Greensburg Daily News
Friday morning I received the following message from Judy Bodwell, Al Rust’s daughter: “I felt I should inform you, as you write Part III of your series, that my father passed away yesterday at 5:40 p.m. I was with him and he died peacefully, his lungs and heart just stopping.”
“He loved your stories about him and enjoyed having me read them to him. He asked me to make sure we sent copies to his brothers and sisters and grandchildren. Thank you for telling his story. It meant the world to him and his family. Also the Aspen staff and residents enjoyed reading them. I’ve been told that people that didn’t even know him are anxiously awaiting Part III.”
In 1942, after his ship, the Thomas McKean, was torpedoed and sunk, land was cited on the morning of his 10th day in a life raft. He had lost 12 pounds. The men had the discipline to allow themselves only seven ounces of water a day. Al was cited for bravery and commended for heroic conduct while engaging the enemy. He was anxious to return to sea, and a chance to help sink the U 505 German submarine that torpedoed his ship. But that was not to be.
The Navy thought he could best serve the country on a public relations tour encouraging the purchase of war bonds, blood donations and support for defense plants. He served honorably in that capacity from 1942 until into 1945. While touring he met movie stars and celebrities of the day. Although he wasn’t able to help capture the U-505 we can only imagine how his pleasure when, on June 4, 1944, word came that the German Submarine had been captured.
A U.S. Navy Task Group, commanded by Daniel Gallery, was a hunter-killer force that was formed to track down German Submarines. Depth charges from Gallery’s ship blasted the U-505 out of hiding. The U-505 had a long run and had terrorized the Atlantic Ocean as part of a massive U-boat campaign that almost altered the outcome of World War II.
When the task force boarded and captured the U-505 off the coast of Africa, it was the only time a German submarine had been captured at sea and the first time the U.S. Navy had captured a foreign warship since 1815. Readers might enjoy reading Daniel Gallery’s book, “Twenty Million Tons Under the Sea,” about the capture of the submarine, which includes the story of the Thomas McKean. There was some tenseness when it was learned that not a single member of the men that boarded the sub had any familiarity with submarines. They had no idea if it was mined or how quickly it might sink. Even so, the men towed it 1,700 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
It was invaluable for secrets it held to codes used by Germans. Imagine the challenges involved in moving the U-505 to Chicago. One person asked, “How do you move a National Historic landmark that weighs as much as three Statues of Liberty and is nearly a city block long? Then, once it is moved, how do you lower it four stories into a new exhibit space?”
In spite of moving problems the U-505 became an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago where it is still displayed as a national memorial to the 55,000 American sailors who gave their lives on the high seas in World War I and World War II.
Of the 569,349 visitors the first year, 228,414 were youngsters. Organized classes from 3,000 schools located in 22 different states came to the Museum, went through the sub and saw movies made by combat photographers the day she was captured.
Al Rust participated in the U-505 Oral History Project at the dedication ceremonies for the U-505 exhibit in 1999. Navy veterans that were part of the capture of the U-505 and German veterans that were onboard the U-505 during World War II also participated in the dedication. A videotaped interview of Al is part of the museum’s historical records. Some of his World War II experiences are also included in the Veterans’ History Project in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
I am grateful to have been able to share Al’s story and especially grateful that I had the privilege of meeting him. As usual, readers helped me. Tom Imel and John Tumilty made me aware of Al and Judy Bodwell shared information about her father. I thank them more than I can express.
I wish the story of every World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veteran would be written down for their family and for future generations.