Honoring a WWII sailor: Eugene Richie paid the ultimate priceNorth Hudson sailor who paid the ultimate price during World War II will be honored during Veterans Day ceremonies at the St. Croix County Government Center Friday, Nov. 11.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
North Hudson sailor who paid the ultimate price during World War II will be honored during Veterans Day ceremonies at the St. Croix County Government Center Friday, Nov. 11.
Eugene Richie died on Oct. 24, 1944, in the South Pacific while serving aboard the USS Birmingham (CL-62), a light cruiser. Members of his family will be presented with the medals and ribbons he earned including the Purple Heart.
Shellea Altman of Hudson, a former U.S. Navy Officer, is Richie’s grand-niece. She will present the awards to Richie’s three remaining siblings including Louis Richie, Margaret Richie Buttke and Mary Richie Marino.
Charles Altman, Shellea’s husband and a retired Navy commander, will give the keynote speech at the ceremonies scheduled to start at 11 a.m. in front of the main entrance of the government center in Hudson.
The project started when Louis endeavored to get a grave marker for his brother in the Hudson cemetery. He teamed up with Wanda Plourde, administrative assistant at the St. Croix County Veteran’s Service Office. The quest led to collecting the medals and ribbons Eugene Richie earned with the help of Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl and his office in Washington.
“Nobody knows what happened to the original medals, it’s a mystery,” said Charles Altman. “Eugene was probably buried at sea. He has a grave marker in the U.S. Memorial Cemetery near Manila in the Philippines.”
Altman said a Purple Heart could have been awarded to Richie at his burial.
Seaman 1st Class Eugene A. Richie died during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. A history of the Birmingham’s role during the battle describes the events surrounding his death.
The aircraft carrier USS Princeton (CV-23) was hit from a single bomb from a Japanese dive bomber that exploded in the hanger and started fires that set off other explosions.
“Just as the light cruiser was moving alongside the carrier, flames touched off Princeton’s after magazines. The cataclysmic explosion blew off the carrier’s stern and much of the after part of the flight deck. Steel fragments, wooden planking and all manner of debris raked the Birmingham from stem to stern,” the report said.
“Over half of the light cruiser’s crew became casualties since virtually everyone on the starboard side was killed or wounded. The blast killed 233 men and seriously wounded 211.”
The Nov. 16, 1944, Star-Observer carried the news of Richie’s death.
“Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Richie of North Hudson received a telegram from the Navy Department on Friday (Nov. 10) informing them of the death of their son, Seaman 1st Class Eugene Anthony Richie, 20, USNR in the South Pacific War. No further details concerning his death were revealed,” was the lead sentence in the article.
In the same edition of the Star-Observer, the late publisher Willis Miller, in his regular column titled “Along Our Street,” published the last letter he received from Richie.
“Gene liked to write letters. His last letter to me was written on the 19th of October……”
“Hi Bill –
Yes, after four weeks of trying to get a letter off to you, I hope I finally succeed in accomplishing this task.”
He mentions receiving the Hudson paper, “in fine shape.”
“I see some of the fellows have been through hell and high water; well we must all be fighting the same war at that, if my memory isn’t going bad on me.
“The mighty —————(presumably the ship’s name was blacked out by censors), has chosen Shirley Temple as their pin-up girl; can’t see it myself, but that was the count. I’m strictily for the home town girls and I know she’s waiting.”
Later in the letter he said, “Hear the football team had a little bad luck to start the season off; it’s a good thing they got it out of their system; now I hope they buckle down and come out on top.
“Must sign off, Bill, but if you get time write because your letters are tops with me and I enjoy them very much. If you happen to know the addresses of the fellows send them when you write, George Olson, Ben Montbriand and Don Gilbertson. Your pal, Eugene”
Louis Richie, 85, said he was 18 and just graduated from high school in 1944 when his brother died.
“He was on the Birmingham tending to the air craft carrier Princeton when the magazines blew up. Eugene was killed along with a lot of other sailors on both ships,” Louis said.
“I talked to a friend of my brother who was on the Birmingham who said Eugene’s body only had one shrapnel wound,” Louis said.
Charles and Shellea Altman have placed the medals and ribbons in a case with a photo of Eugene in uniform and a folded American flag.