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Prologue to book about Buddy

August 12, 2016

 

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Prologue

Private First Class Carl Ralph Bonde Jr. went missing in World War II from a ship in the English Channel at age 21. Some 763 troops perished that Christmas Eve in 1944 when they were so near France they could see the lights of the port city of Cherbourg from their ship, the SS Leopoldville. They were within swimming distance.

How many times have I tried to tell about my obsession with the missing Carl?

I’ve been to France three times, Florida, Nebraska, Kalispell, Minnesota, and of course, my basement. I read, I write. You get the picture.

Well, if alive, he would be 102 and likely dead by now. However, I’m not satisfied that we know the whole truth. I’ve spoken with men who were there with him on the ship, but there was a lot going on.

Of course, there is more. Some aboard the Leopoldville jumped or climbed down a heavy net to safety and I met three of them at an Army reunion in 2006. We talked and played in Sarasota, Florida, for four days. The following year Penny and I visited the site in the English Channel of the ship’s wreckage near Cherbourg, France. I researched. I obsessed. I wrote. I rewrote. It gives me comfort.

I never met Bud, but I grew up with his parents and his sisters. Also I spent a lot of my childhood with five cousins, their kids.   I lived with Bud’s stuff. His stuff was strange, technical, dangerous. His photographs—of him and also taken and developed by him—were in evidence around my grandparents.’

For a long time his life was a mystery to my cousins and me. We just knew Buddy had come and gone before we showed up and he was never coming back.

Grandma’s house had the evidence, of course. We inferred. We deduced a lot from things like…oh, mysterious electronic stuff. My cousin David Judd found a black box that looked something like an old-fashioned toy train transformer that plugged into a wall electrical outlet. Somehow David knew that it was an oscillator. We figured that it had something to do with radios. David found that if he connected two of its three terminal posts with a small screwdriver, it produced a tone that he could change pitch by turning a sweeping selector. We kept discovering. We kept making up theories. We modified the theories when we discovered new evidence.

I don’t think that our grandparents were trying to keep secrets from us. Well, maybe they were, but I think they just didn’t offer information because either they didn’t think of it, or maybe they thought they already had. We just didn’t have many chances to ask questions. Instead we cousins chased and taunted each other, wrestled, fought, broke things, and explored their five acres that had six decaying buildings: a barn, a really long skinny garage, a chicken coop, a root cellar, and a storage shed. I guess the sixth building was the house itself. A pump house on Ashley Creek had a roof but no floor. This was particularly dangerous. Ashley Creek literally ran beneath the pump house with no floor, so one had to teeter along on a board to reach the pump, which might have been gasoline-powered.

Big neighborhood tough kids across the road had three or four rusty old automobiles and a coal shed made of rough-sawn lumber. We played over there too. One big kid’s name was Ted. They were all teenagers and lawless and picked apples off Grandpa’s trees and threw them at us. Then they lied and said they hadn’t.

You didn’t mess with Ted’s parents whom we just knew to be cruel. Well, they hollered.   I heard Ted’s dad yell at Ted once, but Ted said I shouldn’t talk to his dad. Anyway Kalispell was a lot rougher than Missoula.

In 1960 when I was in the 5th grade mother sat with me at bedtime, rubbed my back, and told me about Buddy. Even though she was not a sentimental person, she said she missed her brother terribly. She said I reminded her of him. She was 11 years older than Bud and had played with him until he was about eight or nine years old.

I was school age. My memory is unreliable because it jumbles and distorts the past: high school, college, hippies, military service, my own family with Penny and our three kids, lots of Volkswagens, work, more college, work, more college, and a career as a pharmacist. I finally broke loose from my work in November 2010. I was free to finish my tribute. From the start I have mistrusted human memory. I can truly write about today and what is happening now, what I can read now of the evidence.

In 1998 I learned about Bud’s ill-fated troop ship. That coincided with my ability to use the computer Internet. Jump ahead several years.

One time, in 2005 or 2006, I stood at a door in Kalispell of Bud’s childhood home and tried to blurt out the first paragraph above to a 12 or 13-year-old, wide-eyed kid. I started crying. The kid must have wondered why I–a weeping six foot four man–wanted to collect some dirt from his driveway to take to France. Fortunately the boy’s mother was standing behind him some distance and looked kindly, smiling at me.

The boy just said, “sure mister, go ahead.”

About five months later in Sarasota, Florida, I stood in a noisy lunch room amid 10 or so raspy metal tables and chairs that scraped the concrete and tried to tell paragraph one above to four women and eight men in their 80s and 90s–old men who survived the torpedo that sunk their ship to establish who I was and why I was crashing their Army reunion.

Other times I just wanted to explain why Penny and I went to France with a bag of dirt to put in the English Channel. Sometimes I could express the situation in one sentence, other times it took two.

And why? Why not just let the matter drop? That’s really a mystery. People often answer that question for me, but I think they really cannot and should not. Let’s just let mysteries remain so.

What do we know of Bud?

Bud’s friend Bill Moomey recalled his cheekiness. Evidence leads us to believe that all his life it looked like Buddy refused to just go with the flow; it didn’t matter if it was school, work, or the Army. He was a smart ass.

Bud spent two, maybe three, long solitary summers manning a fire lookout in Glacier National Park. Most likely Huckleberry Mountain.

He seemed to have strong friendships from high school and with his Army buddies in Company E. He was an ardent hunter and fisherman. He was ammo bearer for his Army machine gun section. He was very wiry and strong despite his small stature.

Bud’s roots

Carl Ralph Bonde Jr.’s mother may well have died believing that her bright 21-year-old son whom she lost 23 years previously would also be lost to posterity.

After all, Carl’s was officially declared “missing.” Most recently that was changed to “killed in action.” However his body was not recovered after his Army troop ship was torpedoed. As far as we know his body is still down there–trapped in the wreckage at the bottom of the English Channel. Most of the details of his fate in 1944 were to remain unknown to Ellen because of wartime secrecy and Army bureaucracy. Before she died in1967 Ellen Bonde just couldn’t find out.

Oh, she had gotten the terse telegrams from the War Department: one in January, 1945, saying, with General James A. Ulio’s usual regret, that Bud was missing. General Ulio was the Adjutant General of the Army. He sent out many thousands of telegrams. He also sent a letter telling that Bud was missing because his ship was destroyed. The other telegram came in March telling her, also regretfully, that he was missing in action.

My nephews and I looked through the 1945 bound volumes in the basement of the Billings Gazette and found a January 25 front-page article quoting Secretary of War Henry Stimson that 248 soldiers were killed and 517 missing. Stimson refused to say when or where. Details? None. The article nearly suffocated among many headlines and columns of type.

By the time of Buddy’s memorial service, held April 11 in Kalispell, Montana, at the Epworth Methodist Church, she had found out only that her son “was among those missing when his troop ship was sunk in the English Channel Dec. 25, 1944.” The forgoing, errors and all, was published in the Daily Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

Ellen did get an American flag and a certificate with an accompanying little box with a Purple Heart medal. When I was about 7 years old, my cousin and I found those things in a desk drawer in my grandparent’s front room in Kalispell. Another drawer of their mahogany drop lid desk yielded a plastic duck call and a box of chess pieces of Bud’s. We played chess, of course.

This narrative will tell about Bud’s life and how he vanished. It will also tell how I found out what I did. What a shame it took so long—almost 70 years. The trail has grown cold, but now we have computers and the World Wide Web. At this telling I know of only three people alive today who can say they even remember meeting him. Two are Bud’s Army buddies who survived the torpedo that I traveled to meet; the other is my sister Carol. Without computers I would never have found the first two.

In searching for information, Bud has become my benchmark. His story has helped me navigate history, mostly, but also to explore other disciplines. I view lots of subjects in relationship to Bud’s life, such as art, photography, geography, biology, electronics, family history, American history, and world history. Oh yes, writing and story telling. Cool stuff, primarily, but lots of other stuff too. Even furniture and poultry. It all seems relevant to the mysteriously lost Bud.

Bud was the youngest, arguably the smartest, and perhaps the shortest in his family that was dominated by women. I think he tried to be inscrutable the way other high school kids do. His parents and his three sisters excelled at school and work, so they pretty much eclipsed him when he was quite young. No one seems to have taken many pictures of him. His sister Helen doted on him, but she went away to college in 1930, when Bud was just seven. There was a lot going on at home during his early years.

Example: his parents, Carl and Ellen, had lived in Kalispell only 5 years and were still grieving the death of their 3-year-old girl who died of “scarlet fever.” The Bondes had become careworn by 1923. Bud’s three older sisters were 13, 11, and 3 years older than he was. Carl’s oldest sister, Corinne, told us that she and her sisters were surprised when he was born. Bud was in the first grade when Corinne ran away with a traveling salesman.

Those were busy years for everyone. No doubt Buddy was largely left to play with his sisters’ hand-me-down toys. Moreover, his parents had recently taken in Sigurd Christianson, Ellen’s nephew, who had recently lost his mother and lived with them for several years. Sig was the same age as Carol, older than Buddy by three years.

Carl and Ellen were proud Norwegians and valued stoicism. I knew my Grandma Ellen fairly well because she lived with us after her husband died, from the time I was in 5th grade until she died, about 9 years. She was tough and determined, even in retirement. She crocheted huge projects like a tablecloth and studied the news. Nearly blind, she read with a hot desk lamp and magnifying glass for hours. Her chair sat about four feet from the television.  She loved Richard Nixon.

Ellen and I fought and argued, mostly about my behavior and whether I had stolen whatever she couldn’t immediately locate. I knew that she wished I would quit being so mouthy and leave her stuff alone, but I found it too hard to comply. She valued actions greater than words, so she did not complain. She was a tragic and heroic figure and she had ruled her house. Well, grandpa even said “Grandma’s the boss.” Therefore, first I want to tell about her.

If you had met her you might understand how she could have pulled off keeping her 5th pregnancy a secret from her girls. She was a private sort. I thought she was shy and timid, perhaps even frightened to go out in public. I did not learn her story until recently. She was nearly 70 years old when I first met my grandmother. In spite of our bickering, I was always stunned by her silvery beauty, and she told me she approved of me, but not until she was near death.

After I tell about Ellen I’ll fill you in about her husband, then I’ll relate the tale of Bud’s short life. I’ll tell how I found out what I did.

Grandma Ellen Margaret Bonde

Ellen Margaret Wickstrom was born in 1887, the 4th of 6 children of Ellen Erickson and Kristian Wickstrom, Norwegian immigrants who came to the United States when they were adolescents. They learned English and did not teach Norwegian to Ellen. I don’t know what Kristian did for a living, but he did not live long. They lived in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and later moved to Valley City, North Dakota. Ellen faced misfortune early, starting at age two when her baby brother died after just a week. Her dad died when she was 6, and at 14, she and her siblings were orphans. They took care of themselves. Fortunately Ellen’s mother taught her to sew so she learned how to be a seamstress and she could make a living.

In spite of these challenges, Ellen and her brother finished high school. She always remained close to her little brother Ralph. She earned recognition as an honor student even in teacher’s college at Valley City Normal School, graduating in 1906. As far as I can tell, Ellen earned her college degree without much help from her family. She was 19 when she began teaching in Sheyenne, North Dakota.

Ellen’s little brother Ralph joined the Army and served during WW I. Ellen married Carl Tosten Bonde in Valley City, North Dakota, in 1908. They lived in Sheyenne, North Dakota, nearby, where Carl found a job in a grocery as a clerk. He had gone to business school and was 23 years old when he married.

Two years later in 1910, Ellen had her first child, Corinne Elsinore. The family moved from North Dakota to central Montana where Carl and his younger brother Alfred started their own grocery/soft goods store in Buffalo, Montana. The families shared quarters above the store. Ellen gave birth to her second child, Helen, in 1912, right there above the store in Buffalo.  Helen was my mother.

About that time many homesteaders came to Montana and many, if not most, would fail to make a living in the semi-arid country. Family lore tells us that Ellen and Alfred’s wife did not work well together, living in the same apartment over the store. About 1914 Ellen and the girls moved east to Nerstrand, Minnesota, and somewhat later, Carl also moved back and to farm with his brother Oscar on the 400-acre family farm. Carl and his family settled 20 miles south in Faribault where Carl again worked in a store. Ellen had her third child, Carol Catherine, in Faribault, in 1915.

In 1918, they moved to Kalispell, Montana. Carl worked for the Flathead Grocery Company as a wholesale grocer. He was fluent in Norwegian and had incredibly beautiful flowing handwriting. Carl had an easy charismatic personality and my cousins and I spent hours with him when we were children. Once settled in Kalispell, the girls got sick. Helen and Carol were the sickest, and had pneumonia. This was the year of the flu pandemic.

Helen and Corinne survived, but in May of 1918, Carol Catherine died of pneumonia in her mother’s arms. Corinne told us that that their home was quarantined, off limits because of the epidemic. That year, 1918, was also notable for the end of World War I. Ellen’s brother Ralph survived the Great War.

Ellen’s sister, Elisa Christianson, died in 1920, and her widowed husband sent his 10-year-old son to Kalispell to live with the Bonde family. Sigurd was the same age as Corinne. Everyone called him “Sig.” I don’t know how long Sig lived with the Bondes, but probably only a couple of years.

In 1920 Ellen gave birth to Ruth Carol, her fourth child. She went by Carol, or sometimes, Snookie.

Ellen and Carl moved the family at least 4 times while they lived in Kalispell, and according to Corinne, the cost of rent was often the issue.

At last, amid the moving, the working, the schooling, and the tragic aftermath of illnesses, their 5th child was born September 15, 1923. This was Carl Ralph Bonde, Jr.

Grandpa Carl Tosten Bonde

Carl Tosten Bonde was born in a stone house on a farm in Nerstrand, Rice County, Minnesota, in 1885, also the son of immigrants. They were Tosten and Ingabor. Carl was the 10th of 11 children; however 4 of his older siblings and his grandparents died in an epidemic. Carl’s brother Alfred was the youngest. His oldest brother Oscar would take the farm and the old stone house that Tosten built. This house is still standing as of this writing, in fact, I explored it last year when the Bondes had a reunion. It seems to be in good shape, although I could not find the stairway to the third floor attic.

Carl spoke fluent Norwegian like his parents and siblings. He attended school in Nerstrand and helped his family with the farm. He finished high school and went to college in North Dakota where his older brother Ben lived. Family lore tells us that Carl studied handwriting under Austin N. Palmer, publisher of the once-popular Palmer Method of Handwriting. The Palmer method taught students to use the proximal muscles of the wrist and arm to write in a relaxed, flowing loopy manner, rather than the muscles of the fingers and hand.

I knew my grandfather Carl fairly well because I lived several months with my grandparents at their home on a hill on the outskirts of Kalispell. Grandpa often spoke Norwegian with his friends, even in the presence of my Grandmother, who seemed to get mad at him. Grandpa was easy going. Although retired, he still worked as a wholesale grocery salesman sometimes. They had an apple orchard on their place that kept him busy.

I remember getting up one morning at my grandparents’ and slipping out of the house to walk down the hill to the barn. I was looking through the tools and things and I heard my name sort of chirped. I listened. Nothing. Then when I was busy again, I heard it again. It was Grandpa, tailing me and playing. Grandpa occasionally mentioned Buddy. It usually involved my finding some tool or toy and asking Grandpa about it. Grandpa would tell me if it had been Bud’s. He let me play with those things, but I was supposed to put them back, which I rarely did. Grandpa and Grandma soon found out that I was apt to take things apart and break what I played with.

Grandpa found out he had emphysema in 1955 and lived just 3 more years.

Uncle Carl Ralph “Buddy” Bonde Jr.

Buddy was named after his dad and his maternal uncle Ralph who lived in Billings. In 1929 Buddy entered first grade at age 5, but in a few days he turned 6 years old. Like his parents he was short, eventually growing to about 5 feet tall. (according to his Army friend Bill Moomey, he must have grown a bit since he enlisted) but he had above average intelligence (he was admitted to the Army Specialized Training Program (A.S.T.P.) that required an IQ over 130). Thus he was about a year younger than most of his peers, but smarter, and smaller. I am guessing he seemed precocious. Bill Moomey described him this way: “I don’t know how tall he was for sure, but he wasn’t a lot shorter than I was.  Anyway… his personality was absolutely much taller than he was.  I just remember him as a great guy who had a wonderful sense of humor and was ready for an adventure anytime.”

A few glimpses of Buddy as a child are available, photographs mostly. In one he is dressed in horizontally striped shirt and bathing suit standing on a lawn and holding an umbrella. In another he is wearing knickers. I am guessing his sisters dressed him for the pictures. “Wear this! Stand there!” Buddy looks like he is enjoying himself with a garden hose. He really was a city kid, even when his parents moved to the hilltop house with the apple trees on the outskirts of Kalispell. A lot of what I know of Bud I have inferred from the things he left when he went away to the University of Montana and later to the Army.

For example, in 1955 or 1956 I found an old Boy Scout Handbook of Bud’s, along with one of those flashlights that held 2 C cell batteries and looked like a periscope, with the bulb and lens turning a right-hand corner where normal flashlights just point straight. I recall that the flashlight batteries had leaked and corroded the flashlight. I know from other notes people had written that Bud liked to camp with his friends.

Bud entered Flathead County High School in the fall of 1937 and graduated at the bottom third of his class in 1941. Moreover, neither his photograph nor name appears anywhere printed in the 1940 annual for his junior year. The annual does have 69 names and inscriptions, mostly funny and affectionate and quite enthusiastic in nature. Even in Bud’s third year of high school he evidently did not join sports, musical groups, hobby groups, or vocational groups. He participated in some unknown activity one of his fellows referred to as having traveled to Bozeman.

Bud was quite unlike his parents and older sisters insofar as they excelled academically at high school, earned honors and memberships in a chapter of the National Honor Society and participated fully in extracurriculars. They sang in school productions and played musical instruments. However, only Carol Catherine was young enough to have been living at their house when Bud was in high school. Helen and Corinne were both married and living far away as of 1937.

Bud was similar to them in that he was charismatic and had many friends his age. A bit of evidence: he differed in that his sister Helen had lots of notes written by adult teachers, but he had none. Was he a rebel or did he just not hand his book to any teachers?

He camped and fished during the summer of 1940 with his friends, if their plans written in his annual came true. He graduated from high school the following spring, 1941. His high school transcript showed that he took science classes like physics and chemistry and biology. Of course he took the compulsory physical education, history, and government classes.

He must have spent the summer of 1941 working as a fire lookout at the Huckleberry Lookout in Glacier Park. I know he worked there because of photographs of the lookout cabin and from what Corinne said about him spending three summers on a mountain top.

 

Who knows what Bud did with his time during the fall quarter of 1941? He did not enroll at the University of Montana then. Perhaps he needed some high school prep work for college? He may have had to earn money for expenses away from home. We do not know.

But winter quarter, in January of 1942, he started classes at the University of Montana taking the prerequisite courses for forestry. He joined a fraternity, Sigma Nu. He attended Spring quarter, but he did not attend summer session. He probably spent his third and final summer at Huckleberry Lookout. The US entered war against Japan and Germany in 1942.

That fall of 1942 Bud returned to the university, but he got poor grades. His best that quarter was a C in military science. He conditionally passed general botany, composition and inorganic chemistry, but failed physical education. I guess he didn’t attend that class. Probably Bud knew that getting drafted into the Army was inevitable.

For January and February 1943 who knows what Bud did? Others his age volunteered for the draft, and he probably did also. In those days one could not simply enlist in the Navy. Instead, one volunteered for the draft and the government would assign a service as needed. This often involved several months of waiting until they had enough inductees to send a trainload to the entrance station in Butte, Montana.

Bud’s parents had 5 acres on the edge of Kalispell, so maybe he worked at home. He did enter the Army by passing through AFEES (Armed Forces Entrance Examination Station) in Butte, Montana. He was sworn into the Army March 4, 1943 and went to basic training by train to an Army camp. In those days camps were scattered throughout the country.

Army basic training typically lasted 13 weeks for others in his situation, so he would have graduated from boot camp and then, typically after going home on leave for 30 days, received further orders in June, 1943 to another unknown Army camp somewhere for further training. There he probably took an examination and was probably interviewed, and then, based on his IQ, was then assigned to the A.S.T.P. Probably in the Fall of 1943. This put him in Grand Forks, North Dakota, close enough to visit his family in Montana.

His niece Carol Struckman in Great Falls, Montana, was 4 years old and remembers Bud’s visit. She remembered that he was kind of silly and a lot of fun, very physical.  They wrestled.

Bud was a student in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in January, 1944, standing in a group photograph of perhaps 70 uniformed men of the A.S.T.U. 3713, Company B. The A.S.T.P. was a short-lived Army training program that lasted 9 months. It was created in 1943 and disbanded in the Spring of 1944, probably in March. Those who had not flunked out of the program were given the rank of private and assigned to an infantry division. Bud was assigned to the 66th Division. Many soldiers had given up high enlisted grades and even chances for a commission as an Army officer for a chance at A.S.T.P.

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April 1942, the 66th Panther Division had been activated at Camp Blanding, Florida. Four months later in August, 1943, the Division moved to Fort Robinson, Arkansas.

No doubt Bud was sent to Arkansas. Then he moved with the division to Alabama. The infantry training, grueling in sweltering heat, lasted until November. about 6 months. That’s when he got acquainted with his buddies in Company E, 262nd Regiment, of the 66th. There he and Bill Moomey trained to operate a machine gun. Bud was the ammo bearer and someone else had to carry the heavy weapon when they went on field exercises. A number of soldiers from those days have come to view, The Company E commander was Lieutenant Donald MacWilliams, a West Point graduate and a really good leader, according to Bill Moomey.

The section leader was Irvin “Junior” Weaver. Bill Moomey was Bud’s immediate machine gun section leader.

Bud worked along with a number of Company E soldiers who his nephew Daniel Struckman met at a reunion in Sarasota Floriday in 2006. Hank Anderson also remembered Bud after all those years.

Carl was memorable for his quick wit and sharp tongue. He was one of the ex-A.S.T.P.ers who played bridge with his buddies on bivouac, when taking a break from marching in the Alabama sun.

Carl would answer the question, “Where are you from?” with a long spiel about the beautiful Flathead Valley, as if he were reciting a chamber of commerce brochure, according to his friend Bill.

His sister, Helen Bonde Struckman, said Bud was a very good soldier who advanced to Private First Class, but he told his big sister only that the Army was “very, very rough.” Others have documented the foul language of Army life, especially at training camps like Camp Rucker.

In early November 1944 Bud’s Army company went by first class train coach to New York to deploy via ship to England. They spent a short time at Camp Shanks and evidently went into the city to get drunk together. A photograph of Bud with sergeant Junior Weaver appears in one of Allan Andrade’s picture books, negative reversed and all.

Sgt. Irvin Weaver and Carl Bonde

My Uncle’s friend, Bill Moomey, was delighted to see this photo of his platoon sergeant, Irvin Weaver, of the weapons platoon, Company E, 262nd Infantry Regiment, and his friend Carl Bonde.

Bill Moomey told me a little about the ocean voyage to England aboard the USS George Washington troopship. Their Company E was responsible for working in the ship’s mess hall and according to Bill, having meaningful work to do aboard ship was a godsend. Bill said that one of the Navy bakers, a gay man who took a liking to a member of their company, supplied Company E with freshly baked pies.

The 66th Division was stationed near Dorchester, England, at Camp Piddlehinton, in one of a line of brick barracks. A trip to London when the men had a brief furlough is described by a really thorough writer, Bill Loughborough, in a letter to his wife in 1945 after censorship was listed. Bill mentioned Carl by name several times.

The soldiers were preparing for Christmas eve when they were given orders to drop everything on December 23, 1944, and pack for deployment. Bill Loughborough describes this really thoroughly. At this stage, there are scores of personal accounts from within the 262nd Regiment and within the other 2 regiments that comprised the 66th Panthers.

The night of December 23 was nightmarish for many of them. Bill and his peers had to hike miles with heavy duffel bags to the train station at Dorchester. There they boarded a train that took them to Southampton, right onto one of the piers where the huge troopship SS Leopoldville was tied up. Exhausted, they had to wait hours for the morning of the 24th. After a false start, the men boarded the ship. Unfortunately, Bud and his Company E were berthed on E deck in the after part of the vessel. This compartment has also been well-described. It was a square, low-ceiling room with long wooden picnic tables. Piles of very crude life jackets and hammocks lay about. Some men fastened the hammocks and lay down. Others laid down on piles of duffle bags, on tables, or under them. Most slept because they had been marching most of the night. The ship remained moored for hours.

They had to wait for the tide to come in. Tides fluctuate a great deal in the English Channel. Finally the ship started on its ~60 mile journey to France. Because of submarine sightings recently, the convoy of 2 escorts and the SS Leopoldvile and HMS Cheshire troopships made a zig-zag course to foil attempts by submarines to hit them with torpedoes. After many hours some of Bud’s fellows finished napping, and repulsed by some slop that the crew offered for the afternoon meal, several went up to the deck. No one remembers where Bud was, but they believe he remained in the compartment with the other men of Company E.

Bill Moomey and several others, including Hank Anderson and Al Salata and Bill Loughborough, were among those up topside when a torpedo exploded in the vicinity of Bud’s compartment on E deck. None of those in Bud’s compartment were ever seen again. The ship sank in about 2 hours.

Bill M, Hank, Al and Bill L and about 8 others from Company E jumped or climbed to an escort ship, the HMS Brilliant, and were delivered to the dock at Cherbourg, France. About half of the company had been placed aboard the Cheshire which landed at Cherbourg without incident.

The huge toll of life from the torpedo that struck the Leopoldville has been well described and documented, although the figures do vary slightly, depending on how they are tallied.

Bud’s story would end right there, except for his many family members who have grieved ever since. The Army bureaucracy is responsible for a portion of that distress, above and beyond the loss of a beloved young man.

Some days or weeks after the Leopoldville sunk, the Army sent a telegram to Bud’s parents in Kalispell declaring him “Missing.” Who in Kalispell knew what that meant? For at least 2 months Ellen Bonde held desperate hope that her son was only somehow “missing,” and not dead. Ellen had written a Christmas letter in early December to Bud in which she agonized about whether the package she had put together for him would arrive in time for Christmas.

Months later, after March 6, 1945, the family received another telegram from the War Department informing them with regret that Bud had been missing in action. Several critics deplored that the Army had not told the families of the probable deaths immediately.

No one in Bud’s family learned how, or even if he died, exactly, although Bud’s sister Corinne eventually discovered that he went missing Christmas in the English Channel in a troopship that was torpedoed. She knew this as early as 1972, because Tom Struckman constructed a family tree describing Bud’s fate in those terms. Bud’s discharge papers from the Army listed him as dead, on the date erroneously as December 25, 1944, as did Bud’s University of Montana transcript.

In the early 1970s a fire at the St. Louis Personnel Records Center destroyed Bud’s military records. A congressional inquiry by Senator Max Baucus could not produce any records beyond the discharge paper.

Several books about the SS Leopoldville tragedy were written, the first, and probably the best, by Jacquin Sanders in the late 1960s.

Thanks to the internet and a History Channel documentary about the SS Leopoldville sinking, Bud’s nephews and nieces learned more of his fate.

In 2007, Christmas Eve, nephew Daniel Struckman and his wife Penny travelled to Cherbourg France and chartered a boat with sonar to the exact location of the Leopoldville for a brief ceremony that is described in a French newspaper.

In 2011 Daniel Struckman continue to labor over a brief account that will hold enough detail for a view at Bud’s life, the story apparently over, at age 21.

 

 

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