Article written about Thomas Glynn in The Cape Gazette Dec 26th 2001.
Glynn’s group sunk in secret World War II mission
By Helen McCaffrey, Staff Writer on The Cape Gazette.
In Cape May County, there is a good possibility that your next-door neighbor is a hero in the truest sense of the word. Thomas Glynn of Villas is one such example.
They fought in different wars and over a generation apart, but they share a common spirit of patriotism and devotion to duty.
Glynn was a 17-year-old city boy living in Philadelphia in September 1943 when he enlisted, with his parents’ permission, in the Navy to defend his country during World War II.
Living near the Philadelphia Naval Base while growing up, he had always planned to join, but the immediacy of the threat posed by the global conflict motivated him to sign up as soon as they would take him, even so his parents had to initial the papers for him to serve.
He was the oldest of nine children of hard-working Irish Catholic parents and attended St. Edmond’s school with another local hero, Joe Moke, who is present commander of the Townbank VFW.
He was sent to Sampson, N.Y. to the naval training station and then shipped out to England to serve aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank).
LSTs were amphibious landing craft used to transport troops to assault-ready landings on beaches. The crews were Navy but the troops transported were either Army units or Marines. The LSTs were not named but designated by number.
Glynn served on the LST 289, but not for very long. “I was only on the ship a month and a half. I had no battle station (which meant he did not carry a gun). I was a messenger,” he said. He then journeyed back to the night of April 28, 1944.
Glynn recalls every detail of the night they were hit, still fresh in his mind.
In preparation for the D-Day Invasion, the military planners designed a practice invasion, which they called ‘Exercise Tiger’.
It was top secret and involved all the branches of the armed services as well as those of the Allies. More than 30,000 men were involved in the maneuver.
Glynn was traveling as part of an LST group that formed a convoy transporting elements of the Fourth and 29th Infantry, 82nd Airborne, the 3206 Quartermaster Co. 1st Engineer’s Special Brigade and the 188th Field Artillery to a beach called Slapton Sands, which had similar topography to that of the landing areas at Normandy and Omaha Beach[sic – this should read Utah Beach].
“We had just left (port),” recalled Glynn. “I was on watch at 1:30 a.m.”
Five minutes later, nine German Navy ‘E’ boats attacked in the blackness of the choppy channel. The LST 499 radioed for help. A few minutes later the LST 515 sent this message ‘E boat attack.’
Because of the top-secret nature of the exercise, there was a delay in responding because Naval Command was not awarae that the boats were out there.
One after the other, the LSTs were hit – 507, 531, 496, 515, 511, 499 and Glynn’s own 289. [sic – only 507, 531 and 289 were hit]
“We tried to evade but the German boats were too fast,” remembered the Naval veteran. He was sent by the captain to wake everyone up.
“Some of the guys didn’t believe me when I told them to get up, we were being attacked,” recalled Glynn. Those guys did not make it.
He then told how he ran up on the bridge to speak to the captain. He left just in time to see an enemy shell demolish it. There is not much more he recounted about that night after that, except that the “289 fought back and limped home,” even after taking a torpedo hit in her stern.
The mast remained intact and the 9-by-16-foot flag continued to fly through the fight. “It gave me courage to see it still there,” said Glynn.
The 289 lost 13 and suffered many wounded, but the 507 and the 531 were sunk. Because the LSTs were troop transports, most of the casualties were Army. LST 531 sank in six minutes, and of the 496 aboard, 424 never made in. Many on that ship were from Missouri, and 201 of them died in the chilly April waters.
The 289 docked in Dartmouth, England, that night and Glynn and the other survivors were taken to Quonset huts. They were debriefed and told they were forbidden to speak of the events of that night under penalty of being court-martialled.
“We were told, ‘What happened last night didn’t happen,’ because they didn’t want news of the invasion getting out,” remembered Glynn.
After that night, Navy sailor Thomas Glynn was never on a ship again. For the duration of the war, he slugged across Europe with the US Army, ferrying troops across from Normandy to Bremmerhaven. “I spent most of my service in the Army,” laughed the ex-Navy man.
After the war he returned hom to Philadelphia and married Dorothy, who he had known since she was 15 years old, and settled down to raise three children.
Years later he and a comrade in arms, Jim Schatzmann, wanted to find out more about that fateful night but it was still classified. So they applied to find out under the Freedom of Information Act. They located their old commander, Harry Mettler in a nursing home in Ohio. He had a stroke and could barely move, but when he saw the former sailors of LST 289, he teared-up and said “My boys, my boys.”
The former commander had the presence of mind to save the ship’s flag, and after he retired he flew it every April 28 in memory of the attack. He willed it to Glynn. It is kept in safe keeping in New Bedford, Mass., and on April 28, 1995, 51 years after the attack, it flew on a commissioned ship of the US Navy, the USS La Moure County LST 1194.
In December it presided over the graduation at the Coast Guard training center in Cape May and later at a ceremony at the Veterans Cemetery in Cape May Court House.
He learned something else as well. Many years after the nighttime assault by the German E boats, the captain of one of those boats wrote a letter to the US commander. In it he asked what happened that night and told of his sadness over the consequences of his actions. “I don’t hold nothing against him or his men. They were fighting for their country like I was fighting for mine. It’s just a shame anybody has to fight,” declared Glynn.
The retired truck driver continued his search for former comrades. “I finally found 40-some people,” said Glynn.
Glynn thinks there is something to be learned by today’s young people from previous conflicts. “We learned a lot. There’s no country like it in the world. We’re very fortunate to be here,” he ended.