Walter William Riedel, 75, electrician, Navy veteran

October 24, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Walter William Riedel, a retired electrician and Navy veteran of World War II who participated in the Normandy invasion, died Thursday from complications of pancreatitis. He was 75 and lived in Ferndale.

The Southwest Baltimore native also offered his expertise in electrical work as a volunteer helping to restore the Liberty ship John W. Brown, and on the Sanctuary, the former Navy hospital ship that is being converted into a detoxification center for women.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1942, and was assigned as a fire controlman aboard the USS Thomas Jefferson, a converted Navy attack transport that had been the American President Lines' passenger ship President Garfield.

"His job was to ensure that the ship's 3-inch guns were in working order," said shipmate Robert Stewart, a retired teacher and coach who lives in Westwood, N.J.

Mr. Riedel, who had seen action in the Sicily, Salerno and North Africa invasions, was aboard on June 6, 1944, when troops of Maryland's famed 29th Division were loaded into landing craft at dawn and made the initial bloody assault on Omaha Beach.

"In the opening scene of 'Saving Private Ryan,' Tom Hanks was seen standing in a PA-30 landing craft that had been launched from the Jefferson," said Larry Flanagan, a former shipmate who lives in Norfolk, Va., referring to the recent movie.

Since his discharge in 1945, Mr. Riedel had been an active member of the USS Thomas Jefferson APA 30, a veterans association composed of those who served on the ship that won six battle stars in World War II. It was scrapped in 1973.

Mr. Riedel was an electrician at Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. until 1950, when he earned his master electrician's license. He owned and operated Walter Riedel & Sons Electrical Contracting Co. until 1971, then worked in electrical maintenance at General Motors' Broening Highway plant. He retired in 1987.

"He loved ships and reading about World War II," said his daughter, Patricia Damian Schwarcz of Brooklandville.

He volunteered two days a week aboard the John W. Brown and also on the Sanctuary, repairing and updating their electrical systems.

"He was our best electrician and did more than his share in making the John W. Brown operational again," said Derek E. Brierley, a retired GM electrician and also a Project Liberty Ship volunteer.

"He was a quiet and meticulous guy who had tremendous patience when it came to working on the ship's electrical system. He was instrumental in the rewiring of the ship, the installation of circuit breakers and new auxiliary diesel generators."

Chester Rakowski, a Sanctuary volunteer, said yesterday, "He volunteered a tremendous amount of time to the Sanctuary, and we're really going to miss him. He did a thousand things on the ship, including refurbishing the electrical system in the galley and other rooms."

Mr. Riedel's wife of 58 years, the former Pauline Szczech, said Mr. Riedel enjoyed taking cruises, "but he always got seasick the first day at sea."

He was a communicant of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Glen Burnie.

Plans for services were incomplete yesterday.

Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by three sons, William Riedel and Timothy Riedel, both of Glen Burnie, and James Riedel of California, St. Mary's County; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 10/24/98

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