United States Naval ships: USS LST-497 landing ship tank, USS LST-507 landing ship tank (was sunk during Exercise Tiger), USS LSM-636 landing ship medium (special missions), USS LSMR-534 landing ship medium (reserve ship), USS Diomedes (ARB) Aristaeus-class repair ship, USS Pillsbury (DE-133) Edsall-class destroyer escort ship
Medals and awards: World War II Victory Medal, Navy Unit Citation Medal, Korean War Medal
John Bernard Fedyszyn, survivor of USS LST-507, which was sunk in the English Channel during Exercise Tiger.
John Bernard Fedyszyn, U.S. Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve
What began as a top-secret operation to prepare for the June 6 D-Day invasion would end as one of the highest losses ever suffered in combat by the Army and Navy jointly in World War II.
At 0130 hours on the morning of April 28, 1944, eight landing ship tanks (LST) and the lone escort of the British Corvette HMS (her majesty's ship) Azalea were in route to a chosen landing area at Slapson Sands. The area was selected by General Dwight D. Eisenhower because it was similar to the beaches at Utah and Omaha where the main invasion was to take place.
Those eight LSTs were given the name Group 320 and formed a mini convoy and by radio were given the name Convoy T-4. Supporting elements of the 4th and 29th Army infantry, members of the 82nd airborne and the 188th field artillery units were in this convoy and also stationed on the landing beaches waiting for the fictitious landings.
At 0205 hours, the HMS Azalea left the 8 LSTs it was escorting alone in hostile water to perform another unexpected duty. It was a clear night and the eight LSTs were on their own, left unprotected. Under a full moon, the LSTs floated slowly, giving any enemy great silhouettes to make sending them to the bottom of the English Channel a turkey shoot. At 0235 hours on the morning of April 28, a torpedo from a German E-boat hit and sank John's LST-507, sending her directly to the bottom of the English Channel within minutes. At 0239, another torpedo hit and sank LST-531. Explosions and fires lit up the clear evening sky. Then, in six minutes, she also sank to the channel's bottom, taking with her 496 Army personnel. 424 Army soldiers as well as 201 Navy sailors who were later officially listed as killed in action. LST-424 started to radio for help, stating that two LSTs were sunk by German torpedo boats. With the mission being secret, no one knew what the transmission was and who was sending it. Later on, when LST-424 stated that Convoy T-4 was in trouble, some of the high command took notice and realized that the exercise was now a Naval disaster.
As the morning sun rose, it was as if nothing had happened. Higher military officials knew that the operation was part of the master plan for the D-Day invasion. The bodies were starting to wash up on Slapson Beach, and the Army immediately started to pick up and count the bodies to insure that all were accounted for. When 10 bodies were not recovered, reports were sent to the high command that the invasion could be compromised. If an enemy E-boat had picked the lost 10 out of the channel, they could force information out of them as to why they were out in the channel alone. A few hours later, all the 10 army officers were found dead trapped under LST-507.
This operation was kept quiet until after the D-Day invasion. The numbers of those killed in the operation were later counted as the dead killed with the D-Day invasion. Families of the dead were not informed until the Normandy invasion. The living sailors were sworn to secrecy about Exercise Tiger. The sailors and army survivors were never told otherwise even to this day. It wasn't until 35 years later, with the Freedom of Information Act, that the real story of this navy-army disaster was revealed.
Another Dunkirk resident who survived Exercise Tiger was Robert Briggs.
Married: Sept. 5, 1947, Elizabeth (Bentley) at St. Hyacinth's Roman Catholic Church in Dunkirk
Children: Catherine, John, Mary, Susan, Bernadette and Marcia
Grandchildren: Kimberly Jo, Julie, Jennifer, John Robert, Mike, Sarah, Alan, Walter, Matthew and Nicolas
Great-grandchildren: Gerald (JJ), Jordyn Elizabeth, Brandon, Jack, Sara, Abigale, Cooper and Cora Anne
John Bernard Fedyszyn was born on May 20, 1926, to Casmier and Catherine (Swierk) with his two brothers Tony and Stanley and sister Helen (Kussy). He grew up on a farm that was actually within the Dunkirk city limits at 396 Lake Shore Drive East. This farm had more than 1,000 tomato plants, acres of corn and a barn that housed cows, horses and chickens. John as a child was involved with the daily duties of keeping the fields free of weeds in the summer and making sure the animals were fed and watered in the winter months. John had his own horse named Rudy that he loved riding on the First Ward Beach sands.
At age 5 John started school at St. Hyacinth's Catholic School where he attended until his eighth grade year. While there he played basketball and was also an altar boy. High school came, and John was off to Dunkirk's No. 10 Industrial High School. There he attended the machine shop, played basketball and was on the weight lifting team. John stayed in school until his 17th birthday.
On May 20, 1943, after begging his mother, he joined the Navy. Twenty-six days later, around the same time as his class was ending, John headed for navy boot camp at Sampson U.S. Naval Boot Camp, located 12 miles north of Geneva. While in boot camp, the navy decided it was best for John to become a radioman. After graduation, John was given orders to Navy Radioman School at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Here John was trained to operate any Naval radio from ship to shore facilities. After eight weeks of school, John received orders to go to Norfolk Naval Base. Arriving there, John knew that he would be joining the Navy's Atlantic fleet, and he would be a cold water sailor.
Eight weeks passed and John was handed the following orders: report to commanding officer sub ships in Jefferson, Ind., for duty in connection with fitting out the Navy's newest LST numbered as hull number 507 along with all new sailors and many contractors. The group worked 12-hour shifts, getting this new LST ready to sai into harm's way.
In January 1944, LST-507 was ready to join her sister ships of the Atlantic fleet. On Jan. 10, LST-507 was commissioned into the United States Navy and was making her maiden cruise. Going out to sea and entering his first ocean waters was an experience for this young sailor from Dunkirk. Seeing the ocean for his first time, he thought about the fact that his only experience on water was on Dunkirk's First Ward Beach and his early swimming days.
With LST-507 being the newest class LST, she didn't require all the radiomen assigned to her. With rank having its privileges, John was then assigned as a coxswain. This new job came with the responsibilities of keeping daily inspections and ships logs to keep his ship at 100 percent.
In her first convoy to England, the LST-507 was loaded with tanks from stem to stern. Every space was taken for any war item that would fit. Her first crossing went without incident, and after arriving with her first cargo, she saw convoys up and down the English Channel. For the next ten weeks, she kept moving men and supplies.
In preparing for the Normandy invasion, along with other LSTs, the 507 was assigned to Convoy T-4. A few days later, she was gone. John survived the torpedo sinking but woke up to everything he had being lost forever. His home was no longer there! His home was a ship that only served for 109 days. The ship took longer to build than she served. She was nestled on the bottom of the English Channel, and John could tell no one!
After serving on other Naval vessels, John completed his active service duty and attended his reserve duty until his discharge. Later he found employment at the National Gas, which later became Iroquois Gas Co. and then National Fuel. John retired after 34 years of service as a foreman. He then became active in the VFW and became the commander of VFW Post 1017. He also was involved with the gas company's softball team as its manager.
Our country has seen many heroes. Anyone who serves, in my mind, is a hero. In the beginning, no one knows what his job will be and where he will serve. My father, even if he hadn't served, would still be my hero. After he passed, I contacted the Navy for his records and came across a record dated May 5, 1944.
The citation read:
"28 April 1944 served onboard USS LST-507 during a pre-invasion exercise off the coast of southern England. Aboard this date, when LST-507 was sunk as a result of enemy action under the most hazardous conditions and while abandoning his ship, John Bernard Fedyszyn 234-45-23 United States Navy conducted himself in a manner in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval service."
I could not have had a better father. He was always there for me whenever I needed him. I'll never forget the look on his face when I declined to attend Cardinal Mindzenty High School and demanded to go to Dunkirk Industrial High School. In his mind, Cardinal Mindzenty was the better school. The second time was when I came home to get his signature to become a U.S. Marine instead of joining the Navy. I'll never forget the look in his eyes when I left him at the gate of the Buffalo Airport when I was heading for my duty in Vietnam. I will never forget the day I lost him. He served his country, came home and raised a family. He knew everyone, and anywhere we went, people knew and liked him.
I always said that some day I would sit down with my dad and ask him about everything he had done and seen in his life. I always thought that there would always be a tomorrow to do it. I was wrong. This man saw and did so much, and his tomorrow is gone. It would have been so easy to sit down with him, have a few beers and just talk. He did tell me about Exercise Tiger, but that was only after I served in Vietnam.
My dad was always helping someone. He loved to talk but seldom ever about the war. Every now and then with some old timers, you would hear, "That's the way we did it in the Navy" or "That's the Navy way."
He had so much dedication for his country. I now know how war works and how it stays with you each and every day. Little did I know all those years ago what my dad had done. At times I wondered what he was thinking about. It's sad to say but I now know. Too bad it's too late. He will always be my hero and for all this week, he is our hero of the week, my father, John B. Fedyszyn.