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A Memorial Day Follow Up

Webb Weekly does not often follow up on stories we have previously run, but we believe because the original story exemplifies the spirit of recognition and appreciation of those in uniform who gave their lives to keep this country free, we thought it wholly appropriate to do a follow-up.

In our April 25 issue, we reported on a commemoration of the life of Captain Lawrence Ritter, a highly decorated World II pilot, who died in a plane crash near Slate Run, more than 70 years ago. The organizers of that event were very grateful to us for that story and wanted us to follow-up to show how successful that event was, and we are proud and glad to oblige.

According to the event’s organizers, approximately 50 people attended the ceremony at the site, and around 30 people participated in the reception at Creekside Restaurant. Combined, the event lasted a total of around eight hours. The convoy to the site was about 20 cars in size, with two vehicles marked with an American flag for people to follow.

The ceremony opened with remarks by Rick Bressler, one of the organizers of the event. There was a presentation of our national colors by Terry Banfill, and Matt Teachey gave an invocation.

Randy Gillen, who first told the story to the VFW Benefits Center, the group that helped organize the event, spoke about Ritter’s crash, and how unknowingly, got the ball rolling to have this commemoration. He spoke of himself as a link and “that we are links in this project assuring that Captain Ritter is never forgotten.”

Austin Donahay, who did his senior project at Central Mountain High School on Captain Ritter, said, “If the weather were like this when Captain Ritter flew over Pennsylvania, we probably wouldn’t be here.”

Rick Bressler, who spoke about Captain Ritter’s life before his time in the military, explained that every legend has a beginning. “We need to understand what made him the man he was.” He also spoke about Ritter’s time in the service, and his death”.

The speaker for which this commemoration probably had the most meaning and poignancy was Janice Lariviere, Captain Ritter’s niece, and closest living relative. Bressler located her after months of searching. Janice spoke fondly of her Uncle Larry, explaining she never knew much about him, saying that his story was buried with her mother, Captain Ritter’s younger sister. Through Bressler’s research and uncovering of his story, it has brought a renewed sense of interest and pride in her family. Janice hugged Bressler after she spoke.

There was a presentation and distribution of paracord military themed bracelets made by Maggie Bressler, Rick’s oldest daughter. She explained that she made them to honor Captain Ritter’s memory and handed them out for all that attended.

There was a question and answer session, which led to Jess Hackenburg of the Lycoming County Veterans Council, who ended up speaking, providing elaborate details of the search, specifics of the aircraft, and clarification as to how the memorial stone came to be and was placed at the site. His input added an unexpected and welcome touch to the service. Local veteran of 22 years, John Herb, spoke of the importance of the history in our area, how we need to spend more time investigating veterans, assuring nobody is forgotten.

Local veteran James Jordan assisted Janice Lariviere in placing the new World War II flag holder by the memorial stone. Jordan helped get a new flag holder for the site since the previous one was stolen.
Matt Teachey gave a benediction, “Taps” was played, and Bressler made some concluding remarks.

Some additional information about Captain Ritter recently learned:

Not only was he awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and The Air Medal with several oak leaf clusters, he was also awarded the American Defense Service Medal, the American Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon, the European-African- Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three Bronze Service Stars for battle participation in the Sicily, Tunisia, and Naples-Foggia Campaigns, and the Distinguished Unit Badge.

Captain Ritter married his wife, Eve Irene Brandes, shortly after returning from overseas duty on June 28, 1945, three days after his 26th birthday, and sadly was married for only ten months until his untimely death on April 26, 1946.

Janice Lariviere, Captain Ritter’s niece, Centerville, MA, said, “It was a very moving and emotional experience for me. The entire ceremony from all the attendees, the speeches, Taps, the bracelets made by Maggie, and even the weather, everything was so well put together and thought out it was worth the eight-hour drive from Cape Cod. The support was incredible, and we met some truly inspirational people who I can now call my friends. As someone said, ‘If the weather had been like this 72 years ago, we would not be here now.’ That would have been the best possible scenario, but this was a beautiful tribute to an amazing man.”

Retired District Justice Jim Carn, who heard about the Ritter commemoration from our April 25 issue, attended the commemoration and had this to say, “Capt. Ritter was certainly a very accomplished and inspiring young man who achieved a great deal in his 26 years of life. He was in his senior year at Dartmouth College when drafted during World War II; promoted to Captain within two years, flew 55 combat missions, shot down 13 enemy aircraft, and is credited with sinking a Nazi submarine.”

He continued, “If not for a very unusual, freak snow storm at the end of April which resulted in the crash, one wonders what more he may have achieved in the years ahead. Had it been clear and sunny as the day of the commemoration, the tragedy would have never occurred.

“It’s important that we keep bringing history such as this to the attention of those old enough who remember it, and to the younger generation who never heard of it. I commend those that organized the remembrance service.”

The last word on this belongs to Rick Bressler, who had so much to do with this special commemoration.

“The entire event was a wonderful and humbling experience,” Bressler said. “There was a lot of hard work behind organizing everything, and thankfully a lot of people helped, including Randy Gillen, Austin Donahay, and several others. We are continuing efforts to ensure Captain Ritter is not forgotten again and will be certain to let the public know what’s next when everything is ready! Aside from getting married, and the birth of my two daughters, this event was my proudest moment, and feel it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of!”

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