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"I put all of my clothes on, everything. That's what saved me, was all of that clothes I had on." (Video Interview, 11:11)

   Antonio Ralph Martinez
Collection image
Detail from an official photograph of Antonio Martinez [undated]
War: World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Army; Air Force
Unit: 4th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squad, 265th Infantry Regiment, 66th Infantry Division
Service Location: France; European Theater; also: Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida
Rank: Private First Class; Airman First Class
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On Christmas Eve 1944, Antonio Martinez was one of 2,235 American servicemen aboard a Belgian transport ship, the Leopoldville, on its way from England to France. Five miles from its destination, the ship was struck by a torpedo from a German U boat, and it sank within three hours. Martinez survived, but over 750 GIs did not. His detailed account of this tragedy, among the worst in U.S. military history, is a welcome addition to the public record, as survivors were told at the time not to discuss the episode, and it took fifty years before an official monument to those who went down with the ship was erected.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (4 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (41 min.)
»Photo Album  (7 photos)
 Official Documents
»View List (6 items)
More like this
»Hispanics in Service
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (4 items)
Aboard the SS George Washington on his way to England in 1944; a funny incident involving a piano being thrown overboard. (01:11) Boarding the Leopoldville on Christmas Eve 1944; playing cards when the torpedo hit; putting on all his clothes, which was what saved him; people trying to jump from the ship to a destroyer; some made it, others went into the water or were crushed between the two ships; sliding down a rope into the water; helping another soldier who didn't know how to swim; in the water about 2 hours; he was one of the last rescued from the water; suffering from hypothermia; in the hospital for a few days; released to head off to the front. (08:51) Told not to talk about the sinking of the Leopoldville; told his wife about it but did not talk about it until 1995, when there was some publicity about it. (00:56)
More on the Leopoldville; unhappy with the way they were being transported; knew of the dangers of the crossing; waiting to abandon ship until the right moment; surviving because of the clothes he had on; keeping quiet about the incident; why he was awarded the Bronze Star; no big welcome when he came home in 1946; stuck on a railroad car for four days in Chicago before he was released to finish the journey home. (06:38)  
 Official Documents (6 items)
Honorable Discharge Addendum to DA Form 1577 Honorable Discharge
Honorable Discharge Enlisted record and report of separation Report of separation

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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