Schenectady Gazette, December 24, 1964
By SAM ZURLO
AMSTERDAM, NY — Christmas Eve for most people is a time for joy, but for Edward Bablin December 24 revives a 20-year-old nightmare.
Twenty years ago tonight former Navy enlisted man Bablin helped pull hundreds of frozen bodies of American soldiers from icy waters off Cherbourg, France.
“It’s like a bad dream or a nightmare. I still can’t shake it off,” said Bablin. “I relive the entire incident every Christmas Eve.”
Bablin offered this account of the tragedy which happened during the height of the Battle of the Bulge and as a result escaped publicity. He was assigned to a 190-member ship salvage unit at Cherbourg, a coastal community located near famed Utah Beach.
The temperature was at the zero mark on Christmas Eve in 1944, according to Bablin, who said he noticed a flash of light on the English channel. Before he knew what had happened, Bablin and five other men from his unit were on a Navy minesweeper about one mile from shore.
“Bodies were floating all around us like corks,” he recalled. “We pulled in as many as we could. They looked like they were alive, but we soon learned that all were dead.”
Bablin said the men were being transported on a Belgian troopship from the United States when the ship was either hit by a torpedo or struck a mine. The vessel broke in half and went down fast,” he said.
Bablin could not remember the name of the ship, but a check by the Gazette yesterday showed that the Belgian troop transport “Leopoldville” was sunk off Cherbourg December 24, 1944 while steaming up the channel.
The victims were fully dressed in overcoats and boots and some carried duffel bags, indicating they had a few minutes to gather their gear. Small boats brought the bodies to shore and Bablin remembers helping unload “hundreds of them.” they were “laid out like cord wood” on a dock, he remembered.
It was later reported that the men either froze to death in the frigid waters or their lungs snapped when currents sucked them under the ship. Only a few of the bodies were mangled, Bablin said.
By 4:30 Christmas morning less than eight hours after the ship went down, the bodies had been loaded onto air force flatbed trucks and were taken to a military cemetery about eight miles south of Cherbourg for burial. Bablin could not remember the outfit the men were in, but believes it was an armored unit.
“I’ll never forget it. It’s a nightmare,” said the father of seven children, who lives at 218 Clizbe Avenue.