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Picking up pieces of history

November 17, 2015
Scan 2

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


I was lucky to meet the people behind the names in  the books about the sinking of the SS Leopoldville on Christmas Eve, 1944.  I had read their names often enough to recognize them easily:  Hank Anderson, for example.  And Al Salata.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually shaking their hands after all the times I had read and re-read the accounts of the deadly night.

Speechless, almost.  I felt like I stuttered.  “Hank Anderson?  I know all about you,” I gushed.  About a dozen of us stood in a tiny tea-room at a motel in Sarasota, Florida.  “Man!  I am so glad to meet you!”

My friend and Leopoldville survivor, Bill Moomey, introduced me as Carl Bonde’s nephew.  I thought Bill went a bit overboard in explaining that I had a legitimate interest in being at the reunion.  I had, after all, gone to a bit of expense to fly there from Montana.  It’s not like I was crashing a party, but actually, that’s what I was doing.  Hank Anderson responded to Bill, saying in his booming voice, “I remember Carl.”  I could have kissed him.  Those words mean so much to me.

To my pleasure and surprise, Esther Anderson, Hank’s wife, handed me a gift bag with some water, snacks, and a reunion tee shirt.  It said, “66th in ’06  Company E Reunion.”  I noticed the shirt among the items I have been using for my research into my lost uncle’s life.

The best part of the Company E reunion was time spent with men like Hank Anderson.  He told me what he thought was the highlight of his military experience in WW II.

“The military police led me out of a German apartment building in handcuffs and locked me in jail,” Hank said.  “That was my proudest moment of the war.”  Hank, about 80 years old, and nearly my height, 6 foot 4 inches, had a ready smile, white wavy hair, and booming voice.  He told me his tale as we headed to breakfast the second or third day of the reunion.

Some general or other, he said, and I can’t quote him word-for-word because I didn’t take notes, decided that after the Nazi surrender the German civilians needed to be convinced that they had been beaten by a superior kind of people.  Hank said that the idea was flawed and a poor one, but it gained some traction with the command.  The American Army created what it called the Elite Constabulary.  (I did a subsequent web search that turned up nothing.)

The idea, Hank said, was that guys like him, tall, blond, athletic, were dressed in special uniforms with padding that made them look impressive.  They were ordered to break down the doors of civilian Germans and intimidate them, so that they would know that yes indeed, they had been defeated by the Americans.

Hank got a padded uniform with weapons, and ordered to work an apartment building.  Hank said he knocked on the door of an old German woman who lived alone.  Instead of intimidating her, Hank said he took off his jacket, laid his weapons down, and spoke to her as one person to another, with respect.

Hank said this did not go over well with his commander, who discovered him sitting on a couch with the old lady, simply talking.  Hank was arrested on the spot and marched out of the building.  “That was my proudest moment,” Hank said.

Hank got in trouble again soon after for failing to punish a member of his platoon.  In both cases, Hank said he was released from the stockade on Monday morning when his commanding officer found out what had happened.   The war was over.

I thought this would be a great time to tell Hank how I had been sentenced to be given a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps for hitting my commanding officer, who had dared me to do it.  Hank said he was proud of me.  Again, I could have kissed him.

I must hastily add that when I told the same story to another in Company E, Randall Bradham, he said I should have been shot.





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