William Lauter, a decorated World War II submarine veteran who helped rescue 23 downed pilots during the war, died Dec. 19 from natural causes at his home in Huntington. He was 99.
Lauter spent his career in banking, first with Public National Bank. After the war, he took a position with Banker’s Trust, which was later purchased by Deutsche Bank, rising through the ranks from the mailroom to become a vice president.
Lauter was born Peter William Martens, the youngest of three children to Ernst Martens, who worked in the railroad industry, and Clara Martens, a homemaker. The couple had two daughters, Dorothy and Charlotte, both of whom are deceased.
Clara Martens died when William was six. With his father no longer in the picture, the children were raised in the Bronx by Clara’s sister, Bertha Lauter and her husband, William. He would later take his aunt and uncle’s last name.
Lauter was working as a crossing guard in middle school when he helped a young girl, Dorothy Heldt, cross the street.
"Mom would say she knew he was the guy right away," said James Lauter, 62, of Huntington, the couple’s second youngest child.
The couple was married for 65 years before Dorothy Lauter’s death from Alzheimer’s in 2010.
Lauter enlisted in the Navy in February of 1942 at the age of 20, completing two tours on the USS Bluefish, under the command of Chester W. Nimitz Jr., the son of Navy Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Lauter served another eight tours on the USS Ray, completing his service with the rank of Motor Machinist First Class.
Shortly before leaving on one his final patrols, Lauter married his childhood sweetheart in January 1945.
Their abbreviated honeymoon consisted of a cross-country journey by train to Mare Island, California, where William Lauter would report for duty, back on the Ray. He would complete two more patrols before the war’s conclusion.
Among his achievements during the war as a submariner, family members said, was helping to sink 58 Japanese vessels and save 23 downed pilots.
After his discharge in October 1945, Lauter was awarded the Navy Unit commendation, the American Theater ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific ribbon, Philippine Campaign ribbon with two stars, Good Conduct ribbon and the Submarine Combat Insignia with seven stars.
Despite suffering shrapnel wounds during the war, William Lauter refused to accept Purple Heart honors, insisting that the military honor instead the thousands of soldiers who never returned home, James Lauter said.
After returning home Lauter, who enjoyed fishing and was an avid golfer — recording a hole-in-one in 1988 — would obtain degrees from the American Institute of Banking and the Stonier Graduate School of Banking.
The Lauters had four children: Dorothy Marschhausen, 75, of Connecticut; William Lauter, 70, of Huntington; James and Martin Lauter, 56, of Northport.
James Lauter said his father was incredibly honest, on several occasions returning to stores after learning that cashiers had failed to charge him for items.
"He set a wonderful example for us," said James Lauter, a retired schoolteacher in the Huntington School District. "He was just a wonderful role model. He would always say ‘be the best. Whatever you want to be is fine. But be the best you can at it.'"
Suzanne Pseja of Huntington met William Lauter more than a decade ago when her aunt was roommates with Dorothy Lauter at the Johnland Nursing Home in Kings Park.
The four, Pseja said, became like family and William Lauter would often spend his days at her shop, Flowerdale Florists, telling stories about the war and his career in banking.
"He was just so loving," Pseja said. "He is what anyone would want for a father or grandfather. Just a smile always on his face. I’ve never seen anything negative about him."
Lauter received a burial, with military honors, on Dec. 22, at Pinelawn Memorial Park.
He is survived by his four children, son-in-law John Marschhausen; daughter-in-law Susan Lauter; five grandchildren and four great grandchildren.