Of sorrow and joy: July 3, 1944

Written by Samuel Edward Hatch
Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Sixty years ago—on July 3, 1944 —Theodore Booras of 42 Wyman St., Lynn, Mass., died in a German V-1 robot bomb explosion in London.  He was 18 years old.  I was with him minutes before he died.  The following is a chronicle of events that preceded this disaster.

In November, 1943, we were both assigned to the 130th Chemical Company, an army company in [the] Chemical Warfare Service.  Following basic training at Camp Sibert, Ala., we went by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey —the last stop before heading to the port of embarkation.  The following is from a letter to my parents dated April 15, 1944: “Dear Mother and Dad: This will be my last uncensored letter, I understand, because tomorrow morning we board a train that will take us to a staging area.  We’ve been told that our letters will be censored as soon as we board the train.”

We then crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a convoy: our troop ship, the Exceller, destroyer escorts, cargo vessels, and an aircraft carrier.  We landed in Greenock, a part of Glasgow, Scotland, on May 6, 1944.  A London-Midland-Scotland (LMS) train took us to London where we boarded trucks and moved in to numbers 4, 6, and 8 Sloane Court, a former residential area just off of Sloane Street.  The following is from a V-mail to my parents dated May 8, 1944: “We have been informed by our officers that it is alright to tell you that I am in London and am living in very spacious and beautiful apartments.  The food here is the best I’ve had in the Army.”

Theodore Booras and I were assigned to the same room on the second floor.  Our army company settled into a daily routine: meals at a Knightsbridge mess hall, making our Army cots, sweeping and cleaning our rooms, then boarding trucks that took us to work details.  Although London was in a nightly blackout, we were permitted to sign out and go on pass in the evening.

June 6, 1944, was D-Day, the Normandy invasion by American, British, and Canadian soldiers that marked the first breach in Hitler’s Atlantic wall.  Seven days after D-Day, June 13-14, the first V-1 flying bomb fell on London.  The V-1 was a German vengeance weapon.  Hitler ordered them used when it became clear that the Allies had landed in force in France.  He decided to use the V-1 buzz bombs against England’s civilian population rather than Allied military targets or personnel.  Some of the men of the 130th would go to the top floor of our billets to watch the flying bombs.  Air raid sirens sounded whenever a flying bomb was approaching the city.  Sometimes, we would go to an air raid shelter until the all clear sounded.  Whenever I rode the London underground, or subway, at night, I would see people —sometimes entire families —sleeping on the subway platforms and on stairwells.  They went to the underground with blankets and pillows to find a safe haven from the flying bombs and to get some sleep.  It was a very sad sight.

A V-mail letter to my parents dated June 18, 1944, stated, “Today marks the 6th week I have been in London, and I visited Kew Gardens, a very lovely park.  We have been having a few air raids lately, because of the robot planes sent out by the [Germans].  They are nuisances, and as yet have not caused too much damage.”

On Monday, July 3, 1944, the men of the 130th Chemical Company rose early, dressed, and walked to Knightsbridge for breakfast.  When we returned to our quarters, Teddy Booras and I saw our names on a worksheet of soldiers assigned to clean up chores for the week.  Teddy and I began cleaning and sweeping out our room.  The other soldiers in the room made their army cots and placed their belongings in their duffle bags for later inspection.  Everyone else went down the stairs and outside to board a truck for a work detail, but Teddy and I had to stay behind to finish sweeping and cleaning the room.  We swept the refuse into a trash container in the hall.

Teddy offered to take the trash down to the cellar.  We would alternate.  Tuesday would be my day to take the trash to the cellar.  That offhand agreement between Theodore Booras and me would determine our fate.  It would be the last time I would see him.  I then went outside to board the truck that would take the other soldiers and me to work.001-1-web

I approached the truck to climb aboard but it was filled up.  There was no room for me.  I would have to wait for another truck.

What happened next took perhaps 10 seconds.  I relive it today —almost in slow motion.  Someone yelled “buzz bomb.”  I looked up.  It looked like a plane on fire.  It had a fuselage and wings, there was a flame shooting out of its tail, and it was silent.  The engine had shut off miles away and the momentum carried the flying bomb the rest of the way.  I ran into the street to my left, and fell face down on the pavement with my arms outstretched.  My mother’s face flashed before me.  Then a horrendous explosion.  I was thrown by the blast —I don’t know how far.  I was choking and coughing; I couldn’t see.  The air was filled with smoke and dust.  Numbers 4, 6, and 8 Sloane Court were demolished.  Theodore Booras died in the wreckage of our building.

Out of 148 soldiers in our company, 63 died in this building —including all the soldiers trapped on the truck.  All the rest of us who were there were injured, some very seriously.  The 130th Chemical Company suffered the greatest loss of life of any military unit in London during World War II.

On May 29, 2004, the World War II memorial was dedicated in Washington D.C. On a wall at this memorial are 4,000 gold stars.  Each star represents 100 soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who died in that war —400,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice.  The name of Theodore Booras is forever enshrined in one of those stars at the World War II memorial.

Some may say that I have survivor’s guilt.  Because of an offhand remark —something we didn’t think twice about —Teddy would take the trash to the cellar on Monday, I would take it down on Tuesday. It determined who would live and who would die.

I won’t have many more chances to tell people of the ultimate sacrifice made for his country by 18-year-old Theodore Booras.

I have shed tears for Theodore Booras.  His family must have been shattered to receive the tragic news —and broken-hearted for the rest of their lives.

If relatives, friends —perhaps former classmates —of Theodore Booras read this, I ask you to please keep his memory alive.  He never lived to go to college, start a career, fall in love, marry, or have children.

He was a native of Lynn, Mass., a good person, and he died while serving his country during World War II.

In my life, July 3 is a day of sorrow and of joy.  Sorrow over the loss of a friend and army buddy, Theodore Booras, on July 3, 1944.  And joy over the birth of our only son, David, [years later] on July 3.