On Christmas Eve 1944, 2,000 men of the U.S. Army 66th Infantry Division, known as the Black Panthers, boarded a ship to cross the English channel. The ship, the Loldville, was a Belgian liner that had been converted to a troop transport vessel during the war.
Word spread about a German army counter attack, referred to as the Battle of the Bulge, but few took any stock in the rumor. Many Americans felt the Germans were on the verge of surrender. They couldn't have been more wrong.
Escorted by four destroyers, the Loldville and other transport ships began the nine-hour trip across the English channel to Cherbourg, France. The convoy commenced a zigzag course to make the ships a more difficult target for German U-boats.
Because of the Christmas holiday, there was a lot of confusion among the crews. Boarding records were not kept properly, men were not issued life jackets and many became seasick because of bad weather.
At 6 p.m., as the convoy neared the end if its long voyage, disaster struck. Only five miles from land, the Loldville was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat.
More than 300 men died instantly from the explosions. Calls for help were made to the nearby naval base at Cherbourg, but because of the many Christmas Eve festivities, all potential rescue boats were docked, their crews on leave to celebrate Christmas Eve. The desperate calls for help were slow to be heard.
High-ranking officials enjoying Yule parties could not be bothered. Messages were sent, received and passed on.
In all, 802 American men died that Christmas Eve while those who could have helped were busy celebrating a holiday.
This Memorial Day, we hope everyone will remember the men and women who served this nation and died to protect the freedom we enjoy. It is good to gather your families together to enjoy picnics, camping and conversation, but this holiday weekend is also a wonderful opportunity to teach our young people why this day of remembrance is so important.