It’s all so understandable. From the vantage point of 75-plus years, the war seems ancient history. Besides, so many of those who fought had no desire to bundle up memories and lug them home in a service bag. Many wanted simply to forget the whole unimaginable experience.
Some who didn’t often found it impossible to explain the fog of war. What had happened to them was so all-encompassing, so unlike anything those who didn’t go could begin to imagine, that it was beyond all words.
I called a man my age last night, looking for facts and figures to describe his father’s war-time experience. I needed the info for a museum display that will feature local World War II veterans. He didn’t know much. When I outlined what his father had told me before he died, he sort of giggled, told me he thought that I had it about right. “Don’t know much more than that.” He told me to call his older sister in Oregon. She might, he said.
For all kinds of reasons, his not knowing the story is understandable.
So I dropped down to another name on my list–someone named Gerald Bosch, who was on his way to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, just two days after graduating from Northwestern Academy, Orange City, Iowa, on May 23, 1943. His father was a preacher down the road in Maurice.
Gerald Bosch was shuffled around like a chess piece. First Leavenworth, then Stillwater, Oklahoma, then Columbia, Missouri–six months for engineering training–then finally Ft. Rucker, Alabama, for infantry, before leaving New York and arriving in southern England on November 30, 1944, part of the 66th Infantry Division, U. S. Army.
Just one of the reasons Hitler was as successful as he was when he decided to risk it all and push the Allies back toward the port at Antwerp was that, for the Allies, the war had been going so very, very well. After the D-Day carnage and the first bloody weeks in the French countryside, the Allies had the the Jerries on the run. When winter came to France and Belgium, it had begun to look as if the war would be over in just a few weeks. There was time to let out some breath.
In England, November of 1944, Gerald Bosch almost certainly knew very little about the lay of the land just across the English Channel. He couldn’t have known much about Hitler’s gargantuan surprise attack, which began December 17. When Gerald Bosch left England, it was Christmas Eve. Everything–everything he and the 66th Infantry bound to France experienced that Christmas season–was sort of lax, a little haphazard. Hey, it was Christmas, and the war–well, it had been going so very well.
The trip took 18 hours. It was cold, but some men figured out how to catch some winks regardless by stretching out hammocks where they could. The 66th Infantry Division, 2200 strong, had been assigned responsibility for taking out what German defenses still remained throughout the French countryside. It was Christmas Eve.
Stalking the English Channel were a number of German U-boats, looking to pick off Allied ships, especially those full of troops like the TSS Leopoldville, a Belgian passenger liner recommissioned for wartime use as a troopship. The Leopoldville, that Christmas Eve, was loaded with a couple thousand combat troops, including a preacher’s son from Maurice, Iowa, Sgt. Gerald Bosch.
German U-boat 486 lurked beneath the waves and escaped detection by the Leopoldville’s escorts long enough to fire a torpedo that hit horrifically starboard aft. Rescue attempts were, for many reasons, as tardy as they were clumsy, and the result was carnage. When the numbers were tallied, 786 GIs were killed by that torpedo, among them Sgt. Gerald Bosch. You don’t stay alive long in 48-degree water.
The sinking of the Leopoldville was immediately hush-hushed. The horrible losses could have had staggering effects on the war effort after all; Hitler was on the move, and it was Christmas. Those of the 66th Division who survived were told to say nothing of what had happened. And then, what followed the tragedy five miles out in the English Channel was the bloody winter of the Battle of the Bulge.
So the Leopoldville story, that Christmas, slipped away until slowly, decades later, researchers began to question the gaps in the numbers.
Rev. Gerald Bosch and his wife were told their son was missing in action; then, finally, they were told he had drowned in the English Channel, his body never recovered.
There are likely many reasons some war stories only rarely get told.
In the local cemetery, a sturdy memorial towers before a cluster of tongue-shaped white markers, each bearing the name of a fallen local veteran. That large stone lists them all. Oddly enough, the name “Gerald Bosch” is listed last, far out of the alphabetical order that marks the others, almost as if, at one time or another, it had been forgotten.
Even though yesterday was Veteran’s Day, it seems only right that he and his story should be remembered.