Obituary of Erich Henry Rutscheidt
NOTICE THE FUNERAL MASS AND BURIAL HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL APRIL 25, 2022. WE Have updated the service schedule. Please see the schedule below the obituary.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to https://www.guidedogs.com/
Dr. Erich Henry Rutscheidt, 95, of Great Falls, VA., died Wednesday, December 29th, at Arleigh Burke Pavilion Rehabilitation, in McLean VA. Born in Troisdorf, Germany, on March 7, 1926 he came to the US as a child with his parents and older brother and was raised in Brooklyn, NY. Erich lived in Great Falls, VA, for over fifty years. He served our country honorably in the army during World War ll, receiving a bronze star for actions during the Battle of the Bulge. Erich graduated from the University of Vermont and received his PhD in Astronomy from Georgetown University. He worked for the U.S. Army Topographic Command in Washington, DC. and retired from the Defense Mapping Agency in the 1980’s. Erich was predeceased by his wife Maria Perri, his parents Jake and Gertrude Rutscheidt, and his brother Henry. Erich leaves behind his brother-in-laws Joseph Perri and his wife Annette, Ben Perri, and Vincent Perri and his wife Rosemarie, as well as many loving nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews as well as many caring friends. Visitation is April 25th, 8:45am to 10:15am, at Adams-Green Funeral Home, 721 Elden Street, Herndon, VA. Mass is 11 am, April 25th at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 1020 Springvale Road, Great Falls, VA, followed by interment, 2 pm, at Quantico National Cemetery, 18424 Joplin Road, Triangle, VA. In lieu of flowers, if you wish, you may make a memorial contribution to https.//www.guidedogs.com/
Interesting life facts about Erich:
When Erich was only 18 he was drafted into the US Army during WWII. He served from 1944 until 1946 as an enlisted soldier fighting for America. When he arrived in the European theater, he was immediately involved in the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive, was a major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II which took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region between Belgium and Luxembourg towards the end of the war in Europe. Erich received the Bronze Star for his actions during that battle.
Erich often said that his fluent knowledge of the German language saved his life. Erich was put on the line in early 1945. Combat was brutal at that point. He recalled that most of his unit was more or less wiped out. As the upper command was trying to figure out how to integrate the few remaining members of Erich’s unit, his very valuable native German language skills became known to upper command, which needed battlefield interrogators. Erich spoke German with his parents while he was growing up in Brooklyn. He spent the remainder of his tour of duty as an interrogator, away from the front lines. He believed that reassignment saved his life.
If you use GPS, then you and the rest of the navigating world have Erich and countless others to thank for their groundbreaking work in measuring the exact size of the earth during the 1950's and 60's. Erich spent many months in Africa, Central and South America, and Greenland using special instrumentation to exactly measure longitudinal (vertical) distances on the earth. His instrument of choice was the Geodimeter (acronym of geodetic distance meter). The Geodimeter was the first optical electronic distance meter surveying instrument. It was originally developed for measuring the speed of light. It was invented in 1947 by Erik Osten Bergstrand and commercialized in 1953 by the AGA company of Sweden. Using the known speed of light,
Erich used the Geodimeter to bounce light back and forth between two points to accurately measure distances.
Erich loved dogs. Throughout his life he had many beloved canine companions. He was the Training Director for the Dulles Gateway Dog training club and very involved for years. Members said he was an excellent and patient instructor. He was also very active in the Potomac Valley Standard Schnauzer club, being a member dating back to the 1970’s, serving as President in the 80’s. Erich once had a female Schnauzer named Karina that had a litter of puppies. Once the puppies were born, Erich couldn't bear to part with any of them. He kept all four, the two males Thor and Viking he showed to their championship. Erich trained and showed many, many dogs in both conformation and obedience. One of his pride and joys was taking his beloved Schnauzer, Ch Katahdin Prince of Tides all the way to Utility Dog Excellent (UDX) in Obedience.
Erich was quietly proud to have served the United States Army. He loved wearing his WWII Veteran ball cap wherever he went. He loved this country and was grateful that it welcomed his family in the 1930's when they immigrated to America from Germany.
The following was an interview with Erich from 2015:
Holy Water and the Vet
An Interview with a World War II Veteran
Erich Henry Rutscheidt
"In a bad situation, do the best you can."
Name: Erich Henry Rutscheidt
Branch of Service: Army, 1st Battalion, Infantry 75th Division, Regiment 289
Dates of Service: August 1, 1944 - April, 1946
Medals: Bronze Star, European theater
Dates of Interview: August and September 2015
Location of Interview: Oakton, Virginia
Name of Interviewer: Donna Kohler Repetski
Interviewer: Hi Erich. Thanks for agreeing to this interview.
Erich: Sure. What would you like to know?
Interviewer: Well, to start with, did you enlist, or were you drafted?
Erich: I was drafted right out of high school. I was seventeen. Didn’t even get to finish high school. My brother who was six years older than me, was already in the Navy.
Interviewer: Where were you living at the time?
Erich: We were in Brooklyn.
Interviewer: Is that where you were born?
Erich: No, I was born in Germany. I was born in a German town called Troisdorf.
Interviewer: When did you enter the service?
Erich: I was drafted into the Army on August 1, 1944. I arrived in Europe right after Christmas that year. It was getting close to the end of the war, but we didn’t know that, of course.
Interviewer: Did you keep a personal diary?
Erich: No, we weren’t allowed to have them. They didn’t want us to have anything like that in case we were captured.
Interviewer: Were you ever taken under enemy fire?
Erich: Yeah, there were lots of artillery barrages. Some of them were especially nasty. Like the “Bouncing Betty.” It was a German mine that would land on the ground, bounce up about three feet, then explode with a spray of shrapnel. One time one of those things landed right at my feet. It bounced up and I thought, “Oh, shit, now what am I going to do?” Then it fell to the ground. It was a dud.
Interviewer: That’s awful.
Erich: Yeah. It was. Some days were worse than others. One time we lost twenty guys in about three hours. It was at Colmar. They couldn’t send in any replacements.
Interviewer: Did you admire your commanding officer?
Erich: Oh, yeah. But the platoon leaders never lasted very long.
Interviewer: How long did you serve overseas?
Erich: Twenty months.
Interviewer: What did you do on leave?
Erich: We didn’t have any leave until the war was over, but we got passes to Paris and Brussels.
Interviewer: That must have been interesting.
Erich: Yeah, it was. I liked to practice my German with the locals. Because there is only one way you can keep up with the language. You gotta talk the language.
Interviewer: Did they ever expect you to translate sometimes when they needed a translation?
Erich: Well, yeah. During the war, yeah. They’d say, “Hey, Kraut! What’s this Krout talkin’ about?” They called me a Kraut.
Interviewer: Was there anybody else who could translate?
Erich: No. Not in the whole battalion. I was the only one who knew German in the whole battalion.
Interviewer: That’s amazing.
Erich: Yeah, it is.
Interviewer: Did anybody distrust you because you had a German sounding last name? Did they ever give you a hard time? No?
Erich: There was one other guy, come to think of it, who spoke German. But he spoke college German. He didn’t speak the dialect. And he was educated at Harvard. He was the battalion commander’s bodyguard. He was always adamant. He was with the Colonel all the time.
Interviewer: Oh, so he wasn’t very useful, practically speaking.
Erich: Yeah. I used to pick up German prisoners while the shooting was going on. Artillery was coming in. And start questioning them right then and there. But, there were mostly young kids. Mostly young fellows.
Interviewer: Probably afraid, I bet.
Erich: Well no. This one guy I remember, the only thing he was afraid of was that we were gonna kill him. Uh, he, uh, I dropped a hand grenade and it rolled on the floor towards him. I had pockets, and a hand grenade in each one. We had no lapels up here, so one of the hand grenades fell on the floor, and the German kid went to pick it up. And I knew he wasn’t gonna blow it up ‘ cause he only reached down with one hand. If you’re gonna blow it up, you gotta use two hands.
Interviewer: Oh, cause you need to pull the pin out?
Erich: Yep. You gotta pull the pin out. You gotta grab it with one hand, and pull the pin out with the other. You can explode them with one hand.
Interviewer: So why did he pick it up?
Erich: The other American with me was gonna shoot him right there on the spot. And I said, “Put your goddamned gun away, you jerk.” And so the kid gave me that hand grenade. I said “Thanks.”
Interviewer: That was another close call you had.
Erich: I heard a story right after that, of a kid, he was a fifteen-year-old kid. He said he wanted to die for the Fuhrer. And an American killed him with a bullet right through the stomach.
Interviewer: So he died for the Fuhrer.
Erich: I guess. That’s why, one time when I got a bunch of prisoners one time across the canal, I say, “Do what I tell ya to do and don’t say another word.” I didn’t want anything like that. I had cousins in the German army, at least I thought they were. My uncle was fighting in Stalingrad.
Interviewer: You never got wounded in the war, did you?
Interviewer: You were lucky.
Erich: I came close, though. We had one instance of friendly fire. I was running up some steps with a bunch of others. The steps had glass sides and someone fired a machine gun hitting one of our own guys. He was lying there with a shovel, and I needed a shovel since I only had a hatchet to dig trenches. So I took his shovel since he was going to be going back home. I told him he had a million-dollar wound.
Interviewer: Did you ever have a problem with your feet? Did your toes ever turn black?
Erich: No, I don’t think so. Trying to remember …
Interviewer: What was the weather like?
Erich: Pretty bad, especially that winter of ’44-’45. We could never get warm and it seemed to always be snowing. We slept in a foot of snow in the Ardennes.
Interviewer: I should never complain about being cold again. Did you ever run our of supplies?
Erich: No, it was too close to the end of the war. So they had all of the supplies that they were short of, resupplied. But the number that were killed was unbelievable.
Interviewer: Did you lose a lot of friends?
Erich: Well, I know one guy that I took basic training with, got cut in half.
Interviewer: How did that happen?
Erich: He rolled over onto a land mine and blew up. And half of his body came flying over my head.
Interviewer: That’s horrible!
Erich: I didn’t know who it was, but somebody else told me who it was. He said, “Did you know so and so? That was him flying over your head.” But my platoon leader, my platoon sergeant, they were both killed. They lost their legs. They went flying about fifty feet.
Interviewer: I always wonder about the medics. How they can handle things like that in battle. Did they teach you how to do CPR and first aid training so you could help a comrade?
Erich: Yeah, we had all that in basic training. Yeah, we had all that.
Interviewer: Did they teach you how to handle weapons?
Erich: (Laughter) Ho, ho, ho, yeah, that’s about all it was.
Interviewer: What kinds of weapons?
Erich: Oh, it was rifles, pistols, machine guns, mortar, bazookas. I was too good at the bazooka. They almost killed me, damn bazookas. They gave us bazookas, and I hit a big, concrete building in Belgium, and there was a wall, a hole about this big for a cannon to stick through, ya know. I got my bazooka shill right down the barrel. And they saw that and they said, “You’re it!”
Interviewer: Oh, my goodness.
Erich: All I was trying to do was get rid of it. To get rid of the rifle I had, it was so damned heavy. So I said, “Can I get a carbine?” And he said, “Nope!” That’s the other thing we fired—a carbine. It’s easy, you know. Much smaller.
Erich: Much smaller. And lighter.
Interviewer: And it doesn’t do rapid fire, does it?
Erich: No, it’s a single shot. It’s what they call semi-automatic. We always carried our weapon with us. One time I went out to guard a house for my hour of duty. I was standing in the doorway and a German soldier came running down the street with his rifle, yelling something.
Interviewer: Did he see you?
Erich: No, he didn’t see me in the doorway.
Interviewer: Close call number ……?
Interviewer: Where did you do your training?
Erich: Fort Benning, Georgia
Interviewer: Was that what they called boot camp? Was that six weeks long?
Erich: No, no, we had seventeen weeks.
Erich: I think what happened, is they initially were giving them something like seven weeks, then they raised it to thirteen. And then I think what they were thinking, was with the thirteen weeks, they had to do a little more basic training when they got overseas. So they would give them a little bit more training, so what they did was instead of doing that training overseas, they decided to do that training in the United States. So they raised it to seventeen weeks. And instead of that training overseas, you went right into action.
Interviewer: They wanted you battle ready as soon as you got over there.
Erich: Yeah, as soon as we got there.
Interviewer: How was the food? Was it O.K.?
Erich: I never had any trouble with the food. I liked it.
Interviewer: Because when you’re hungry, you’re hungry, and you’ll eat just about anything?
Erich: Yeah, that’s about right.
Interviewer: Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
Erich: I was going to the movies.
Interviewer: Really?! This was back in…..
Erich: Brooklyn. And I was coming out of the movies, and I was on my way home, walked along 5th Avenue, and the radio was playing somewhere, and it said, “Pearl Harbor has been attacked.” And I said to myself, oh, I’ll never go into that, it’s so far away, I’m only fifteen. I never thought I’d get into it.
Interviewer: Were you with friends just walking along?
Erich: No, I was alone.
Interviewer: Do you remember what movie you saw?
Erich: No, I don’t remember. It didn’t really faze me very much, because I was so young, I figured I'd never get in. My brother was already in the Navy. He joined the Navy in January of 1941. So he was in the Navy almost a year before Pearl Harbor. He was doing convoy duty in the Atlantic.
Interviewer: Can you tell me more about what you saw?
Erich: Believe it or not, casualties are usually worse in City and village fighting than in the woods. In the woods, there’s no place to hide, but a lot of them did get killed. In village fighting, you can hide, and that’s what you have to watch out for. In fact, the very first day there, we went forward. The guy in front of me said, “Better go around the back of this building so make sure there are no Germans back there.” Because there are buildings all over the place and you don’t know. He stepped around the building and just as he stepped behind the building, the bomb blew up in front of him and his whole face was covered in blood. I don’t know if he lived or not. But I was supposed to go first, and he said, “No, let me.” I thought, hey, no big deal. So he went first and got hit.
Interviewer: You know how many times now you’ve told me about a close call?
Erich: Yeah. The night before. No, that morning, I blessed myself with the Holy water that my mother gave me. It was a little bottle, about that big.
Interviewer: From Lourdes?
Erich: Yeah, Lourdes. A friend of hers went there and brought a bottle back. My mother gave it to me before I went overseas.
Interviewer: Did your mother ever know about the water?
Erich: No, no. I would never tell her something like that. She’d have a nervous breakdown.
Interviewer: She raised a good kid, Erich.
Erich: Yeah, I guess.