Ralph Melvin Mitchell
On Tuesday morning, December 16th, 2015, Ralph Melvin Mitchell, a member of what Tom Brokaw called the “Greatest Generation”, passed away after 4½ years at Neshaminy Manor, Warrington, PA. It was almost 70 years to the day on Christmas Eve 1945 when Lieutenant (junior grade) Mitchell returned to the United States from two years in the Pacific combat zone on USS ALSHAIN (AKA-55).
Ralph was born in Baltimore, MD on May 2, 1920, the home of Babe Ruth, who this life-long New York Yankee fan saw play and the home of his beloved New York Giants fan’s hated opponent in the 1957 NFL championship game, Johnny Unitas’s Baltimore Colts.
The son of Harry Gilbert and Ruth Aiken Mitchell---Ralph was the first member of his family born outside of New England in 270 years. His grandfather, Melvin Mitchell, was a captain in the Boston Fire Department. His father was a graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia University, becoming an instructor in chemistry at Dartmouth and the University of Maine before entering private industry in Baltimore.
In 1925 the family moved to St. Marys, PA where Dr. Mitchell accepted a position as Speer Carbon Company’s chief chemist and Ralph graduated from St. Marys High School in 1938, playing on the school’s regional power basketball teams. He then attended two years of prep school at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire prior to entering Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA with the Class of ‘44. His life-long love of sports continued as a member of KUA’s varsity basketball and baseball teams, then performing on Dickinson’s varsity basketball team prior to his departure for the war.
To serve his country, Ralph compressed his demanding four-year chemistry B.S. degree program into three years, graduating September 23, 1943. He reported a week later to the Navy’s Officer Candidate School at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. Upon graduation from Midshipman School on January 26, 1944 Ensign Mitchell received orders to Little Creek, VA for Amphibious Training, followed by advanced training in Fort Pierce, FL as a small boats group officer---responsible for taking landing craft with troops and supplies onto the fortified beaches of Japanese island strongholds in the Pacific.
He joined the newly commissioned attack cargo transport ship, USS ALSHAIN (AKA-55) with its 21 amphibious landing craft in April 1944. The ship reported for duty with the Pacific Fleet upon departing the Panama Canal Zone, arriving in Pearl Harbor on June 2nd, 1944. After completing a combat load-out, the ALSHAIN sailed for the Western Pacific, participating in five major offensives including Guam and the liberation of the Phillipines---Leyte, Luzon, and Subic Bay. Then came Okinawa, where ALSHAIN was a member of Task Force 51, one of the largest assault armadas ever assembled.
After sailing 69,000 miles on ALSHAIN with the ship returning only once to the U.S. in two years, upon release from active duty in April 1946, LTJG Mitchell returned to the hometown of his wife, Betty Hummer Mitchell, of Washington, N.J., meeting his 16 month-old son, Ralph Melvin Mitchell, Jr., for the first time. With his Dickinson chemistry degree, he was hired by the J.T. Baker Chemical Company in nearby Phillipsburg, NJ for their quality control lab. He would remain at J.T. Baker for the next 39 years. His extensive knowledge, coupled with his supportive people skills resulted in his taking on key roles in company processes including: Chief Chemist; Director, Central Lab; Manager, Quality Control; Environmental Control Officer; and placed in charge of patents, drug registration with the FDA, OSHA Compliance and EEO. By the time of mandatory retirement at age 65, his career had included much traveling in quality control, troubleshooting, and research management. His close ties to the people of J.T. Baker was reflected in his becoming President of the Quarter Century Club---associates at Baker with 25 years of service to the company.
But, his central priority in life was his service to his adopted hometown of Washington. With his love for sports, after returning from the War, he played basketball with both local town and Lehigh Valley Industrial League basketball teams. After his playing days were over, he turned his focus to helping Washington’s youth get a chance to play organized sports. In 1952 he joined with other fathers to establish the Warren County Midget Baseball League. They constructed the town’s first Midget field in a wild meadow behind his home on Youmans Avenue with the left field foul pole 10 feet from the corner of our backyard. He then became head coach for Washington’s first midget team. After a severe back injury, he would take over the position for a number of years as the head coach for the Washington Pony League team of 13-15 year olds.
Remembering the role the Boys Club played in his youth in St. Marys, he became the President of the Washington YMCA. Obtaining approval to use school gyms, he started/supported basketball and wrestling programs for elementary age kids that became outstanding feeder programs for our high school varsity teams.
The role of church and religious education did not escape his sense of responsibility for helping others. He became the Superintendent of the Washington Methodist Church’s Sunday School, coordinating the effort of the church’s central role in religious education for all ages with a focus on the youth of the congregation family.
Wanting to support Washington’s school system, he was elected to the Washington School Board for multiple terms, getting involved in all aspects of the school’s service to others---including donning a chef’s hat to serve the Junior Prom dinner in the high school gym. When the town voted to establish a new regional high school, Ralph was asked to become part of that endeavor, named the President of the Warren Hills Regional High School Board to shepherd that program from its critical initial days.
In 1993, Ralph and Betty knew it was time to move closer to their immediate family, moving to Doylestown where their daughter, Nancy, lived with her two daughters. Like in Washington, Ralph quickly found ways to support others, becoming the President of the Westwyck Townhome complex’s governing board. He also was a regular in baking sticky buns at the Senior Center and was a regular for every political election at the polling places, as a friendly and efficient registrar.
Then, after the death of his wife of 51 years in 1995, Ralph returned to his military roots by joining the Willow Grove Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), serving as recording secretary for a number of years. It rekindled the proud memories of his World War II days, inspiring him to attend the annual reunions of the USS ALSHAIN held in different venues around the country over the ensuing years. His sincere, positive concern and support for others was epitomized by a former shipmate who said to Ralph, “You know, the only reason I came was that I heard you were coming.”
Despite these interests outside the family, if you asked any member of his family what they most remember about PopPop/Dad/Uncle Ralph is that he made each and everyone of them feel special---the only one in the room. Whether allowing his granddaughters to put curlers in his hair or running the toy trains or listening intently to them telling a story, he let each child know he was “all in” every time. His love of family was reflected in a non-judgmental, quiet support that enabled each of us to feel that regardless of the issue, things would be better tomorrow---and he’d be there for them. He was that most rare of human beings---a humble, quiet man who tried to have a positive word for all he met.
Those of us who remain behind, including his dear friend and companion, Eloise Mial and three family generations---three children, six grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren---have been enriched by his presence in our lives: son, Rear Admiral Ralph Melvin, Jr., SC, USN (Ret) and his wife, Shirley Petty Mitchell, of Hollis, NH and their children: Amy Catherine Krouse and husband James, with their children---Catherine Michelle and Conor Michael Krouse of Herndon, VA; Anne Elizabeth Seaba and her husband Chris with Anne’s children---Thomas Nutt, II and Miranda Hope Nutt of Flower Mound, TX; Stephanie Lynn Zimmerman and husband, Dr. Jeffrey with their children--- Jack Mitchell, William James, and Andrew Peter Zimmerman of Bedford, NH; Daughter, Nancy Joan Mitchell and her fiancée, Frank Dougherty, of Feasterville, PA with Nancy’s children: Courtney Hub Saunders and husband, Scott with their children---Oliver and Vivian Saunders of Alpharetta, GA; Erin Hub Marsland and husband, Dave, with their children---Ellie, Quinn, and James Marsland of Doylestown, PA , son, Raymond Hummer Mitchell and his wife, Susan with Ray’s son, Kevin, Tualatin, OR.
A viewing will be held 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. at the Cochran Funeral Home, Hackettstown, New Jersey on Monday, December 21st with burial following immediately thereafter at the Port Murray, NJ Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warriors Program, P.O, Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675 in memory of Ralph.