A couple of weeks ago, three local WWII veterans gathered around a table at a bookstore in Acworth, Georgia, to chat with guests. The three, Jack Smith, Dick Bailey, and Bob Mero sat together with several of their photographs, citations, medals, books, and other mementos displayed on the long table in front of them. I’ve been fortunate to befriend Jack and Dick over the last couple of years, but had only met Bob in passing. Here was my chance to learn more about another of our national treasures.
Bob’s story took place during the Leopoldville Disaster and for which he was awarded a Bronze Star almost seventy-five years ago.
The brochure and a 1940s newspaper article Bob shares explain: On Christmas Eve 1944, 2,235 American soldiers of the 66th Infantry Division were crossing the English Channel as reinforcements for the Battle of the Bulge. Their troopship, a converted Belgian passenger ship, the Leopoldville, was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat patrolling the Channel. Eight hundred Americans perished.
Bob was fortunate to be on a ship preceding the Leopoldville into the port of Cherbourg. With his unit all but gone, he joined another group to fight, but when his radioman fell, he was forced to cut the straps holding the radio from the dying soldier’s body and then attempt to contact his command. “I thought it was behind me, but it’s with me still today,” he says, pausing, his eyes rimmed with tears. Later, still wielding a heavy machine gun and exposed to enemy fire, as the article reports, he successfully defended his group as they came under heavy fire and saved the life of his group leader.
Despite the tragedy that occurred, Bob enjoys talking to enthusiastic listeners and telling of the difficulties the young American soldiers like him faced in the Normandy countryside with its infamous hedgerows.
If, like me, you like to hear these first hand tales, don’t hesitate to ask one of the many, but dwindling WWII veterans to tell their story. Bob’s story is also available through the Veterans History Project at: