By Jennifer Martin
Sid Spiro was just 18 when he was drafted into World War Two.
"I wanted to go. My mother naturally did not want me to go. My father who was a WWI veteran was the tie vote."
He became part of the army's 66th Infantry Division. Their orders were to report to the Battle of the Bulge. They boarded a Belgian ship, the SS Leopoldville, and headed out on Christmas Eve 1944.
"We got in and a German submarine got us. Hit us with a torpedo. The Belgian crew deserted the ship. They took the life boats and left us standing on the deck. We stayed up on deck and we were assured that the rescue vessels were coming out to us. And we waited and waited and waited."
They were five miles from land. Finally a British escort ship came back to start taking survivors.
"They had the men jumping from one ship to the other. There was about a 30 foot difference in the heights of the ships. If you missed your timing you'd be in between and of course that was the end."
He refused to jump. He waited until the last possible moment and went in the water. He had a life preserver. Many did not.
"The water temperature was in the high 30's. I had to fight a couple men in the water. They were still grabbing anything that went by. I floated into a French ocean going tug and the two Frenchmen pulled me out. Out of the 2400 men, 800 did not make it that night. You could hear them all over the place praying to God and calling to their mothers. I got a letter from my mother up in January and wanted to know if something had happened to me Christmas Eve. She had wakened from a sound sleep and heard me calling for her."
The tug took Spiro ashore. He served as a forward observer as Allies tried to take a German submarine pen until Germany surrendered. He was training to invade Japan when the war ended.
Spiro has continued his relationships with the other soldiers who survived the sinking of the Leopoldville. One of the soldiers had special shirts made for a reunion.
"On the back: SS Leopoldville swim team. We said 'what in the world are we gonna do with these?' He said 'we're gonna wear em.' We finally said 'the hell with them we're going to put them on and see what happens.' We went in formation, the 10 of us who had been in the water, and we marched in there not knowing what's going to happen and the place went wild."
Spiro believes he survived the sinking of the Leopoldville only through the grace of God.
"I look back at what could have happened but didn't. God had to be there somewhere. I've reached the point, I wear this (Leopoldville Swim Team) shirt to communion on Christmas Eve and Dick, Ed & I... (it) is the 1st question we ask when we call each other --you got your shirt on?"
After the war Spiro went to work for the IRS then the Small Business Administration. He's now retired.
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