On the Honor Flight
RUBIO—Carroll Steinbeck is one of the Washington County veterans going on the Honor Flight on April 22.
Steinbeck served in the 66th Division of the Army as a motor gunner rifleman during WWII. He left the United States just before his birthday on Nov. 27.
“I landed in England on my 21st birthday,” Steinbeck said.
He was stationed in Dorchester for a couple of weeks before his unit received orders to head to the “Battle of the Bulge.” He went down to South Hampton and boarded ships to cross the Channel.
They loaded onto the Leopoldville and the Cheshire on Christmas Eve 1944 for the nine-hour-long trip.
“We got a submarine alert after being out a ways,” Steinbeck said, “and they dropped depth charges. Then a short time later we had another alert and they dropped depth charges.”
There were three British and one French destroyer with the Leopoldville and Cheshire as escorts, Steinbeck said.
“Five minutes before 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve a torpedo hit the ship right ahead of mine,” Steinbeck said. “They figured there were 300 plus killed immediately.”
Steinbeck was 200 yards behind the ship that was sinking, which was the Leopoldville. He said after the Leopoldville was hit a British destroyer tried to pull alongside the Leopoldville to help the men stranded on the ship, but the water was so choppy that most of them fell into the ocean.
Two and a half hours after being hit by the torpedo the Leopoldville sunk with 1,000 men on board, Steinbeck said.
“The water was 48 degrees,” Steinbeck said, “so anyway we finally went on to shore. There was nothing we could do.”
On Christmas Day, the bodies were retrieved and laid along the dock, Steinbeck said. Eight hundred and two men lost their lives that day, Steinbeck said.
Steinbeck never got to the “Battle of the Bulge.” Instead, his orders were to stay in France to replace the 94th Division and protect two submarine bases.
“They moved us up on line and we walked in and got in on the front line at 11 o’ clock at night New Year’s Eve,” Steinbeck said.
He spent all winter, 133 days, protecting two submarine bases.
“It was the coldest winter on record,” Steinbeck said. “We were living outdoors on an old abandoned airport in a two-man pup tent. We put a candle in a tin can for heat; that was the only heat we had.”
May 8, Germany surrendered, but he still wasn’t able to go home, Steinbeck said. His next job was processing troops to fight Japan in the Pacific. After that he was sent to Vienna, Austria, and served as a military police officer.
Altogether, Steinbeck spent 27 months with his division as a motor gunner and three months as military police. He was discharged from the service and returned home on April 8, 1946. He still considers himself lucky to be alive.
“I was on the proper ship that wasn’t torpedoed,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be around.”
Steinbeck was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, American Theatre and European Theatre Service medals, and the African Middle Eastern Theatre Medal for his service; but if you ask him about the medals he just says, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’