Robert J. Ritchie, the son of a Gold Star Mother

Sometimes when you look for relatives while doing your family tree, you come across obituaries…

Like the one I posted yesterday on this blog.

Sometimes an obituary has to get to the point.

The obituary quickly mentions that Odna lost two boys in WWII, William and Robert.

Both were my 2nd cousins.

William Ritchie (1921 – 1944) and Robert J Ritchie (1925 – 1945) who were

the sons of Odna Lagasse (1893 – 1983) who was

the daughter of Dennis Lagasse III (1864 – 1922) who was

the son of Dennis Lagasse II (1842 – 1927) who was

the father of Léo Lagacé Senior (1888 – 1964) who was

the father of Léo Lagacé Junior (1927 – 1995) who was my father…

Odna Lagasse was a Gold Star mother twice.

Just in case you would like to know more about Robert J. Ritchie who gave his life for his country and did not have the chance to have his own descendants, and more about his mother Odna Lagasse…

Please take the time to read what I found and just try to imagine how Odna felt being a Gold Star mother for the second time when she received a telegram from the War Departement when everyone else was rejoicing because WWII was finally over…

Just try to imagine the look on her face.

Probably the same look as the five Sullivan brothers‘ mother when they broke the news to her about her five boys.

USS Bullhead (SS-332) – Ship’s History

Researched by: Robert Loys Sminkey

Commander, United States Navy, Retired

USS Bullhead (SS-332), named for any large-headed fish, especially the catfish, miller’s thumb, and sculpin, was constructed by the Electric Boat Company at Groton, Connecticut. Her keel was laid down on 21 October 1943. Mrs. Howard R. Doyle christened the submarine and she was launched on 16 July 1944. The Balao Class boat was commissioned on 4 December 1944 with Commander Walter T. Griffith in command.

When commissioned, the Fleet Type submarine displaced 1,526 tons on the surface when in diving trim and drew 16’10” of water when in that condition; displaced 2,391 tons when submerged; was 311’8″ in length overall; had a beam of 27’3″; could make 20 1/4 knots on the surface and 8 3/4 knots submerged (for one hour); could dive safely to 400 feet; was manned by 6 officers and 60 enlisted men; and was armed with one 5-inch deck gun and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes (six in the bow and four in the stern). Twenty-four torpedoes were carried. The submarine could also carry and lay mines.

The Second World War operations of USS Bullhead extended from 21 March to August of 1945 during which time she completed two war patrols. Her area of operations included the Java and South China Seas and the Gulf of Siam.

USS Bullhead sank four enemy ships, totaling 1,800 tons, and damaged three ships, for 1,300 tons, during her first two war patrols.

Her first patrol was made in the South China Sea from the latter part of March to the end of April 1945. No enemy contacts were made, but, on 31 March, and again on 24 April, USS Bullhead bombarded Pratas Island with her 5-inch deck gun. She also rescued three airmen from a downed B-29 bomber following an air strike on the China coast.

In May and June of 1945, USS Bullhead patrolled the Gulf of Siam and the South China Sea during her second war patrol. There, she sank two small freighters, a schooner, and a submarine chaser…and damaged two more submarine chasers and another small freighter…all in gun actions on the surface.

Departing Fremantle, Australia, for her third war patrol, USS Bullhead, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edward R. Holt, Junior, on 31 July 1945, started for her patrol area (from Longitude 110 Degrees East to Longitude 115 Degrees East…in the Java Sea). She was to leave her patrol area at dark on 5 September and head for Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands. USS Capitaine (SS-336) and USS Puffer (SS-268) were also to patrol in the Java Sea area, as were the British submarines HMS Taciturn and HMS Thorough.

USS Bullhead arrived in her assigned area on 6 August, but USS Capitaine did not arrive until 13 August. On 12 August, USS Capitaine ordered USS Bullhead to take position the following day in a scouting line with USS Capitaine and USS Puffer. There was no reply from USS Bullhead, and, on 15 August, USS Capitaine reported to headquarters:

“Have been unable to contact USS Bullhead by any means since arriving in area.”

Since those submarines named above were in the same general area as USS Bullhead…and USS Cod (SS-224) and USS Chub (SS-329) passed through in transit at various times, it is difficult to point to one Japanese antisubmarine attack as the one which sank USS Bullhead. However, the most likely one occurred on 6 August 1945, when an enemy army plane attacked with depth charges in:

Position: Latitude: 8 Degrees 20′ South Longitude: 115 Degrees 42′ East.

The Japanese aircraft claimed two direct hits, and, for ten minutes thereafter, there was a great amount of gushing oil and air bubbles rising in the water. Since the position given is very near the Bali Island coast, it is presumed that the proximity of mountain peaks shortened USS Bullhead’s radar range and prevented her from obtaining early warning of the approach of the airplane…which sank her.

USS BullHead (SS-332) received two battle stars for her service during the Second World War.

The following personnel were USS Bullhead’s ship’s company during that submarine’s third war patrol…and all went with her on the last dive:

Alfred Aiple, Junior…Quartermaster Second Class

Harold A. Anderson…Yeoman Second Class

Robert H. Barringer…Seaman First Class

George L. Bell…Motor Machinist’s Mate First Class

James D. Benner…Seaman First Class

Walter E. Bertram…Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class

Harold R. Bridgstock…Radio Technician Second Class

Ralph M. Brume…Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class

Kadzmir J. Buczek…Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class

Richard B. Burns…Chief Torpedoman’s Mate

Ray W. Church…Motor Machinist’s Mate First Class

James F. Collins…Electrician’s Mate Third Class

Howard E. Crandall…Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class

Elmer M. Dahl…Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class

Glen M. Davidson…Fireman First Class

Jerry K. Davidson…Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class

Charles J. Day…Electrician’s Mate Second Class

Charles W. Dougherty…Ship’s Cook First Class

Edward M. Engebretsen…Chief Quartermaster

James R. Fahey…Radioman Third Class

Ralph G. Foster…Fireman First Class

Kenneth E. Foust…Quartermaster Third Class

Fred C. Fritz…Radioman Second Class

Charles W. Gay…Electrician’s Mate Third Class

Joseph P. Gilheany, Junior…Radioman Third Class

Paul A. Gossett…Lieutenant Junior grade

Clyde M. Graves…Seaman First Class

William F. Greaves…Electrician’s Mate Third Class

Hubert B. Hackett…Signalman Second Class

E. D. Hackman, Junior…Lieutenant

John L. Hancock…Gunner’s Mate Second Class

John J. Harris…Quartermaster Third Class

William P. Hawkins…Boatswain’s Mate Second Class

George V. Heaton…Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class

Thomas P. Helferich…Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate

Donald O. Hendrikson…Lieutenant Junior Grade

Edward R. Holt, Junior…Lieutenant Commander…Commanding

LaVerne W. Huisman…Seaman First Class

William Ireland…Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class

Lester L. Jenkins…Electrician’s Mate Second Class

James R. Jensen…Electrician’s Mate Third Class

Fred J. Jewell…Quartermaster Second Class

Percy Johnson, Junior…Signalman First Class

Joseph W. Jones…Chief Electrician’s Mate

Richard A. Keister…Radio Technician Third Class

Jacob J. Kopf…Electrician’s Mate Third Class

W. A. Kulczycki…Ensign

Oscar V. Nassas…Torpedoman’s Mate Second Class

Roy K. Marin…Motor Machinist’s Mate Second Class

Jack P. Markham…Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class

Harry A. McDermott…Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class

George P. Morgan…Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class

Paul W. Olson…Fireman First Class

Paul F. Overbeek…Seaman First Class

Richard W. Palmer…Fireman First Class

William J. Parks…Gunner’s Mate First Class

Joseph J. Parpal…Lieutenant Junior Grade

Robert M. Pattengale…Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class

Robert S. Patterson…Sonarman Second Class

William M. Peart…Electrician’s Mate First Class

Robert J. Perry…Motor Machinist’s Mate First Class

Keith R. Phillips…Lieutenant…Executive Officer

Carl W. Piatt…Ship’s Cook Third Class

Richard A. Pinder…Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate

William J. Ralston, Junior…Torpedoman’s Mate Third Class

Robert Ritchie

Robert J. Ritchie…
Electrician’s Mate Third Class

John A. Roberts…Electrician’s Mate First Class

Jesse Sandoval…Seaman First Class

Lee A. Schlegel…Fireman First Class

Orville G. H. Schmidt…Fireman First Class

William F. Short…Torpedoman’s Mate First Class

Bert Shuey, Junior…Ship’s Cook Third Class

Dale M. Siefken…Fire Controlman Second Class

Jack Simms, II…Lieutenant Junior Grade

Edward M. Smida…Pharmacist’s Mate First Class

Carl J. Smith…Chief Radioman

William M. Smith…Chief Electrician’s Mate

Frank T. Stifter…Radio Technician Second Class

Raymond W. Strassle…Lieutenant Junior Grade

Charles H. Taylor…Seaman First Class

Melvin Tobias…Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class

Andrew T. …Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate

Lyle L. Webb…Seaman First Class

Elmer J. Wiersma…Motor Machinist’s Mate Third Class

9 Officers

75 Enlisted Men


84 Total…Lost in USS Bullhead (SS-332)

A Memorial Website exists…

Click here.


Some pictures…

29 thoughts on “Robert J. Ritchie, the son of a Gold Star Mother

  1. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. My grand mom would know of such feelings. She sent 3 sons off to war.Two in the Navy, one in the Army Air Corps. All 3 went M.I.A. during the last year of the war. My uncle Randy was shot down over Germany P.O.W. My dad’s ship got frozen in the North Atlantic after battle with no radio communication. My dad, Coy A. Jewell made it back from the North Atlantic. Almost lost his legs from gangrene. Uncle Randall M. Jewell was machine gunned by a German guard left for dead. He came home. My uncle Fred didn’t come home. You see Fred Jackson Jewell was aboard the U.S.S. Bullhead the last American submarine sunk in WWII. Your son did not die alone that day. He died with 83 FINE YOUNG AMERICANS one of them was my uncle who I never met and I am DAM PROUD of THEM!!!

    I’d like to thank you for posting that link to this sight. I feel a little closer to the man I never met by being here. Thanks again.


  2. Robert was a second cousin. He was the son of the niece of my grandfather.
    I found that story when I was searching for my roots.

    When I found it I had to post an article about the two sons of Edna Lagasse Ritchie.
    I have more blogs which pay homage to the Fallen.
    This is one of them…

    William Lagasse was a first cousin.
    His father was Anthony Lagasse the brother of my grandfather.

    Thanks for posting your comment. If you would like to share pictures of the people you talk about in your comment I can post them in a follow-up article. Your comment deserves to be posted as an article because readers often don’t read comments.

  3. Thank you for this blog. Odna Ritchie was my grandmother. My mother Doris was the youngest of her 6 children. William and Robert were the Uncles I never got to meet. My mother talked of them often.

      • Here name is definitely Odna, not Edna.
        In the picture you sent she is in the second row on the right.
        The young lady in the white dress.
        One of her sisters was named Mary and the youngest was Antoinette “Toni”.
        Those are the two I remember knowing in my youth.

    • My search for my ancestors and their relatives led me to this story.
      I had a good knowledge of WWII so it was easy for me to relate to this story.
      Having pictures of these people and knowing where they came from made it more poignant.
      I did not know what was a Gold Star Mother.
      Nowadays this seems a little ironic.
      I think Odna never got over the lost of her two sons nor did Frank Ritchie.
      One of my father’s cousin died in Holland. His mother thought he would come back one day.
      He never did of course.

      Thank you for your comments.


  4. Wonderfully researched. I am in awe of all of the men who so willingly gave for other people’s freedom. I am humbled by their sacrifice and the sacrifices of their families. As we once again approach Remembrance Day and memorial Day, I will keep them all in my prayers.

  5. Reblogged this on theleansubmariner and commented:
    This is an excellent story written about a Gold Star Mother and involves the loss of the USS Bullhead and her crew in combat. The chilling words ““Have been unable to contact USS Bullhead by any means since arriving in area.” are a sad epitaph for brave men who gave everything for other’s freedom. God Bless them all.

  6. Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
    Many of you already know and follow Pierre Lagace at one or more of his 17 blogs, written in English and/or French. My Canadian friend has been my teacher, editor and supporter. His historical research is amazing. Check out this post and his Gravatar profile – you’ll be amazed too!

    • All those who came back, came back from the dead. Most relived till the day they died the war in their dreams. They could never forget,

      This is one reason we must never forget.

  7. Wow! Just breaks your heart to read about the lives lost and see all the photos. But, it makes you appreciate the sacrifice made in the name of honor and country. I have two sons. I can’t imagine losing them both. Thanks for sharing.

    • Odna was just a name in a family tree back in 2009 when I started this search for my grandfather’s relatives who stayed in the U.S.

      My grandfather came back to Quebec in 1907. Piece by piece I reconstructed his family tree.

      This is how I came to find about an “Edna” who was his niece.

      She was in fact Odna. Her granddaughter Donna told me what was her real given name, and all about her, and her two sons William and Robert Ritchie. Donna, who I met personally, shared pictures and documents, and I posted everything on my blog to pay homage to William and Robert.

      Odna also deserved to be recognized for what she went through. Her obituary did not tell all.

      I did.

      Thank you for your comment.

  8. Thanks for a very interesting reading, looking at the pics it really does bring the war closer to home, when you see the youthfullness of those involved.
    I had never heard of a Gold Star mother.

    • I knew nothing about that also.
      Also I got curious.
      Who were those two sons?
      I got curious again.
      It paid in a sense… to have gotten curious because Donna found my blog and shared what she knew.
      I wrote more posts about the two brothers.
      Donna shared letters her grandmother received from the U.S. Department of Defense.
      She also had a letter Robert wrote to his sister Doris (Donna’s mother).

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