The S.S. Leopoldville sank nearly 77 years ago, and next Saturday, Dan Reppucci and members of the Camp Blanding Museum will remember the 763 soldiers from the 66th Black Panther Division who died.
The memorial event will happen outside the museum in Starke at 11 a.m., Dec. 18, at the 66th Division monument with 763 flags lining the walk.
A German U-boat torpedoed the troop transport while crossing the English Channel on Christmas Eve 1944. But the U.S. government classified the event, only telling family members that their loved ones died on Christmas.
Reppucci’s father was a member of the 66th Infantry Division, formed at Camp Blanding. He also boarded the Leopoldville along with hundreds of other soldiers from the 66th Division.
But a stubborn officer and Red Cross doughnuts and coffee put him and other soldiers aboard a different vessel crossing the channel that night.
“I remember [my father] talking about this, and I realized this must have been hard for him on Christmas Eve,” Reppucci said.
Reppucci started the memorial event three years ago after hearing so many stories from soldiers in the 66th Division.
“I felt that it was a small sacrifice for me to make to do the ceremony every year and teach everybody and try to get the word out about what actually happened that night in 1944 on Christmas Eve,” Reppucci said.
Visitors can learn more about the Leapoldville sinking and the 66th Division at the event.
The Camp Blanding Museum will be open a little longer next Saturday for guests to visit as well.
“There were a lot of heroine stories that night,” Reppucci said. “Things that really should have been recognized.”