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Lost son of the Texas Hot family finally came home

Charles Raptis’ marker in Woodlawn Cemetery of Wellsville.


By KATHRYN ROSS

In the early morning hours of April 28, 1944, a young Wellsville man lost his life in the cold water of the English Channel when his ship sunk after being struck by a German torpedo.

Charles George Raptis

The USS LST-507 (Landing Ship Tank) with its full complement of personnel, approximately 130 officers and enlisted men and more than 70 U.S. Army personnel, trucks, tanks and ammunition was participating in Exercise Tiger, a pre-D-Day training mission off the coast of England in April 1944. Aboard was 19-year-old Charles George Raptis, who had been on active duty for a little over seven months. A pharmacist’s mate 2nd class, he was the oldest son of Angeline and George Raptis, one of the founders of the Texas Hot. He left behind two sisters and his teenage brother, Jim Raptis.

The ship had joined the end of the convoy as one of three LSTs taking part in Exercise Tiger. That night, the convoy was circling Lyme Bay, located between Plymouth and Southhampton. According to Lt. James F. Murdock, stationed on the ship, “Charles was at his station, one of the emergency dressing rooms, performing his duty.”

Lt. Eugene E. Eckstam, a medical officer on LST-507 that night, recalled, “General Quarters rudely aroused us about (1:30 a.m.). I remember hearing gunfire and saying they had better watch where they were shooting, or someone would get hurt.”

The convoy had been attacked by a group of German E-Boats — small, fast torpedo boats, also armed with small cannon, that were designed to maneuver at speeds up to 48 knots to harass and destroy enemy shipping. LST-507 was the first to be hit by a torpedo at 2:03 a.m.

Eckstam said, “At 0203 I was stupidly trying to go topside to see what was going on and suddenly ‘BOOM!’ There was a horrendous noise accompanied by the sound of crunching metal and dust everywhere. The lights went out and I was thrust violently in the air to land on the steel deck on my knees.

“Until the fire got so hot, we were forced to leave the ship at 0230 – Climbing down a cargo net, I settled into the 42-degree F. water – we watched the most spectacular fireworks ever. Gas cans and ammunition exploding and the enormous fire blazing only a few yards away are sights forever etched in my memory.”

Almost five months later, Murdock informed the family, “(Charles) left the ship when it was abandoned and was not seen again until his body was taken from the water later that day.”

Both the dead and survivors were taken to Portland. The dead went on to Brookwood Cemetery near London, where they were buried individually.

Of the 700 estimated U.S. Army and Navy fatalities during Exercise Tiger, 202 were from the sinking of LST-507.

The following month, two weeks after the action, and a little more than three weeks before D-Day, the Raptis family was informed by the Department of the Navy that their eldest son had been killed in action and buried in Allied territory.

In the close-knit village of Wellsville where Charles grew up on Madison Street, the news quickly passed. Friends at the high school where he had attended classes less than a year earlier were saddened. He had been a popular student, with his prowess underneath the basketball hoop and on the gridiron. His writing graced the pages of the school newspaper. His teachers extolled his virtues. His peers elected him repeatedly to the school government. He graduated with his class in June 1943 and a few months later was inducted into the Navy in Buffalo.

Months later the family would learn the details. On Oct. 18, 1944, just 16 days after he would have turned 20 years old, the Raptis family officially learned from the War Department that Charles had been killed in action and a letter was received from one of his commanding officers.

He would posthumously receive a Purple Heart.

World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945. Three years later, the remains of Ph-M Charles G. Raptis, returned to his hometown and were reinterred on July 29, 1948.

Upon his arrival on the 11 o’clock train, his body in a flag-draped casket was taken by an escort from the Morrison Hayes Post 702 American Legion to the Raptis home. There a private prayer service was conducted the following day. Six pallbearers, four members of a military color guard, and a bugler and nine members of a Legion rifle squad were part of the military funeral.

LST 507 was a U.S. Navy landing ship that was sunk in April 1944 by a German torpedo in the English Channel, just weeks before D-Day.

Charles was a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church, a Greek Orthodox and a member of the Sons of Pericles, a Greek American organization. Burial was in Woodlawn Cemetery. At the time, his remains were only the fourth to be returned from burial in the European Theater.

Today, an official Annual Memorial Service for Exercise Tiger is held on the nearest Sunday in April to the 28th, at the Tank Memorial Site in South Devon, Torcross, Slapton Sands, England and is conducted by The Royal Tank Regiment Association, Plymouth Branch. An 80th anniversary memorial service is being planned for April 28, 2024.

The wreck of the LST 507 lies at a depth of 50 meters at 50 degree 27.15’N by 2 degrees 43.55’W in Lyme Bay and is a popular location for wreck diving.