in South Philadelphia.
From 1939 to 1945, he was a flight engineer in the Army Air Corps. He went to the Wentworth Institute in Boston to learn electrical engineering. At times, he flew B-24s in the air transport division in the European and Pacific theaters.
Mr. Radbill headed the inspection detail of the Russian-American Lend-Lease Program, planning and checking the modifications to planes.
In 1943 and 1944, Mr. Radbill, based in Fairbanks, Alaska, became the liaison, handing over winterized and modified Bell P39s to the Soviet Union.
He liked to tell how the Soviet pilots brought vodka as a goodwill offering and the Americans brought oranges.
"The Russians couldn't get oranges, and for the Americans, vodka was a treat," his daughter said. Together they made "the first international screwdrivers," she recalled him joking.
(Mr. Radbill was interviewed about his wartime experiences. The video can be viewed by linking to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d8J9U3hiyU)
After the war, he earned his GED, then worked as a claims agent for the U.S. Postal Service for 40 years, ending in 1981. Based at the 30th and Market Streets office, he would track missing mail.
In retirement, he helped others, his daughter said. "He would stay at the hospital with [older] people while their kids worked. He would go where he was needed," she said.
He volunteered at the Franklin Institute from 2003 to 2009. He was best known for the show he put on operating the Baldwin locomotive, wearing an engineer's cap, red scarf, and whistle. He would wave and shout, "All aboard!"
More recently, he power-walked several miles a day until becoming ill this year. He died on the same day, eight years later, as did his wife, the former Sylvia Alterman. The two met through mutual friends. They married in 1942; she died in 2002.
Surviving in addition to his daughter are two sisters; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, at Joseph Levine & Son, 4737 Street Rd., Trevose. Interment will be in Montefiore Cemetery, Jenkintown. Mr. Radbill will be buried in his volunteer trainman's uniform.
Memorial donations may be made to the Franklin Institute Volunteer Office, c/o Andria Ayer, 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia 19103.