Thomas J. Rahaim ’51ME
Thomas Rahaim, 92, of Claymont, DE set sail for a distant shore on October 21, 2015. He passed peacefully with his bride of 65 years, Betty, at his side. Born November 2 1922, in Worcester Massachusetts, to John and Margaret Rahaim. He moved to Brooklyn, New York at an early age. He quickly adapted to the pace of city life: playing stickball in the streets, traveling the subway to Coney Island and taking the ferry to go on camping trips to the then far reaches of the world, Staten Island. In high school at St. Michael's, he was an excellent student. While there, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a means of getting some useful training as a machinist and perhaps to earn a dollar or two. He did not intend to see the world or have an adventure. The Navy had other plans for him. Upon graduation from high school in 1940, Tom enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. After just a few months as a freshman, Uncle Sam interrupted his studies and, on April 20, 1941, he was called into active duty service in the U.S. Navy. For the next four and a half years, he served on a series of ships in every theater of naval operations during WWII as a machinist mate and deck gunner.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to destroyer duty escorting convoys to Britain. He subsequently transferred to the cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42). Aboard the Savanna, his ship participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and the Italian peninsula. On September 11, 1943, while supporting the landings at Salerno, Italy, the Savannah was put out of action with the loss of nearly one fourth of the crew. The ship was able to return to Malta where Tom was ever grateful to the English sailors who provided rum, clothes and shelter to those men, like him, who had lost everything but their skins in the battle. While on Malta, he even crossed a gangplank with Winston Churchill, who saluted and flashed a victory sign. Several months later, he was transferred to the USS Lyman Swenson (DD-729), a new destroyer bound for the Pacific.
He survived typhoons, the Japanese air force and the invasions of the Philippines, Okinawa and against the Japanese mainland, including torpedo runs into Tokyo Bay itself. Most of his teeth fell out. He did, however, learn to make brandy from prune juice. This was one of the limited numbers of transferable skills he took from the Navy. Tom finished the war in Tokyo Harbor, shipping for home on September 20, 1945 and was honorably discharged at San Francisco on November 8, 1945. He was proud of his service but for many years, spoke little of it. Being part of such a mission meant much to him but the loss of crew mates and neighborhood friends was sharply felt and diminished little with time. Returning to Brooklyn, after a stint as a tool and die maker, Tom re-enrolled in Brooklyn Polytechnic (now NYU's engineering school). In 1950, he graduated with honors and started a distinguished career as a design mechanical engineer with Westinghouse. He later earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Delaware in mechanical engineering, traveled the world installing power plants he had designed and earned more than a dozen patents as sole or part inventor of unique turbine assemblies. While at Brooklyn Poly, he met the love of his life, Elizabeth O'Dwyer, a nursing student and neighborhood girl from Ireland who turned out to be a classmate of his sister Betty. In many ways, Brooklyn is just a small town. After dating for a few years, they were married the day after Christmas in 1950. Following a quick stint in Westinghouse's elite mechanical design school in Pittsburgh, they moved to Chester, PA and started family life.
Three years later they moved to Claymont where the raised their four sons, Thomas, Andrew, John and Stephen. Raising four boys was a challenge that he met well. He valued practical education how to do things rather than how to talk about doing things- and self-sufficiency. He passed that on in no small measure to his children. He could build a speedboat by hand, drop a new engine into an old Volkswagen, reef a sailboat alone under heavy weather, brew beer and make a soufflé that did not fall. He made sure his sons could do all these things as well, if not with the same level of competence. As the family grew, he began cooking famous Sunday dinners, making sure everyone would come together around the table each week. He was a self-taught master cook. Soon, kid's tables were added and expanded and it became normal for a Sunday meal to have 20 or more people crowed about bemoaning the Eagles and asking for seconds. He did this for more than 30 years. In retirement, Tom and Betty sailed the Chesapeake out of the Bohemia River and Havre de Grace. They also traveled the world. Tom and Betty saw many of the places he had seen through war or work- Europe, China, the USSR, South America, the Middle East, and Australia and, on one trip, to the old country farm in Cashel, Ireland where Betty was born.
He had a dry sharp wit and a good sense of humor. People smiled when you mentioned his name. They will continue to do so. He will be greatly missed. In addition to his wife and sons, Tom is survived by his daughters-in-law, Lisa Rahaim of Woodstown, New Jersey, Jean Rahaim of Newark, Delaware, Joanne Rahaim of Cincinnati, Ohio and Julie Rahaim of Wilmington Delaware, thirteen adoring grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.