Leo J. Reitmeyer - United States Navy
Shipfitter - USS Medusa (1941-1945)
Battle of Pearl Harbor
Leo John Reitmeyer was born on September
7, 1913, the sixth of ten children of Rose and August Reitmeyer. He had six
brothers, Harry, Frederick, John, Vincent, Gilbert
and Ralph, and
three sisters, Frances, Rita and Jean. The Reitmeyer family lived at 1829
Woodward Avenue, then moved to 516 Bellaire Avenue.
Leo was a graduate of Resurrection
Elementary and South Hills High School. Like his brothers John and Ralph,
Leo also served in the United States Navy during World War II. He left
home to join the Navy on May 2, 1938 and was stationed aboard the USS
Medusa, a repair ship that was moored at Pearl Harbor on December 7,
Skilled in metal-working like his
older brother John, Leo was assigned as a shipfitter. A naval Shipfitter's
duties include fabricating, assembling and erecting all structural parts of
a ship. They were the skilled mechanics who kept a ship at sea structurally
sound. In battle, they were called upon to perform whatever tasks necessary
to keep their ship seaworthy.
Shipfitter Leo Reitmeyer was aboard
the USS Medusa on that fateful December morning, the day that will live in
infamy, and witnessed first-hand the Japanese attack that prompted America's
entry into the war.
The Repair Ship USS Medusa (AR-1)
at Pearl Harbor in February 1942.
The USS Medusa (AR-1) was one of the ships that fired some of
America's first shots of World War II. They engaged one of the Japanese
mini-submarines sent to infiltrate Pearl Harbor ahead of the
carrier-based air attacks. The Medusa fired upon, then tracked, the
enemy intruder until the destroyer USS Monaghan arrived to put the
submarine out of action. During the air attacks, anti-aircraft machine
gunners from the Medusa claimed two Japanese Aichi D3A1 dive bombers shot
down during the attack.
After the attack, the ship and her
crew went to work in her primary role as a repair ship, provided equipment,
ammunition, food, beverages and fuel to many of the ships and units in and
around the harbor. The ship also assisted in efforts to rescue men trapped
in the hull of the capsized anti-aircraft training ship Utah.
The damaged USS Curtiss (AV-4), left,
and USS Medusa (AR-1), at their
moorings soon after the Japanese raid on December 7, 1941.
The USS Medusa remained in Pearl
Harbor for over a year, assigned to the Service Force, to aid in the
clean-up efforts around the port.
In April 1943 the ship headed for
the combat area in the South Pacific. The ship was involved in repair work
at several of the fleet service ports, with duty at Havannah Harbor, Milne
Bay, Guadalcanal, Manus Island and San Pedro Bay in the Philippines. When
the war ended, the Medusa continued her fleet repair work until returning
to the United States on October 31, 1945.
From February 22 to September 27,
1944, Leo was assigned to a duty station in San Diego. Here he met and
married his wife Helen Torisky, on November 4, 1944, in Saint James Cathedral.
The ceremony was performed by the Most Reverend Charles F. Buddy, Bishop
of the Diocese of San Diego.
Shipfitter Leo Reitmeyer continued
his service in the Navy for another two years, retiring as a ten-year
veteran on February 27, 1948.
After his days in the Navy, Leo and
Helen returned to Pittsburgh, where he began a career as a Postal Service
employee. First they lived in Penn Hills, then moved to Brookline where the
couple purchased a home on Midland Avenue.
Helen and Leo had three kids:
Leo Jr., Francis and Kathy. World War II veteran and long-time Brookline
resident Leo Reitmeyer, a Pearl Harbor survivor, passed away on June 28,
2000. He is buried in Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery.
USS Medusa (AR-1) - Pearl
The Japanese sneal attack on Pearl Harbor
brought the United States into World War II.
The following is an excerpt from the
report of the Commanding Officer of the USS Medusa, Lt. Commander John Miller,
on the actions of the ship and crew during the Japanese attack on Pearl
"About 0755 I heard a loud explosion,
and looking out the port of my room, saw what appeared to be the hanger on the
south end of Ford Island in flames and a large column of smoke reaching into
The General Alarm was sounded
immediately and all hands went to General Quarters. On my way to the bridge
I gave the magazine keys to the Gunner's Mate on duty with orders to open the
forward magazine, then the after magazine.
Enemy planes appeared to make a
simultaneous attack – the bombers attacking Ford Island coming from the
Southwest, and the torpedo planes coming from the Southeast.
On reaching the bridge orders were
given to the engine room to get ready to get underway immediately. I then
proceeded to the Signal Bridge where Mr. Foley was in charge of Fire Control.
He was mounting two .30 caliber machine guns, one on each end of the Signal
At approximately 0805 the first shot
was fired by the Medusa from #5 3" A.A. gun. From this period on I have no
estimate of time but both A.A. guns and both machine guns kept up a continuous
fire during the attacks. The majority of planes attacking the Medusa-Curtiss
sector were flying at an altitude of not over 400 feet; a few were not over 100
During the attack it was reported that
a submarine periscope was sighted about 1000 yards on our starboard quarter or
about 500 yards astern of the Curtiss. I gave orders to open fire on the
periscope – shortly afterward the Curtiss opened fire. The submarine fired a
torpedo at a small dock astern of Curtiss. The submarine then broached to the
surface with conning tower in plain sight. Many shots could plainly be seen
hitting the conning tower from both the Medusa and Curtiss. While being shelled,
the submarine appeared by be backing toward the Curtiss.
About this time the Monaghan (DD354)
was seen standing down the channel west of Ford Island. She headed directly for
the submarine at about fifteen knots. The order cease firing was given when
Monaghan was abeam of the Curtiss. She appeared to pass immediately over the
submarine and dropped two depth charges. The first charge appeared to drop right
on top of the submarine as the volume of water shooting into the air was heavily
colored with a black substance. The second charge did not have the black
The Commanding Officer of the Monaghan
should be commended for the promptness with which he made the attack, and the
excellent seamanship displayed in very restricted waters.
I definitely saw four planes shot down.
One fell on the boat deck of the Curtiss and burst into flames; one dropped bomb
close to the stern of the Medusa and immediately thereafter disintegrated as the
result of a shell hit which I believe was made by Medusa #6 A.A.
One flew over the bow of the Medusa
about 200 feet in the air and was met by a barrage from our .30 caliber machine
guns and a strong barrage from Destroyer Mine Division Three. This plane fell in
the water about 1500 yards on our port beam and was picked up next day by a
One fell on the bank astern of the
Medusa where the engine and a part of the wing appear to be imbedded in the
The courage and conduct shown by the
officers and men who came under my personal supervision was of the highest order
especially when one considers the surprise element which entered into the attack.
Each man aboard performed deeds which in ordinary times would single him out for
the highest commendation.
Newspapers across the country carried
the news of the Japanese sneak attack.
President Roosevelt asked for, and received, a Declaration of War.
NOTE: The Reitmeyer family has quite a
storied legacy of military tradition. It began with John Reitmeyer in 1929 and
has continued through three generations until today. Click here to
read about the amazing service record and sacrifice of this remarkable Brookline
* Written by Clint Burton:
May 25, 2012 - Updated April 14, 2018 *
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