If you look to the bottom of the page you will notice a arm patch from the 66th Infantry Division. My grandfather, Larry Hunt was a member of this division. He was a Sergent in the 870th Field Artillery battallon. During World War 2 a majority of his job was two-fold, he was a mechanic for the big artillery guns and he trained members of the 66th on how to fire a machine gun. In December 1944 the division was finally called into action and was to be sent as replacements during the Battle of the Bulge. I have wrote the following story at other times and different places but never here. I felt during this time between Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day, it needed repeating.
These are the events as they occurred on December 24, 1944:
On Christmas Eve 1944, the Belgian troopship Leopoldville was transporting 2,235 American soldiers, all from the 262nd and 264th Regiment, 66th Infantry Division across the English Channel as reinforcements to fight in a fierce struggle that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Leopoldville was protected by escort ships, including the British Destroyer Brilliant, but no air cover was made available even though the threat of attack by German submarines was high. Just five and one half miles from its destination of Cherbourg, France, the vessel was torpedoed by the German submarine U-486. The ship sank 2 1/2 hours later.
According to many survivors, the Belgian crew abandoned the sinking ship and left the American soldiers to fend for themselves. The British Commander in charge of the convoy ordered the Leopoldville's anchor dropped to prevent the troopship from drifting into a minefield outside the harbor. While this solved one problem, it created another. When a tug arrived on the scene, the dropped anchor prevented it from towing the sinking vessel into shore. Murphy's law states that whatever can go wrong will. On Christmas Eve 1944, Murphy's law was in full effect. Delayed radio transmissions for help, delayed response of rescue craft, heavy seas and freezing temperatures were just a few of the many things that sealed the soldiers fates. And it being Christmas Eve, serviceman at an American base in Cherbourg who could have aided the stricken Leopoldville were taking a night off from the war, either partying or attending church. No one seemed to be around to help.
By the end of that terrible night, 763* American soldiers were dead, many drowning or freezing to death in the icy waters of the English Channel. These soldiers represented youths from 47 of the then 48 United States. New York State alone lost 80 young men, including 39 from New York City. Many of those killed were only 18 to 21 years old and 493 of the bodies were never recovered. Three sets of brothers were killed, including two sets of twins.
Because of wartime censorship and to cover-up the mistakes made by the various governments and officials involved, the disaster was not reported to the news media. Survivors were told by the British and American governments to keep quiet. Amazingly, relatives of the victims received notices that their loved ones were Missing in Action, even though the U.S. War Department knew them all to have perished. Later, the men were declared Killed in Action, but even then no details of their deaths were divulged to their families. After the war, the tragedy was considered an embarrassment to the Allies and all reports were filed away as secret by the American and British governments. Families of victims searched vainly for information about the deaths of their loved ones. Only in 1996--over 50 years later--did the British declassify documents relating to the sinking of the Leopoldville.
The Leopoldville disaster was the worst tragedy to ever befall an American Infantry Division as the result of an enemy submarine attack. Yet, this is more than a story about a terrible wartime tragedy, it is about how governments, in order to hide their own mistakes, can hide the truth from those who need it the most.
*The death toll has often been reported as 802. A review of the official Leopoldville Disaster List from the National Archives totals 763 confirmed dead.
The Italic portion of the story is from the History Channel web page. My grandfather while not on board the Leopoldville, knew many of these fallen men. I remember being told that his worst experience in the war (and he was later wounded) was getting "sea sick" crossing the Channel. Many years later I think I know why he got so ill.
My point of this story is: Take the time, this Memorial Day and remember the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this land.