A 19-year-old farm boy from Lucedale who died in World War II will be remembered Nov. 9 during a special cermony at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Perkinson campus.
Alton Howell was attending Perkinston Agricultural High School and Junior College (now MGCCC) in Perkinston when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He went through basic training in the spring of 1944 and shipped to England to help finish the war in Europe.
On Dec. 24, 1944, he and 2,234 other troops boarded the Belgian troopship SS Leopoldville to cross the English Channel to Cherbourg, France, to serve as reinforcements for what would later be named the Battle of the Bulge. Because of high casualties, reinforcements were needed especially in parts of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
Just five and a half miles off the coast of France, a German submarine torpedoed the Leopoldville, just before 6 p.m. That night, 763 American troops died, many of them when the torpedo hit the ship, others trapped inside the ship or crushed between ships being pushed back and forth in the rough waters of the Channel.
Howell was among the dead, along with two other young men from the Coast: Robert S. Byrd of Ocean Springs and Rufus B. Winstead of Pass Christian. Altogether, 22 troops from Mississippi died aboard the Leopoldville.
The Howell family learned about the Leopoldville when a telegram arrived in March 1945, but it stated Alton was missing in action. Several years later, the family learned he had died in the attack.
On Nov. 9, Alton Howell’s baby sister, Dot Dement, will attend the special ceremony, which starts at 3:45 p.m., at Gregory War Memorial Chapel on the Perkinston campus. The chapel, a World War II-era building brought to the campus in 1947 from the Seabee Base in Gulfport, serves as a memorial to the college’s dead from the war. Altogether, one teacher and 33 MGCCC students died in the war.
The ceremony will be held in memory of all World War II veterans.
“I knew a lot about Alton from what my parents have told us and what my older brothers and sisters have said,” said Dement, the youngest of 15 children in her family. Alton Howell, second oldest, died shortly before she was born. “He worked hard, helping Mama and Daddy as much as possible. There wasn’t a lot of money in those days, so he did what he could to bring money home. When he went to Perk, he stayed at the campus during the week and milked cows at their dairy to pay for his education.”