On 5/28, the village held it's annual Memorial Day service at Veterans Corner (see photos courtesy of Tom Faranda and Bob Anderson/Croton United here).
Among the speakers was Patrick Calcutti; his topic was Frank Aschman who was killed in WW2. By popular request, this is a copy of his statement--PLEASE NOTE THAT SOMETIME THIS LAST NAME APPEARS WITH A DOUBLE "N" ONLINE:
Frank Aschman was the son of Mr. and Mrs., Charles Aschman, of Mt. Airy Road. Frank had an older brother named Charles. Frank Aschman attended Croton schools 4th grade to his second year of high school, when he transferred to the Peekskill Military Academy. After graduating from P.M.A. Frank went to Yale University. (
Frank left Yale in his junior year 1943 to join the army.
By all accounts Frank Aschman was a handsome lad of 21.
He stood six foot tall and had jet black hair and blue/gray eyes.
In the Army Frank attended basic Calvary training at Fort Riley Kansas. From there he was sent to the Colorado school of mines where he received specialized training.
Whatever the training was, it is not clear but shortly after he was transferred to the 66th Infantry Division, and sent to England, arriving there on December 1st 1944.
On December 23, 1944 after weeks of waiting in camp in Southern England elements of the 262nd and 264th regiments of the 66th Infantry Division were ordered to move out. Their half prepared Christmas dinner was thrown away, duffel bags were packed and the troops headed to the harbor. Typically the initial rush was followed by a six hour wait on the docks. When boarding finally began at 0200 on December 24th it seemed to follow no clear plan. The two regiments were mixed together and companies were separated, platoons randomly distributed throughout the ship. Some men simply ordered on board as they appeared rather than by unit. The ship was an old Belgian Liner converted to a troop carrier. The S.S. Leopoldville launched in 1929, she displaced 11,500 tons and was 501 feet in length.
Part of the reason for the rush and confusion was the mission. The 66th Infantry division was being sent as reinforcements for the U.S. Army troops involved in the ongoing battle of the bulge.
At 0900 the small convoy consisting of Leopoldville, and Cheshire ( another transport.) escorted by the British Destroyers; HMS Brilliant, HMS Anthony HMS Hotham and the Free French frigate Croix de Lorraine, departed England for Cherbourg, on the French Coast. Shortly after passing through the anti-submarine nets in the harbor, the infantrymen were called on deck for what was called a boat drill. Not all heard the order. This has been attributed to a combination of faulty load speakers in some of the holds and the random dispersion of troops which sometimes separated them from their group leaders.
Those who did arrive on deck simply stood at their assigned lifeboat station as a few officers made checks of their equipment and life jackets. No training in launching lifeboats or rafts was given, and few were given instructions in the proper way to enter the water wearing the issued life jackets, omissions which would result in hundreds of deaths later that day.
Five and a half miles off Cherbourg the Leopoldville was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-486.
At 17:54 Hrs. U-486 attacked. The torpedo struck on the starboard side aft and exploded in the number four hold. Compartments were flooded and stairwells blown away.
Men in other parts of the ship who felt the blow and know what it was, began to make their way to deck with discipline and lack of panic. They lined up in formation and waited for instructions. There appeared to be much confusion between the escorts and the stricken ship.
Orders to “take in tow” were issued and countermanded,
The communications between the English ships and the American troop command in Cherbourg were confused by forces using different radio frequencies and codes.
The escorting ships were attacking the submarine contacts and attempting to coordinate assistance to the troop ship. At 18: 25 Hrs. the order came to abandon ship. The 48 degree water was suddenly filled with hundreds of struggling men. In the more than 2 hours that they had stood on deck, no one had instructed them to prepare to enter the water by removing their heavy clothing or gear. Now they were in a rough sea weighed down by their full field kit. Most had quickly divested themselves of their boots, rifles , ammunition and helmets. On striking the water if not tied together tightly, the two pillows which formed the front and back of the jacket snapped up with great force and broke the wearer’s neck. The same occurred with helmet straps if not unfastened.
There were several investigations by the admiralty into the details of the sinking, but in wartime these things were kept secret and as a result the families of the solders were not aware of what happened for years.
That Christmas Eve night 1945, 763 man died, among them Frank Aschman.
On January 17th 1945 the family received a telegram that their son was “Missing in action”.
March 7th 1945 another telegram stated PFC Aschman had been “Killed in Action.” No other word or detail was ever released to the family by the War Department.
In 1963, almost 20 years after the incident a book entitled, “The night before Christmas" was written by Joaquin Sanders, which told of the sinking.
Only then did the families of the 763 men of the 66th Infantry Division find out the truth of how their loved ones died.
Thank you for preserving the village's history.ReplyDelete
You can always count on Pat at these events. Thanks for the history lesson.ReplyDelete
Thank you Pat for all you do for the village.ReplyDelete