George Virgil "Ritt" Rittenhouse
1LT in 603rd Engineer Camouflage Bn : HQ & Service Co
Born 1920 in Queens, NY, Died 2006
Other residence(s): Queens, NY; Englewood, NJ; Huntington, NY; Northport, NY
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Occupation before the war: student
College education before the war: Clarkson College of Technology 4 years
George "Ritt" Rittenhouse was born on February 6, 1920 in Queens, NY, the elder of two children. His father, grandfather, and uncle owned a plumbing and heating company, and Ritt got his first exposure to engineering while learning about plumbing and heating systems.
In 1938, he graduated from Flushing High School in Flushing, NY where he made waves as a competitive swimmer. He went on to study at Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University) in Potsdam, NY, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1942. He participated in ROTC at Clarkson, and entered into active service with a commission as a lieutenant on May 19, 1942.
With an engineering education he was assigned to an engineering unit at Fort Meade—it turned out to be the 603rd Engineer Camouflage Battalion. On her blog, his daughter, Georgia, herself an artist, contrasts her father with the artists who were assigned to his platoon. Ritt was "a 24-year-old engineer with no artistic talent, no patience for the strong, rule-breaking instincts of an artist, no interest in their freewheeling attitude toward authority and order. He was all spit and polish. They saw life in messy splashes of primary colors." Georgia quotes Ed Biow, one of the artists in Ritt's platoon. "“I was tall and skinny, and my glasses were always smudged. My pants were never tucked into my boots. This habit got me into trouble. We were a diverse group of artists and we all had an independent attitude. This never went over very well with the officers, especially Lieutenant George Rittenhouse, our platoon leader. Because of him and my untucked pants, I entered the army a Private 1st Class and left the army a Private 1st Class. He stood up straight, with his boots polished. He held his arms next to his body, just like General Patton did. I can still see him in my mind, and I’m 82 now."
During his time in the service, Ritt married a woman named Lois and they had two children: David and Diane. But the marriage did not last.
Ritt was discharged from the Army with the rank of lLT, got a job in chemical sales with the Virginia Chemical Company, and lived in Englewood, NJ. The company was eventually sold to the Celanese Corporation in New York City, and Ritt went to work for Celanese.
On August 5, 1952, Ritt married Pat Dengel in Englewood, and they settled in Huntington, NY. They would go on to have five children: Georgia, Donna, Laura, John, and Paul, and relocated to Northport, NY as the family grew.
Pat was just what Ritt needed. Her obituary describes her, when they moved to Northport in 1959: "The family moved to a big old 'fixer-upper' house on the beach on Asharoken Avenue. She was the youngest, most beautiful and welcoming mother in the neighborhood. She was entertaining, fun, and a great storyteller in the best Irish tradition—the life of every party. Pat loved to laugh, adored having people around, and never noticed the sandy feet and wet bathing suits or kids jumping on the furniture. As a result, the house was always packed with children--some she didn't know—helping themselves to cookies and milk in the kitchen or a piece of fruit and having the time of their lives. The end of summer was beach plum jelly making time, with every child filling plastic buckets with berries and Pat stirring bubbling pots of fruit and filling jars for the winter."
Ritt was eventually promoted to District Sales Manager for the Celanese Corporation. He became a competitive sailor, winning numerous trophies, and owned and sailed an Ensign on Long Island Sound. He was also a trustee of the Village of Asharoken (part of Northport).
After he retired from Celanese, he became the commander for the police force in his tiny town—a volunteer gig. Daughter Georgia reports that "he said it was the best job he ever had."
Ritt died on November 24, 2006 in Northport, NY.
NOTE: Georgia Rittenhouse McKenna has created a number of paintings based on her father’s photographs from his time in the Ghost Army. You can view them here.
1925 NY state census
1939 article in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam NY) re his having made the Honor Roll in his freshman year at Clarkson
1942 article in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam NY) re his being commissioned in the Army after graduation
1943 article in the Clarkson Integrator (Potsdam NY) re his being a Lieutenant and stationed at Fort Meade with the 603rd
1980 article in Newsday (Suffolk NY edition); he has been reelected Trustee of Village of Asharoken
1993 US Public Records Index
2006 Social Security death index
2006 death notice in Newsday (NY)
2006 obituary (same as Newsday)
2021 wife's obituary
2024 (January 21) GALP Veteran Biography Worksheet from daughter Georgia Rittenhouse McKenna
Two blog entries by his daughter Georgia Rittenhouse McKenna
Paintings by Georgia Rittenhouse McKenna from her father's collection of photographs