War comes home to a small town.
Constant television coverage brings news to us quickly. Not so in past wars. In those days news of what was happening came home slowly, if at all. Let me give you an example. On 3 April 1944, the Paul Hamilton sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, for Italy via Bizerte, Tunisia, in a Convoy UGS-38. Commissioned in 1942, she was 441 feet, seven inches long and displaced 14,250 tons of water fully loaded. In addition to her load of U.S. Army Air Corps personnel, she carried a cargo of high explosives and bombs. She was on her fifth voyage to the war zone. Approximately 30 miles off the Coast of Cape Bengut, Algiers, in the Mediterranean Sea, the convoy was attack. It was near sunset on April 20. The 23 German JU-88s dive-bombers came in low and the men on the bridge of the British tanker, Athelchie, watched as it went by. The gunners aboard the Athelchie set the JU-88 on fire, but the aircraft had launched its torpedo less than 150 feet from the SS Paul Hamilton. Immediately after the torpedo hit the Hamilton, a violent explosion threw debris and dense black smoke high in the air.
Flames from the blast reached almost 1,000 feet into the air. The remnants of the ship sank in thirty seconds. On board were 8 officers, 39 crew-men, 29 armed guards, and 504 troops. When the smoke cleared, there was no sign of the ship. The sinking of the SS Paul Hamilton became one of the most costly Liberty Ship disasters, in terms of human life, in all of World War II. The remains of only one individual, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Austin A. Anderle, were recovered. The remains of 577 were declared “non-recoverable.” Think of all the families and all of the hometowns affected by just this one incident. It was weeks later that a Colon Express article appeared stating that one of our own was missing in action. Gordon Benjamin Culp was 24 years old. He had graduated from Colon High School in the spring of 1937 and operated a barbershop before going off to join the army. Gordon was one of those 504 troops being transported to the war zone aboard the Paul Hamilton. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Scott Culp who lived west of Leonidas. His wife, Evelyn Prentke Culp and three year-old daughter, Wanda Lee, lived with his parents at the time.