Brookline War Memorial
Leo Reitmeyer

Shipfitter Leo J. Reitmeyer
United States Navy (1941-1945)

Leo Reitmeyer

United States Navy (1775-present)

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 in 1930.

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, 1941.

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.

USS Medusa (AR-1) - 1942
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. While already responding to enemy aircraft, they also 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 and machine gunners from the Medusa brought down two Japanese Aichi D3A1 dive bombers.

After the attack, the ship and her crew went to work in her primary role as a repair ship, providing 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.

USS Curtiss and USS Medusa at
Pearl Harbor - December 7, 1941.
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 fleet repair work until returning to the United States on October 31, 1945.

Leo Reitmeyer
Shipfitter 1st Class Leo Reitmeyer (second from left) and shipmates in Pearl Harbor.

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.

Leo Reitmeyer
Back home with family at 516 Bellaire Avenue.

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 five cent token        USS Medusa five cent token

USS Medusa (AR-1) - Pearl Harbor Addendum

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 Harbor:

"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 air.

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 Bridge.

The attack on Pearl Harbor

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 feet.

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 coloring.

Pearl Harbor under attack Dec 7, 1941.    Pearl Harbor under attack Dec 7, 1941.
The Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.

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 a 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. Gun.

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 lighter.

One fell on the bank astern of the Medusa where the engine and a part of the wing appear to be imbedded in the bank.

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.

War is Declared!
Newspapers across the country carried the news of the Japanese sneak attack.
President Roosevelt asked for, and received, a Declaration of War.

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In keeping with the Reitmeyer family tradition of military service, Leo J. Reitmeyer's grandson, Nathan Reitmeyer, spent five years on active duty as a United States Marine, serving as a rifleman in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Nathan also served on Embassy Duty as a Marine Security Guard in Vladivostok, Russia, and in Geneva, Switzerland. He retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of Sergeant.

Nathan Reitmeyer        Nathan Reitmeyer

Nathan then worked for almost a decade throughout the country of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, employed by the Government as a contractor with Dyncorp, conducting High-Threat PSD (Protection Security Detail) for government officials and diplomats, including the President and Vice-President of the United States. Nathan Reitmeyer is currently working as a police officer and sheriff's deputy with the Allegheny County Sheriff’s office.

Nathan Reitmeyer
Sergeant Nathan Reitmeyer and fellow Marines with President William Jefferson Clinton.
Nathan is directly to the left of the President.

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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 family.

* Written by Clint Burton: May 25, 2012 - Updated December 8, 2018 *

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