The Leopoldville


     For most of us, thoughts of Christmas past probably bring fond memories.  It was during the Holiday season, 1986, that I proposed to my wife, Ruth.  As a child, our family Christmas time involved extended family get-togethers, a great deal of food, and, of course, the presents.  But not every Christmas was wonderful.  My dad died when I was 15, and as I remember it, Christmas of 1970 was not so joyous.  In 1973 or 1974, I can’t remember which, I was in the army and had guard duty on Christmas Day.  Not a fun way to spend Christmas, but the motor pool was secure.

     Whatever Christmas I may count as my worst Christmas really was not so bad.  Others have had worse.  On Christmas Eve, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge was in its ninth day.  Hitler’s Panzer division had slammed into the American lines along the front in Belgium.   Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of WWII history knows about the 101st Airborne’s heroic stand at Bastogne, the massacre of American GIs at Malmedy by the SS, General McAuliffe’s reply to the Nazi request that he surrender – “Nuts,” and General Patton’s forced march from the south to drive the German army back.  For those soldiers involved in that battle, Christmas, 1944, must have been their worst Christmas ever.

     Less well-known, but connected to the Battle of the Bulge, is the story of a ship, not a ship of war, but an ocean liner, the SS Leopoldville.   Before the war, the Leopoldville was a passenger liner that sailed regularly from Belgium to the Congo in Africa.  When the war broke out, she was commissioned to carry Allied troops across the English Channel.  On Christmas Eve, 1944, the Leopoldville was on her 25th such voyage.  American soldiers were in trouble in Belgium and in need of reinforcements.  The Leopoldville was transporting 2235 soldiers from the 262nd and 264th Regiments of the US 66th Infantry Division from England to Belgium to help turn back the German offensive.

     Patrolling the English Channel looking for targets was the German submarine       U – 486.  At 6:00 pm, she sighted the Leopoldville and launched two torpedoes.  One of them struck broadside and the Leopoldville sank in about three hours..  753 soldiers died, most of them freezing to death in the cold water.  I don’t know if these soldiers are counted among the 19,000 Americans who died during the Battle of the Bulge, but they should be.

      I don’t know what you would count as a bad Christmas, but I would have to believe that having the ship you are on torpedoed on Christmas Eve would have to rank pretty close to the top of the list.

     My point in all of this is that as you are sitting around your Christmas tree this year enjoying the company of your family, eating great food, and exchanging expensive gifts that you probably don’t need, just know that for many, this Christmas is not going to be such a joyous time.  There are those who will spend this Christmas in a hospital, or preparing for the funeral of a loved one, or under fire on a battlefield, or having just lost their job, or homeless, or emotionally depressed.

     Many people this December are going to experience the worst Christmas of their lives.  So as we celebrate, as we should, let’s be on the lookout for opportunities to show compassion to those who are hurting.

     We will sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  Indeed, Jesus did come and he came with a purpose.  “I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest.”  This Christmas, someone you know does not feel they are having life to the fullest.  You may be the instrument of God who can help fill their emptiness.

     May God bless you and yours this Christmas season.  And may you bless another.