Leopoldville: A Tragedy Too Long Secret
by Allan Andrade
"Thanks to the publication of this book and the publicity that it has received on regional and national television programs, Americans can now understand what had been a hidden tragedy. The book, in conjunction with the monument and memorials at Ft. Benning, helps ensure that the gallantry and sacrifices of the men of the 66th Infantry Division will no longer be unrecognized as they had been in the past. Dr. Steve Grove, USMA Historian, West Point, New York Allan Andrade's book is an excellent story of human courage in the face of a horrible tragedy. His book gives the reader an idea of what it must have been like to be aboard a sinking ship in the English Channel on Christmas Eve 1944. His extensive interviews with survivors tell how human error played a role in the death of so many U.S. soldiers and how lucky some survivors were to be in the right place at the right time. It was heartbreaking to read how the government lied to so many families who only wanted to know the truth about the fate of their loved one."
After the boiler blew, we knew the ship would sink in a very few minutes but we didn’t jump overboard because we had orders to stay on until we had orders to abandon ship. The orders never came so we stayed on until the last minutes. Everybody started jumping at the same time. Guys were jumping on each other and necks were broken by the dozen in the mad scramble to get off the boat. The boat sank two minutes after we started jumping. A lot went down with the boat. After the boat sank, we were all grouped together and everybody was yelling and screaming. I swam away from the crowd because it was like death to stay all together. The screaming and yelling soon turned to prayers. There wasn’t a man in the water that night that didn’t turn to God for help. All material aid was gone and only God was left. I kept thinking about the telegram you would get. Then I turned to God and I knew I was protected and that nothing could happen to God’s child. I kept repeating the (scientific) statement of being out loud. The water was cold and I was losing my strength fast. My life preserver wasn’t doing much good because it was so small. I had an overcoat, a field jacket, and two pairs of underwear. That weighed a lot. I was lucky to even get a life preserver. Some of the men didn’t have any because there weren’t enough on the boat. I was so tired and cold and full of salt water that I didn’t care what any more. It would have been easy to die then. Every time I would try to open my mouth to breathe, a big wave would cover me up. It would have been easy to sink out of sight into the peace and quiet away from all the coming horrors of war. I’ll never forget how I felt then. Then I started thinking about the telegram you would get for Christmas. I gave a look around to see if I could find a life raft or something to hold on to, but all I could see was men swimming around. Then I said out loud again, “Divine love always has met and always will meet every human need.”
About that time, a raft came from I don’t know where and I hung on. It was crowded with men but I managed to hold on. The raft was a gift of God because when I looked the first time, it wasn’t there. Then I turned to God and there was a raft. I held on to the raft until I was pulled off by a man that seemed to go crazy. I didn’t have the strength to fight back., but I wasn’t afraid when I found that I had nothing material to hang on to. I had God and I knew that he had saved me once and would save me again. In less than two minutes, I was pulled aborad a tug boat. I laid on the deck and vomited and then passed out cold.I came to in about five minutes and by the time we got to Cherbourg, I was well enough to walk off the boat. I refused to go to a hospital because I knew they would be crowded with the men that were coming in from the “bulge.” Men were coming in with arms and legs blown off and lots of men were nearly dead from drowning. At least I could walk in (to) an ex-German concentration camp. We slept on pallets on the floor with about five blankets. I thought I would never get warm again. The next day, Christmas, we went to an assembly point and had our Christmas dinner. After a good meal, I felt wonderful. All I had was a slight cold to show for the catastrophe. Without my knowledge of God and Christian Science, I wouldn’t be here today. That’s the story of the “Leopoldville.” We lost 800 of the 2000 men on board.
I’ll write again soon. Keep on sending packages because I won’t be home for quite awhile.