Brookline War Memorial
Ralph W. Reitmeyer

United States Navy (1775-present)

Ralph Reitmeyer - United States Navy
Electrician's Mate - USS Picking (1943-1945)

Ralph William Reitmeyer was born on September 26, 1924, the youngest of ten children of Rose and August Reitmeyer. He had six brothers, Harry, Frederick, Vincent, John, Leo and Gilbert, and three sisters, Frances, Rita and Jean. The Reitmeyer family lived at 1829 Woodward Avenue, then moved to 516 Bellaire Avenue in 1930.

Ralph graduated from Resurrection Elementary and South Hills High School. Following in the footsteps of his older brothers John and Leo, he joined the Navy on June 18, 1943 and was assigned to the recently commissioned Fletcher-class destroyer USS Picking (DD-685), as an electrical repairman.

On board ship, Ralph's duty station was below decks in the Engine Room. He worked the Fire Room Board Watch. An Electricians Mate was responsible for maintaining proper steam pressure from the two Fire Rooms in order keep the ship's generator in proper working condition. The generator provided power for all of the electrical systems and the turbines.

The USS Picking's first assignment was with the North Pacific Fleet, stationed at Dutch Harbor. The Picking was part of Destroyer Squadron 49, made up of eight destroyers and three light cruisers, that patrolled the waters off the Alaskan Aleutian Islands. This tour of duty in the northern Pacific lasted from December 1943 through July 1944.

USS Picking (DD-685)
The United States Navy Destroyer USS Picking (DD-685).

The Picking then steamed to San Franciso, California for a refit and overhaul. In September, the ship sailed for Pearl Harbor, then off to the war in the South Pacific. On October 25, 1944, while performing escort duties for the 7th Fleet near the Philippine Islands, the ship received news of the Battle off Samar Island, and rushed to provide protection for the Leyte beachhead, the target of the Japanese attack.

The USS Picking was heading into one of the largest naval battles in history, the centermost action of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, also known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Off Samar Island, a powerful Japanese force, including the Battleship Yamato, engaged a much smaller American force made up mostly of escort carriers and "tin cans", the lightly armored Fletcher-class destroyers. This outgunned and underarmored group of American ships was all that stood between the Japanese and the exposed and unprotected landing forces on Leyte.

The USS Picking joined the battle on the periphery of the main engagement. During the battle, the ship's guns engaged several Japanese warplanes, and splashed two in the process, before the Japanese attackers were compelled to withdraw.

At the time of the Battle off Samar, Ralph's battle station was on the search light platform, located midway up the Number One Stack. He would climb up the stack to the platform, turn the lights on and operate the shudders. During a daylight call to stations, there was nothing much to do but stand on the platform and watch.

Ralph remembers that day. "I was up on the platform, watching an occasional Japanese plane attacking one of the nearby ships. Our gunners were firing and the japs were firing. They were good flyers, but lucky for us they weren't great shots."

"Our boys were better, and got two of them with the 40mm guns."

A Japanese plane goes down during
the Battle off Samar Island.
A Japanese warplane shot down at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

"We took some hits when one plane passed by on a strafing run, and the ship suffered one casualty. It was a friend of mine who was manning the radar tower on top of the flying bridge. From our perches high atop the main deck, we were within yelling distance of each other."

"One of the bullets hit him in the leg. He was taken down to the main bridge for first aid."

Captain Semmes, our commanding officer, came out to see him. He looked across the way and saw me standing all by myself on the search light platform on the stack."

"What are you doing out there?" the Captain yelled at me.

"This is my battle station, Sir." Ralph replied.

"Well get down off there," the Captain ordered. "We don't need any more casualties!"

That was the last time Ralph manned the search lights. His battle station was switched to Damage Control. "From that point on, my job was to stand on the deck waiting for any sort of problem that needed addressed."

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Picking returned to escort duties. In January 1945 the ship provided anti-aircraft protection for the beachhead at Lingayen Gulf and screened the landings at San Antonio. She provided fire support and protection as troops went ashore on Mariveles, February 15, and on Corregidor, February 16. The destroyer also provided convoy escort to ships bringing reinforcements and supplies to the invasion forces.

There were several occasions when the Picking participated in search and destroy missions, tracking Japanese submarines with sonar. Although they dropped many depth charges in pursuit of the enemy subs, the Picking never claimed a sinking.

The crew of the USS Picking (DD-685) - 1945
The crew of the Destroyer USS Picking in 1945.

After the Philippine Island campaign. The USS Picking provided fire support during the first month of the Battle of Okinawa. The battle lasted 82 days, from early April until mid-June 1945. The battle has been referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel" due to the ferocity of the fighting, the intensity of kamikaze attacks from the Japanese defenders, and to the sheer numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles that assaulted the island.

The Picking traveled up and down the coast, assisting the ground forces by bombing Japanese strongholds and bunkers dug deep into the hillsides.

On May 18, 1945, the destoyers USS Picking and USS Longshaw were off the Okinawan coast, near the city of Naha, bombing the airfield and hillside bunkers, when several unexpected developments led to one of the Picking's most memorable and, in some ways, most forgettable, moments of the war.

As Ralph relates:

"We were in a cove and the tide went out quickly. The Longshaw became grounded and efforts to get the ship off the coral reef were unsuccessful. She was a sitting duck. The Japanese on the coast began firing at the Longshaw and the ship was taking severe damage and casualties were mounting. The Captain of the Longshaw ordered the ship to be abandoned."

"We moved in close, firing at the coast. We managed to recover all of the surviving crewmen from the ship and then moved quickly out of harm's way, beyond the range of the Jap guns."

"At this point it was decided to destroy the Longshaw so that the Japanese could not board her and retreive anything of value."

Captain Semmes ordered that torpedoes be fired at the ship, rendering her useless. We lined up for the shots and that's when things went from bad to worse, in quite an unexpected way."

The USS Longshaw (DD-559) - May 18, 1945
The USS Longshaw, grounded on a coral reef, was severely damaged
by Japanese guns along the Okinawan coastline on May 18, 1945.

"Our torpedoes were propelled with alcohol, like the gasoline in a car. Sometimes life on a ship can get boring, and some of the torpedo crewman would dip into the torpedo alcohol at night for a little enjoyment."

"The torpedo alcohol was toxic, but every ship had a few mates skilled in the process of separating the poisonous additives from the alcohol. The result was termed 'Torpedo Juice,' and it had quite a kick. It was a bit risky, but the war was full of risks, and every day could be your last."

"In the morning, the alcohol would be replaced. It was business as usual for the men. Well, the night before they weren't thinking that we'd be firing torpedos the next day!"

"Now, the guys didn't drink it all, but they consumed enough of the alcohol that none of our torpedos had enough propellant to reach the target."

"Obviously, Captain Semmes was unaware of the situation. We fired ten torpedoes at the Longshaw, and one after another, their wakes fizzled out before impact. After a while he became a bit suspicious."

"We had to call in one of the light cruisers to put a few shots into the Longshaw. Later, when the tide came back in, the disabled ship was towed out to sea and sunk."

"Captain Semmes ranted on and on that if he could prove what happened to the alcohol, he would have had the entire torpedo crew hung from the yardarm."

"Well, I guess that was just one of those things. You never know with war. Anything can happen. We have joked many times about that day at our reunions."

After their fire support role at Okinawa was completed, ship went on picket duty, screening the offshore invasion fleet. They remained at this assignment until June 23, when they sailed for the U.S. base on the island of Saipan.

Electrians Mate 3rd Class Ralph Reitmeyer and the USS Picking were stationed at Saipan when the war came to an end in August 1945.

USS Picking World War II Medals
Medals earned by the USS Picking during service in World War II.

Regarding his brother, John P. Reitmeyer, who was lost in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Ralph remembers him coming home for leave in July 1942.

"Once his leave was up," Ralph says, "I drove John and his girlfriend to the Pennsylvania Railroad Station on Grant Street, in downtown Pittsburgh, for the trip back to Brooklyn Navy Yard. I had only recently earned my driver's license."

"John was always kidding me about my poor driving and I was a nervous wreck."

"He boarded the train and that was the last time I saw him."

Shortly after his assignment to the USS Picking, in 1943, Ralph came across a sailor that was present when the USS Juneau was sunk.

The sailor told Ralph that as their small convoy of damaged ships withdrew from Guadalcanal towards Australia, they were below deck, lining up for breakfast. The Juneau was under way on their port side. While they ate breakfast there was a huge explosion. By the time they made it upstairs to the deck, they were shocked to see that the Juneau was gone. "The ship went down very quickly," the sailor said.

Ralph left the Navy on April 10, 1946, and worked at J&L Steel, then Moorehead-Reitmeyer Electric Motor Repair Shop, before settling into a career as a Motor Repairman for Pennsylvania Electric Coil Company. He married Dolores Yochum in September 1950. The couple had nine children: Ralph Jr., John, Charles, Gerard, Warren, Kenneth, Ray, Roy and Arthur.

In May 1951, Ralph and Dolores purchased a home in Brentwood, a southern suburb near Brookline. In July 1966, The USS Picking held a reunion. Ralph was chosen as Master of Ceremonies. He had a great time meeting his fellow shipmates, including Captain Semmes. Ralph and his Captain reminisced over their wartime experiences, and were reminded about some of the lighter moments that stood out in their mind, like Ralph's days at his battle station manning the search lights, and the day the torpedoes unexpectedly fell short of their target.

USS Picking (DD-685) - 1941
USS Picking reunion, July 1966. Ralph Reitmeyer is seated front row, second from the right.
Captain Semmes is seated next to Ralph, third from the right.

Ralph and Dolores Reitmeyer lived and prospered in Brentwood until 2000, when they purchased their retirement home in Clairton.

Today, at ninety-four years of age, Ralph still lives at his home in Clairton. Dolores passed away in 2001. Since then, Ralph spends most his time relaxing, working on crossword puzzles, reminiscing about the old days and doing all he can to enjoy his twilight years.

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 April 14, 2018 *

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