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I Hung out with Bud’s WW II Army Buddies

March 13, 2013

The breakthrough came when I sent an email to retired New York police officer Allan Andrade telling him I was Carl R. Bonde Jr.’s nephew.  The following text copies of the email traffic and my notes from the reunion in Sarasota Florida of Bud’s army outfit tell the tale of the men.  Just the ones who survived the U boat torpedo Christmas eve, 1944, that is.

Appendix D Bud’s Army Reunion

 

I discovered a web site devoted to the SS Leopoldville, so I emailed Allan Andrade  (Note that I use my spouse’s email account):

 

—– Original Message —–

From: PENNY STRUCKMAN

To: agandrade37@msn.com

Sent: Thursday, November 10, 2005 3:10 PM

Subject: SS LEOPOLDVILLE

 

Sir,

 

My uncle, PFC Carl Ralph Bonde Jr., Co E, 262nd Inf Regiment, was probably

killed instantly by the torpedo, I am told.  Bonde was the only boy in my

mother’s family, so I heard much about him while growing up, and I played

with his belongings at my grand parents.  He died 5 years before I was born,

but I feel close to him anyhow.

 

I want to visit the site of the SS Leopoldville sinking near Cherborg and

deliver to my uncle’s body some soil from his Kalispell, Montana, home.  I

got permission to collect the dirt from a 10-year-old boy who must have

thought I was crazy, especially when I started to cry while trying to

explain.

 

If I can find anyone willing, I would really like to meet and speak with or

write to a survivor from the Leopoldville sinking.

 

Thanks for lifting up these people.  It was war, after all, and we know what

happens!  However, I don’t want any one from the Leopoldville to be

forgotten!

 

Sincerely,

 

Dan Struckman

215 Burlington Ave

Billings, MT 59101   406-256-3588

 

 

From:

Allan Andrade (agandrade37@msn.com)

Sent:

Thu 11/10/05 5:22 PM

To:

PENNY STRUCKMAN (pstruckman@hotmail.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Hi,

Your uncle, Pfc. Carl R. Bonde Jr., serial #39616683, was assigned to Co. E, Weapons platoon, 262nd Regiment, 66th Infantry Division. There were 10 survivors from his platoon of which 3 were hospitalized. No bodies from Weapons platoon were recovered. Your uncle’s body was among the 23 from his platoon never found. They were quartered near where the torpedo struck the ship. Stats are from my copy of National archive official army Leopoldville casualty list prepared on 12/29/1944.

 

I have been in touch with most of the survivors from his platoon. Unfortunately, a number of them have passed away including the 2 Lieutenants from his platoon who I were in contact with. I will need some time to phone the numbers I have for the others to see if my numbers are still correct & they are alive.  

 

I will also need time to check the boat charter I knew in England that takes charters to the wreck site.

 

There is a Leopoldville Memorial Association (LMA). They will have a reunion of survivors & relatives of soldiers killed at the Holiday Inn in Harrisburg, PA from 10/12-10/15/2006. You & your family would be welcomed to attend. I am the LMA’s historian.

 

Have you visited my web site? http://www.msnusers.com/ssleopoldville I would welcome a photo of your uncle, if available, which I will post on the site In Memoriam page. Also any info about him you can provide for my research files.

 

If interested, I have just published a picture book about the disaster.  You can view the cover & selected pages from the galley proofs on my “pictures page”.

 

In Meantime, suggest you contact the following survivors who I know will be happy to speak with you.

 

Jack C. Randles, Fallston, MD #410-879-8403

Vincent Codianni Waterbury, CT #203-754-5360

Walter T. Brown Lynn, MA #781-593-0627  (Sgt. Brown was assigned to Co. F, 262 Regiment which was quartered where the torpedo struck the ship. Of 175 men assigned to Co. F, Walter was one of only 19 survivors.)

 

Please e-mail me again.

 

Allan Andrade

Leopoldville Disaster Author/Historian

 

—– Original Message —–

From: PENNY STRUCKMAN

To: agandrade37@msn.com

Sent: Friday, November 11, 2005 12:55 PM

Subject: Re: SS LEOPOLDVILLE

 

Mr. Andrade,

 

I will always be grateful to you.  I phoned Mr. Bill Moomey immediately and

had a good talk with him.  Happy Veteran’s day.  Of coincidence, I am on my

way to the funeral of a soldier who served on the honor guard which

dedicated the cemetery in France with the Wall of the Missing.  I hope to

participate in some get togethers with the survivors and family of the 66th

Division.

 

I will contact the 4 other boys and 1 neice of Carl R. Bonde and I know they

will be greatly pleased.

 

Sincerely,

 

Daniel Struckman, nephew of Carl Ralph Bonde Jr.

 

Hi,

Glad I could help.

Suggest you contact Jane Ferentzi-Sheppard in England who lives near former base where 66th Division stayed while stationed there. Recently 800 trees were planted on the site as a living memorial to the soldiers of the 66th who were killed. When you make your trip to Europe to scatter the dirt from your uncle’s home ground on the waters over the wreck site, I know she would be a great resource in planning your trip & meeting with you during your stay in England.

Also suggest you contact Bertrand Sciboz who is a French research diver who has dived the Leopoldville wreck.  I know he would want to meet you & could help you in getting a charter boat to take you to the wreck site.

 

Allan Andrade

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually I was invited to a reunion of Carl Bonde’s army Company E so I flew to Sarasota, Florida and remained there four days.

 

“The 66th in ’06”

WW II Reunion

 

Company E

262nd Regiment

66th Black Panther

US Army Division

 

Sarasota, Florida November 2-5, 2006

 

            [I made notes at the reunion onto a yellow paper pad; I copied them verbatim with notations and with subsequent corrections by William Moomey, added July 29, 2010 when my sister Carol and great-niece Katie Angel and I paid him and his wife Doris a visit.]

 

            Nov. 2, 2006, Sarasota, Florida:  I met veteran survivors of Company E, 262nd Regiment, 66th Division (Panthers), US Army.  This was Carl R. Bonde, Jr’s [Bud’s company, so these people were his intimates during the last year of his life!  Bud was in the machine gun section within the weapons platoon of Company E.  [NB: They did not refer to their company as “easy company” (As in Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose.)] 

            *Hank Anderson was a buck sergeant in the mortar squad, a Leopoldille survivor, and said he remembers Bud.  Hank’s wife is Mary Esther.

            *Al Salata played baseball for the Army and he was the mortar section sergeant [and the oldest of the group.  He died about 2 years later.  He was a Leopoldville survivor].  Bill Moomey was there with Doris, his wife.  Wally Merza was there with his wife, Martha.  They live in Chicago.  Bob Carroll and his wife, Colleen, set up the reunion.  Portly gentleman [Maurice O’Donnell] drove from Flint, Michigan, to Sarasota.  Southern gentleman [Randall Bradham] came from South Carolina.  He wrote a book about this unit.  He went to army basic training in Missouri.  They call him Randy. 

            The women seem to know the histories verbalized by the soldiers of Company E, 66th Div., every bit as well as the men.  Mary Esther, particularly, knows the details of Hank Anderson’s stories as well as or better than he does.  I would guess Hank is a minister, retired.  He wore his old Army uniform jacket when we went to the Bone Fish restaurant that first evening.  He and Mary Esther shared a glass of pink wine.  Several of the men were non drinkers, and one or two had a whiskey or similar strong drink.  When we returned I went to a nearby grocery, bought a phone card, some cough syrup, and a bottle of Barefoot Merlot.  Oh yes, and a cork screw. 

            Maurice O’Donnell  The Great Generation Tom Brokaw.  Flags  Lt Donald MackWilliams, Lt.  Good, from West Point.  Allan Andrade – Detective, New York writer.

            11/4/2006 6 am, Sarasota, Florida.

            Yesterday morning I slept in till 8:40 am.  (The night before I had watched TV — Boxing, mostly.  I watched a guy named Gonzales from Boise (Caldwell, actually) beat a guy from the midwest.  Both Hispanics.  3 knockdowns.  Both very tough fighters.  So — Friday at 0900 we gathered at the meeting room.  This room was little.  The motel is being painted and the big room is closed.  Therefore, the gave us an itty bitty room with very small tables ~ 24″ across and noisy metal patio chairs that scrape on concrete floor.  A guy named Roger, also a military veteran, runs the place.  He has a little shrine with war mementos and relics.  A letter signed by Colin Powell.  Roger is not part of the group, kind of like me, in a way, but still interacts.

            The group is very civil and polite, with the mildest of humorous jabs, one with the other.  Great conversation.  I feel I know these guys better, now.

            Briefly, we ate the continental breakfast, although the coffee was gone by 9 and there were just a few pastries.

            I ended up speaking with Maurice O’Donnell and Bill Moomey and Randy.  Bill had brought a photo album and I got a little acquainted with the story of a member of their company, Cuny,  a Sioux from South Dakota, still living, who could not make the reunion.  Mary Esther seemed to know Cuny, as she seemed to know many of the absent ones, and fondly.

            These guys have been back to France several times.  When the war ended each man was assigned duty, mostly involving taking care of POWS, Germans in various parts of France. 

            Al Salata played 2nd Base in a division baseball team.

            Hank Anderson, a tall man (wears size 16 shoe) was in the Elite Constabulary and they were supposed to impress the German civilians.  Hank said his uniform was well padded about the upper body to make him look bigger and stronger.  The idea was that the Elite C. would convince the Germans that they had lost to a superior army.

            Bob Carroll took eight of us to lunch — the 5 women went shopping and to an Estee Lauder party.  This was evidently in preparation for the supper club party hosted by Wally Merza and his wife Martha.  I’m better at the men’s names now.  They are Henry Anderson, presbyterian minister, Maurice O’Donnell, fireman, Bill Moomey, farmer; Randy Bradham, cardiovascular surgeon and blueberry farmer and writer, Al Salata occupation? from New York, Walter Merza, wholesale carpet salesman; Bob Carroll, and me.  Women:  Al’s wife Mary, Bob’s wife Colleen, Mary Esther, Martha, and Doris Moomey.  Of the men, three were survivors of the Leopoldville.  Bill, Hank, and Al.  Al climbed down a net on the side of the sinking ship to safety.  [The other two jumped to the deck of a ship that pulled up alongside.]  Hank said jumping to the other ship was the single bravest thing he ever did, although not the best thing.  Hank was a squad leader for mortars and he felt it was his duty to set the example for his men.  Bill Moomey said the distance from the Leopoldville to the deck of the Brilliant was 20 feet.  When Hank jumped, he was not even sure it was the right thing to do or if it was possible to jump without serious injury or death.  Remember that some of the men had been told by loudspeaker that the ship was in no danger of sinking.  In fact it was sinking and would eventually take hundreds of men to their deaths.

            All the veteran 66’ers have trouble getting into and out of cars.

            We spoke of many things from ipods and cell phones to WW II war stories.  Lots of war stories.  The veterans who shot mortars were deaf and had big serious hearing aids.  The machine gunners did not suffer from hearing impairments.  Three of the men had to have coronary artery bypass surgeries, although when I asked the group about the surgeries, Hank Anderson raised his hand along with Maurice, Bob and Bill.  Turns out Hank was deaf and though I was asking to find out who wanted some ice cream.

            Walter and Martha Merza.  Wally and his wife live 6 months in Sarasota, 6 months in Chicago in a condominium both places.  He was a sergeant in Company E, 262nd Regiment.  Martha is ill with myasthenia gravis, but at the reunion she seemed totally well.

            Wally looks fit, maybe a little overweight, or maybe not.  Hard to tell.  He is certainly not a couch potato.  I think I overheard him say that he and Martha visit the Y every day for exercise.

            He had been a wholesale carpet salesman, so he had charisma.  In other words, you just wanted to hang around with him and listen to him talk, tell him stories, because Wally loved to hear stories too.  Naturally I told the guys my experiences of my 7 years in the Marines.  They were interested in my military stories about delivering newspapers, getting into trouble with the officers, fixing volkswagens, having children, going overseas.

            Wally bought an antique Lionell electric train set “O” Gauge (stands for “original”) for Martha from a relative of his for $800.  He showed me the locomotive, still in its original box.  It was beautiful green and black and quite heavy and large.  Perhaps 14″ long unless you include the coal tender, and then it would be 24″ long.

            He had a squad member in his machine gun unit, Jimmy Roselli, who went on to become a professional singer.  Wally said Jimmy sounded like Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra, only Wally said Jimmy had a greater vocal range than either of the others.  Wally had a book about Roselli, Titled He made the Wise Guys Cry.    Because his singing could do that to the mobsters.  Wally said the book was going to be made into a movie, starring John Travolta, but Travolta wanted to sing, and Roselli disagreed with that, so the project never went forward.

            Wally had had a computer, but it was bought used, and it froze up the first time he turned it on.  He figures he broke it and is still looking for a new replacement when he figures out the best kind to buy.

            Wally and Martha (a professional dancer and stage producer) bought us a prime rib supper at a Sarasota night club.  Then they took us to their Sarasota condo afterward.  What a great pair.

            Randy Bradford, the smallest physically of the group, is a retired cardiovascular surgeon.  He got his medical degree from the University of Michigan after the war.  During the war he was a machine gunner and rifleman.  When embarking from Southampton, he was in the part that got separated from the other Company E men and went across the channel on the HMS Cheshire.  So did Maurice O’Donnell, Wally Merza, and Bob Carroll.  Randy said he heard the explosion on the Leopoldville and even saw the torpedo trail on the water.  Maurice said after the explosions the men of the Cheshire went to general quarters and he was stationed on the far side of his ship and could not see the Leo.

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