Chickenhouse Chronicles: WWII Letter about my Grandfather’s Ship sinking

I discovered this terribly water-stained letter in a packet I am currently reading. The tone of the letter seems fatalistic. Frederick Pierce, the author, has a son on a coastal patrol craft in the Mediterranean—perhaps one of WWII’s famed PT Boats.

Fred Pierce is my great uncle, an elusive link to our past. The Pierce family plays an important role in our genetic makeup–a role which I shall expand on in future posts.

My grandfather’s troop ship struck a German mine and sank in Antwerp Harbor in December 1944–an opening shot in the Battle of the Bulge. My grandfather flew back to the United States and returned to his duty station at Camp Shanks, New York. Note the forwarding addresses on the letter as it tries to catch up with him.

I spent two hours transcribing this letter, attempting to extrapolate the parts that are indecipherable because of the damage sustained during the decades it lay in the leaky-roofed chickenhouse on our old homestead in northern Minnesota.

Below the primary documents is my understanding of the text—-means I can not read it.




1945 – 01 – 12. From Frederick Pierce, 225 S. Fifteenth St., Philadelphia, PA to Lieut. Henry O Philips, Camp Shanks, Orangeburg, New York. The letter head on this letter reads: Frederick Pierce & Co. 225 S. 15th St., Philadelphia, Investment Securities, Incorporated 1916.

January 12, 1945

Dear Henry,

I had a nice letter from Eloise Garstin this week followed by your card. Thank you for letting me hear from you. I am delighted that your shipwreck, as Eloise called it, turned into no worse than it did for you. One of Ethel’s nephews had a similar experience on his Murmansk run. He even lost his outer clothing, and being a large fellow, was a sight when he reached home in Boston. My son Fred was on a salvage boat in the Mediterranean carrying dynamite forward when a torpedo rammed the stern killing a couple of men. He had a very close shave.

The war is one of great risk and lucky escapes for many. In his course Fred has cruised the entire south coast of France from Monaco to the Spanish border. He is now based in Oran. Was in Rome and Naples last month.

When you can – – – wish you come down and see us. I guess you do – – – man a chance and see a night – – your family when you write send them my kind wishes.

We live on Wynnewood.

With best wishes sincerely, Fredrick Pierce


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