A true hero
Local veteran honored for service in Iwo Jima
“I told him, ‘I love you and you always were my hero,’ and he started to cry.” Mary Lou Oswald of Bechtels- ville was brought to tears remembering how her father, Louis Rittelmann, was recently honored for his service as a Marine in Iwo Jima during World War II.
Rittelman, 94, formerly of Boyertown, was just 19 years old
when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942. He went to Parris Island for boot camp and was then shipped to Iwo Jima where he saw combat for 36 days. The conflict he witnessed in 1945 left over 6,000 Americans dead and over 19,000 wounded. After what he eventually described to his family as “hell on Earth” Rittelmann witnessed the raising of the American flag following the defeat of the Japanese.
“My dad didn’t really talk about his time at Iwo Jima until lately,” explained Oswald. “To this day he has nightmares about fighting the Japanese. He tosses and turns at night.”
His sacrifice, while no small feat, went unrecognized for 70 years, according to Oswald. Which is exactly why a Sept. 25 ceremony honoring his service brought those in attendance to tears.
Rittelmann currently resides at Phoenixville Care and Rehab Center, 833 Main St., Phoenixville. The center usually holds ceremonies for new clients that are veterans where they present them with a certificate from the House of Representatives thanking them for their service. In the process of planning the ceremony, Oswald said, he got an even more unexpected honor.
“My husband’s best friend was a history teacher at Boyertown Junior High West and he’s kind of a battlefield buff. He went to a convention in Gettysburg and met a 3-star general and he started telling him aboutmy dad,” Oswald said. “The general sent my dad a picture of him in his uniform and a beautiful letter about his service and thanking him for it. My dad was thrilled to get it from a 3-star general. He has it with him at the nursing home. Every time I would go over to visit he would look at the picture and say he’d just love to meet him.”
Oswald then reached out to Lt. Gen. Richard Mills to see if he would be willing to Skype with her father.
“We didn’t think he’d be able to come. We asked if he could Skype because he lives in Quantico. The general wrote back that it was not too far and that he would come. Bless his heart. He’s so wonderful,” said Oswald.
The ceremony began with a singing of the national anthem, at which time, Rittelmann stood fromhis wheelchair to salute.
Mills then awarded Rittelmann with a Marine Service pin and gave him a sculpture of soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
“I was very emotional. The general said that it’s very rare that he gets to give a pin to a hero and that he’s a true hero,” Oswald explained. “After he got the pin and everything, everyone went by to offer congratulations. I hugged him and I cried. After all these years he finally got the recognition he deserved.”
Lt. General Richard P. Mills greets World War II veteran Louis Rittelmann who was honored for his service during a ceremony at Phoenixville Care and Rehab Center on Sept. 25, 2017.
Family and staff stand during playing of Marine Corps hymn at ceremony honoring World War II veteran Louis Rittelmann at Phoenixville Care and Rehab Center on Sept. 25, 2017.
Lt. General Richard P. Mills fastens a pin onto World War II veteran Louis Rittelmann during ceremony at Phoenixville Care and Rehab Center Sept. 25, 2017.
World War II veteran Louis Rittelmann speaks with his daughter, Mary Lou Oswald, after ceremony honoring him for his service.
World War II veteran Louis Rittelmann during ceremony at Phoenixville Care and Rehab Center on Sept. 25, 2017, honoring him for his service.