Sure, every suburban kid growing up during the 60’s and 70’s had to take swimming lessons.
It was like a right of passage to spend the summer at the pool hanging out and for me, taking swim lessons was a must. Here is why….
The 66th Infantry Division was a unit of the United States Army in World War II. It was Nicknamed the “Black Panther Division”. According to the Army, the black panther was chosen to symbolize the attributes of a good infantryman: ability to kill, to be aggressive, alert, stealthy, cunning, agile, and strong. Pretty much what you needed to fend off the most evil individual of the century.
It was Christmas eve 1944 when the SS Leopoldville, a Belgian passenger ship (converted into a transport, to support the war effort) left through the choppy waters of the English Channel. There were some 2500 men on board the ship. The were the Black Panthers.
On board, the men attempted to celebrate Christmas eve in the way they would have back home in the states, some 3000 miles away. They toasted, attended mass and missed their loved ones. The men were on their way to France to face combat and this could have been their last Christmas eve.
At 1755 (almost 6pm) the Leopoldville was hit by a torpedo launched by a German U-boat . The blast hit the craft on the starboard side, ripped a gaping hole below the water line. As water poured in, the ship slowly began to sink. The men on board were doomed.They had just been just 5 miles from their destination of Cherbourg,
It was not too long until a British destroyer came along. Long towlines were made fast to hold the two ships together and the transfer of stretcher cases and wounded soldiers began. Think of the movie Titanic as the boat was sinking. When the majority of injured men had been transferred to the destroyer, some of the uninjured jumped or swung over on ropes and nets. The destroyer pulled away with a capacity load. A Coast Guard cutter took her place. Battered severely by the choppy sea, the cutter had to be cut loose before many survivors could get aboard.
In total, 14 officers and 748 enlisted men were lost.
One of the survivors of this torpedo hit had been my father. He survived because he knew how to swim.
This will be my first Memorial Day without my father. We lost another WWII Veteran last year.
We won that horrific war. Thank goodness.
And now you know why I had to learn how to swim.