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World War II nearly over except….

February 7, 2015

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Back to telling about my uncle Carl R. Bonde, Jr., lost Christmas Eve, 1944, aboard the SS Leopoldville in the English Channel when a uboat sank it with a torpedo. That’s another sentence I’ve said so many times I can’t count them. It happened close to France about 70 years ago and I still feel badly for Carl and his 762 fellow soldiers who died that night. I still feel badly for my grandmother, Ellen Bonde, who saw her only son go off to the European Theater of WW II when the war was supposedly just about over. Other people’s sons returned. Not hers.
The Allied troops had stormed the beaches of Normandy the previous Spring, then had pushed the Nazi troops out of France. Almost. Two exceptions: Germans held two huge bunkers along the French coast at St. Nazarre and Lorient. These were submarine bases and the Allies were unable to penetrate them with bombs because they had concrete ceilings and walls 10 meters thick. After a few failed and costly attempts by the British and Americans to breach the fortresses the Allies simply contained them with troops around the perimeters of each and harassed them with artillery and other tactics.
Ironically, the US 66th Army Division with Carl and his buddies was bound for the submarine bases on the French coast. That was the official story. However, one of Carl’s friends, Bill Moomey, tearfully told me in 2005 that he believed the 66th Panther Division was initially headed for the deadly battles in the Ardennes Forest, but because of the huge loss of life from the SS Leopoldville that decimated the division they were sent to the submarine pens instead, relieving the 91st Division, which went to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. The 91st suffered heavy casualties at the Ardennes Forest.
Bill told me that Carl’s death helped save his. We both wept. My sister Carol and Bill’s wife Doris had gone shopping so they didn’t witness our tears.
From Carl’s parents’ perspective, their son was drafted into the army, spent a full year and a half in infantry training, then finally went to England. All was going well. They got a letter from Carl from Dorchester telling about him and the “limeys,” as everyone called the British, according to Walter Merza, another friend of Carl’s whom I met in 2006. Carl sent home a book from England about chess strategies. Carl’s dad wrote to his brother about his son’s experience in England.
On January 25 the Bondes received a telegram at their home in Kalispell, Montana, from the US War Department with a statement that their son was “Missing in Action.” No further explanation. That news is just enough to keep hope alive. One would wonder if he had been captured or lost somewhere in the woods, maybe? As a survivor of the SS Leopoldville disaster said on a History Channel interview, the authorities knew the men were not missing. They knew Carl and his fellow soldiers were dead. Many families never heard more about their soldier hero than that he was missing. About a month later Carl and Ellen Bonde received a second telegram stating that their son had been killed in action. His body was never recovered.

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