Sunday, March 30, 2014

There were heroes all around us

Growing up in Delphi, Ind. in the years immediately following World War II, I felt at a disadvantage regarding some of my friends because my dad didn’t go to war.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. He and his best friend Marshall Wagner went to enlist shortly after Pearl Harbor. Dad was rejected because of his age (31) and a heart murmur. They took Wagner, who fought in the Pacific, survived the war and had a post-war career with the Indiana State Police.

But our next-door neighbor at our first home was Jay Taylor, who had been a bombardier on B-17s. When we moved to a new house in 1954, it was next door to Bob Popejoy, who had been an Army cook in the China-Burma-India Theatre of Operations. Down the street was Merrill Plummer, who startled me one spring day in the mid-1950s by hanging out a couple of huge red-white-and-black German flags on his backyard clothesline, airing them out as he and his family prepared to move to a new home.

Most of my male teachers had been in the war. Charles Geheb, who taught chemistry and physics, was in the Army Air Corps and flew over Hiroshima a few days after it was flattened in the world’s first atomic bomb attack.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised this week when longtime friend Lonnie Miller sent me a link to the obituary of Chuck Ritzler, who was Carroll County Surveyor for almost 30 years.

Ritzler, it turns out, was in Co. D, 501st Parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne Div. and jumped into Normandy early on D-Day, distinguished himself in combat during the Market-Garden invasion of Holland, and was wounded at Bastogne. I this sounds familiar, it’s because his sister company, Co. E, was the subject of Stephen Ambrose’s best seller, “Band of Brothers,” that was subsequently made into an HBO miniseries.

chuck ritzler

Here he is with a buddy getting ready to climb aboard a DC-3 on Sept. 17, 1944 bound for Holland.

And here is his obituary from the Lafayette, Ind. Journal & Courier:

chuck ritzler02Charles J. Ritzler, 92, of Delphi, died Mon.-Mar. 24, 2014 at 4:50am, at St. Elizabeth Healthcare Center-Delphi.

He was born June 3, 1921 in Three Oaks, MI, to the late Charles E. & Sylvia Borders Ritzler. His marriage was to Norma Jean Yerkes in Flora, on Dec. 23, 1945, and she preceded him in death on Apr. 29, 2009.

He graduated from Three Oaks High School in 1939, and graduated from Purdue University in 1950, with a degree in Civil Engineering.

A WW II Army Veteran, he enlisted in the airborne division, and was assigned to the newly formed 501st Parachute Regiment in Toccoa, Ga., for basic training. He qualified from jump school in 1943 at Fort Benning, and began intense training at Camp McCall in North Carolina.

Late in 1943 he arrived in England, and in the early morning of June 6, 1944, he jumped into France (D-Day), returning to England to regroup in July-1944.

He then jumped into Holland on Sept. 17, 1944, under British command. After 50 days of frontline fighting, the regiment was withdrawn to Mourmelon, France, to again regroup.

The 101st Airborne was suddenly rushed into Bastogne, Belgium, on Dec. 19, 1944, to stop a push of the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. Wounded from that conflict, he spent 3 months in hospitals recovering.

He received the British Military Medal from Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery on Mar. 26, 1945, for his actions at a railroad bridge at Veghel, Holland, where he and his machine gun squad, held off the German soldiers for a day and a half, until reinforcements arrived.

He was discharged on Dec. 5, 1945, at Camp Atterbury. He served his apprenticeship with Arthur Ritchie & Robert Brown, civil engineers, in Carroll Engineering Service from 1950-1954. He then served as deputy county surveyor, from 1954-1956, and then was the Carroll County Surveyor from 1956-1984.

After retiring from office, he started Ritzler Engineering Inc., from 1984-2005. He was registered in the State of Indiana as a professional Civil Engineer, and as a land surveyor.

He was a life member of the Delphi American Legion Post #75, and the Delphi VFW Post #9383, and the #13 Hoosier State Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, 101st Airborne Division Assoc., the Airborne Static Line and Geronimo (501) Regiment. He was an endowed member of the Mt. Zion #211 F.&A.M. Lodge in Camden, and the Murat Temple and Shriners in Indianapolis. He was a member of the Purdue University Alumni. He was an ardent fisherman, having fished all over Canada from 1948-2005. Surviving: daughter-Tara & Jay Rivinius of Sacramento, CA; grandson-Grayson T. Motsch; stepsister-Diana & Bill Burge of Niles, MI. Preceded in death by his son Charles J. Ritzler II.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Online condolences: Abbott Funeral Home-Delphi, in charge of arrangements.

He is mentioned several times in “Hell’s Highway,” George Koskimak’s book about Market-Garden.

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