Mixed in with all the happiness of Christmas are some sad memories, and I couldn’t let Christmas 2014 pass without mentioning the events of seventy years ago, Christmas Eve 1944.
It was a wartime Christmas, a hopeful time, as the allies had succeeded in their D-Day landings the previous June. However, the Germans pushed back, and weary soldiers were waging the Battle of the Bulge. Reinforcements were needed.
By this time of the war every healthy young man was drafted. One of those young men was my eighteen-year-old uncle, Ralph Vernile, the fifth and second youngest son of Italian Immigrants. All four of his older brothers were serving, three in Europe and one in the Pacific. The war would end before the youngest brother’s military career began, but he too would eventually serve in the U.S. military.
On December 24, 1944, troops of the U.S. Army’s 66th division boarded the SS Leopoldville, a Belgian steamer pressed into service as a troop ship during the war, for the trip from Southhampton to Cherbourg.
Five miles from Cherbourg, the Leopoldville was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and some 800 soldiers were lost. One of those whose body was never recovered was Ralph Vernile. It was weeks before the family was notified he was missing, and decades before they knew the story of his death.
That story has been told by Allan Andrade in his book S.S. Leopoldville Disaster, December 24, 1944.
It’s a sad tale for a Christmas eve, but one that reminds me to say thank you to the men and women in this world who stand ready to fight tyranny and despots, and to their families who share their sacrifice. Nearly 160,000 active duty U.S. troops are scattered over the globe, thousands of them in combat zones. To all of them I send thanks and wishes that they may soon be reunited with their families.
And to all my readers, have a wonderful Christmas!
Images: Wikimedia, the Author, and Amazon