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WW II survivors of my uncle’s army platoon

September 7, 2015
Carl Bonde's army friends who survived the sinking of the troopship SS Leopoldville, and their spouses.  I am the youngster.

Carl Bonde’s army friends who survived the sinking of the troopship SS Leopoldville, and their spouses. I am the youngster.

Appendix L (to a manuscript I am preparing)

“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; I copied them verbatim with notations and with subsequent corrections by William Moomey, added July 29, 2010.]

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 Leopoldville 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 a little 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.

Photo on 2012-12-16 at 18.22

Bob Carroll took eight of us to lunch — the 5 women went shopping and to an Es tee 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 66ers 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 thought 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 Lionel 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 be the singer, 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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