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U-boat story triggers memory of ancestor

We’ve written a few times, most recently this summer, about the grim stretch between February and May 1942 when U-boats sank 24 ships off Florida, 16 of them from Cape Canaveral to Boca Raton.

Frank Leonard Terry, 23, was the only survivor when a torpedo sank the 500-foot W.D. Anderson, filled with oil, 12 miles north of Jupiter almost 70 years ago, on Feb. 22, 1942. He’s now 93 and lives in eastern Pennsylvania.

William Kelly saw our story this summer all the way in Oxford, England. It hit home. Among the Anderson’s dead was its second mate, Mahlon E. Stitsel, 37.

“Mahlon was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Stitsel and brother of my grandfather, Glen Stitsel,” Kelly wrote.

“Tragically, another brother, Elvan E. Stitsel, also enlisted in the merchant marines, was killed exactly one week before Mahlon, in a freak accident which occurred on board his tanker, Point Breeze, in the relatively safe waters of Long Island Sound, New York. The tanker ran aground, triggering an explosion in the engine room which knocked Elvan overboard. There were no other casualites. Elvan’s body was never recovered.

An article in a Defiance, Ohio, newspaper, provided by Kelly, said, “These men gave their lives to their country, even though they were not enlisted in the armed services.

“Patriotism and devotion to duty inspired them to take risks fully as dangerous as the servicemen meet, and just as necessary to the winning of the war.”

Terry said in October of this year he doesn’t specifically remember Stitsel but he still remembers his own ordeal. Covered in oil, he bobbed for hours in water so cold he thought sharks had bitten off his legs and was surprised when rescuers told him they were still there.

“It was my first trip to Florida,” Terry said in a 1992 interview for a Palm Beach Post section marking 50 years since World War II came to Florida. “I didn’t like the experience.”


Frank Leonard Terry of Parkesburg, Pa., in 1992. He was the only survivor of the W.D. Anderson, sunk in 1942 by U-boat ‘off the South Florida coast.’ (AP file photo)

Update: Our recent columns on Autorama said the great “Mural of America” now hangs at the Boynton Beach Woman’s Club. Janet DeVries, archivist at the Boynton Beach City Library, alerted us that we’d been given bad information. She said the Woman’s Club mural is by the same artist, Bernard Thomas, but it shows a history of Boynton Beach. The “America” mural is in the library’s archives — or at least one 8-foot by 4-foot panel of it. DeVries says the rest is believed lost to history.

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Posted in Eliot Kleinberg November 17, 2011 at 9:46 am.

3 comments

3 Replies

  1. Carolyn Rendell Jan 17th 2012

    Just a note of clarification to the story of the explosion on the tanker Point Breeze. My husband’s great uncle, Fred Heimach, also died in the accident. These were the only two casualties.

  2. Diane Jun 2nd 2013

    I would like to know if Frank Leonard Terry is still alive and if he remembers a merchant mariner on the Anderson named Charles Smith.

  3. Palm Beach Post Staff Researchers Jun 3rd 2013

    Diane,

    Eliot Kleinberg interviewed Frank Terry for a story last month, so yes, he’s still alive as of May 2013. The story is online here:
    http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/news/news/local/local-shipwreck-one-of-17-u-boat-victims-that-migh/nXwyh/

    Michelle Quigley
    News Researcher
    The Palm Beach Post | HistoricPalmBeach.com


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