By Jeff Rebitski, Staff Writer
In wartime lore there are stories of men in battle overcoming incredible odds to do heroic things. However there are times when men, or in this case just a boy, goes into battle and, in spite of all his efforts, never comes home.
One such young man is Ralph Donald Luers of Fremont County.
Ralph was born somewhere in West Central Wyoming in 1926 to mother Anna and father George. In about 1930 Ralph, his parents, and his six brothers and sisters moved to Riverton, establishing themselves on a farm. In 1940, the whole family moved into the city limits and resided in a conventional house. Ralph, along with all his siblings, attended Riverton schools and he even worked at a Maverick gas station for a time while growing up.
At age 16, Ralph was accepted to be in the Marines as a member of the ‘Navy Avenger Squad’. Notorious as a torpedo bomber and perceived as fast and nimble, the bombers were first used at the Battle of Midway. However, they were replaced by smaller, faster planes shortly after that and relegated to reconnaissance missions, anti-submarine scouting, light transport or cargo work, medical evacuation and close air support. All were necessary jobs and Ralph was up for the challenge.
Assigned to the USS Bismarck Sea, designation CVE-95, a heavy aircraft carrier, Ralph served with honor until that fateful day, February 21, 1945.
From a press release dated 24 Sep 1945 entitled Eleven Aircraft Carriers Sunk, Thirty Damaged During World War II – “On February 21, 1945, off Iwo Jima, the Bismarck Sea was struck by two Japanese suicide planes. The first plane crashed into the starboard side of the ship at about the hangar deck level. Fires broke out in the hangar and were being brought under control when a second plane carrying a bomb load crashed through the flight deck just forward of the aft elevator and exploded among the fighter planes parked in this area. The aft part of the ship became a raging inferno. Ship was abandoned. A third explosion occurred which blew off the aft structure of the flight deck and hangar. The ship assumed a starboard list and capsized. The Bismarck Sea remained afloat bottom side up for about twenty minutes and then plunged by the stern.”
This is the ship Ralph Luers was on and he was reported missing in action after all attempts to find survivors were exhausted. A Purple Heart Medal was issued for his death in July of 1945 by President Harry S. Truman.
The USS Bismarck Sea received three Battle Stars for her service during the war, she was less than one year old when she sank, taking 318 souls with her.
The Woltermann Family Book records the following remarks: “Ralph Donald Luers was killed in action when his ship, The USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95) was sunk by Japanese kamikaze attacks in the North Pacific, off the coast of Iwo Jima during World War II. His remains were never recovered.” However, a cenotaph marker is located at Mountain View Cemetery in Riverton, Wyoming.
Memories are for two things in this case. One, to remember the sadness of lives lost during what some consider a senseless battle for things that nobody can actually own. Two, is the memories of a life well lived and a death that instills a sense of pride in us for a sacrifice made for freedom and liberty.
These sacrifices are necessary to insure the future of a country that was established on the laying down of one’s life for a belief that was established by our forefathers in the hope that one day no wars would need to be fought, no children would have to go fight and that no family would have to face the loss of someone so dear and precious as Ralph Donald Luers, Seaman First Class, USS Bismarck Sea, CVE-95.
The Family of Ralph D. Luers does not wish for recognition but for a remembrance of their son who came from Riverton in Fremont County, Wyoming. Hoping that each person who calls this place home will take pride in the people who come from simple roots to accomplish great things.
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea!
Lord, stand beside all those who sail
Our merchant ships in storm and gale,
In peace and war their watch they keep
On every sea, on thy vast deep.
Be with them, Lord, by night and day,
For our Naval Mariners we pray.