GUNNER’S MATE SECOND CLASS HOBART FORD JR.; U.S. NAVY

September 27, 1924 (New York, NY) – April 28, 1944; 19 years old; unmarried
Last local address: Valley Road, Wilson Point, Rowayton
Enlisted on April 5, 1943
Service number: 8074952
LST-531

Awarded the Purple Heart Medal.

When Hobey was almost 18 he was out paddling his kayak on Long Island Sound when a U.S. submarine came up. He paddled over, the hatch opened and a sailor came out. They talked a bit and he offered to let him come inside and look around. When he got home, he told his parents, Hobey and Betty Ford, that he wanted to join the Navy, and he did.  His parents were notified that he was missing in action. Sometime later a fellow Navy sailor visited his parents and told them that he knew for certain that Hobey went down with the ship. His mother received flowers from him on her next birthday. Hobey had arranged it before he joined up. A memorial dock was built in his honor at Mystic Seaport.

During World War II, (Landing Ship Tank) LST-531 was sunk by a German E-boat torpedo attack in Lyme Bay, off Slapton Sands, England, 28 April 1944 while conducting a pre-invasion landing exercise during Operation Tiger, the rehearsal for the Normandy invasion.

From bbc.com by Claire Jones, January 10, 2015

Just 15 minutes after the assault on LST 507 an attack began on another landing craft – LST 531.

As the craft received its second and fatal blow, it began turning over to its starboard side. It would only stay afloat for another six minutes. Surviving LST 531 officer Ensign Douglas Harlander said the tragic exercise was kept secret to maintain morale. A surviving officer on board, Ensign Douglas Harlander, now 94, had little time to decide what to do.

“We were dead in the water,” he said. “We were completely loaded with trucks, vehicles, tanks, and all of them were loaded with fuel to the hilt and it was an immediate mass of fire.

“I realized saving the ship was futile so I turned my attention to trying to save the men.

“The ship was sinking and fast turning over and I was the last man over the port side.

“As I was walking on the outside of the ship’s hull, it sank beneath me. I dove off and got away as fast as I could to avoid being dragged under by the suction of the ship’s descent.”

But as the night progressed, many of his comrades disappeared below the waves.

“They slipped away as they became unconscious. At about 6am you even wished you could be picked up by the Germans because the men were falling off like flies,” he said.

The survivors were rescued at about 7:00 by the British ship HMS Onslow.

The exercise that killed so many American servicemen was considered by U.S. top brass to be such a disaster that it was immediately covered up.

Any survivor who revealed the truth would face a court martial, they warned.

“In the coming weeks I came to realize that the ordeal I survived was not to be officially acknowledged by the Navy or the United States or British governments,” said Mr. Harlander.

LST 531          US NAVY       US ARMY      TOTAL
Aboard             142                  354                  496
Rescued          28                    44                    72
Died                 114                  310                  424

“The report was classified to prevent damaging the morale of the D-Day soldiers who had to travel through those same waters to reach their destination on 6 June, 1944.

The sad part of the whole thing is that the surviving family members didn’t know for so many years what had happened to those.

“They were told only that they were missing in action or killed in action. I estimate that at least two-thirds of those on board never made it off the ship and today their remains rest at the bottom of the English Channel.”

Published by jeffd1121

USAF retiree. Veteran advocate. Committed to telling the stories of those who died while in the service of the country during wartime.

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