Throughout the St. Francois County Courthouse are display cases of historical items highlighting the county’s distant past. Curating the displays for several years, Bob Schmidt has been uncovering details about St. Francois County’s notable historical figures since the mid 1990s.
Schmidt’s interests have been wide-ranging, whether it be fallen war hero or a baseball standout from a century ago. His latest research project involves World War II casualty Sgt. Norman L. Rigdon.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Rigdon’s name is prominently displayed in large red letters on Farmington VFW Post 5896 that is named in his honor. Motorists traveling up and down Karsch Boulevard see it all the time either consciously or subconsciously.
Norman Lindell Rigdon was born Oct. 20, 1924, in Esther. He later moved with his parents to Farmington where he finished his education in the schools there. Following graduation, he attended Flat River Junior College (later Mineral Area College) in the fall of 1942 and worked at the local I.G.A. Grocery.
Rigdon entered the service in April 1943, and went on to receive his training at Fort Leonard Wood; Lincoln University in Nebraska through the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP); and Camp (now Fort) Rucker, Alabama.
Private Rigdon was assigned to Company F 262nd Infantry Regiment of the 66th Infantry Division.
In November 1944, then Sgt. Rigdon left Camp Rucker for Camp Shanks, New York. On Nov. 15 he sailed for England on the George Washington, a passenger liner converted to a troop transport ship. In England, Rigdon was stationed at Camp Piddlehinton until departing for France.
At 9 a.m. on Dec. 24, the Leopoldville left Southampton on the nine-hour trip across the English Channel to Cherbourg, France with Rigdon’s division on board. At 5:54 p.m. the German submarine U-486 launched a torpedo at the Leopoldville. Unfortunately, Sgt. Rigdon’s Company F was in the exact location where the torpedo struck. His body was never recovered.
Schmidt provided a case study on the errors committed and geographic conditions that led to the sinking of the Leopoldville.
He explained that the crossing from Southampton to Cherbourg was in a wider area of the channel, necessary because both were deep water harbors required for large troop ships such as the Leopoldville.
“It probably gave the enemy submarines more room to navigate in a larger expanse of water,” Schmidt said. “And perhaps the captain didn’t follow the protocol for zigzagging. One of the rescue vessels had ordered the Leopoldville to drop anchor because they were afraid it would run into some mines in the vicinity.
“An injured vessel could be towed to port where it could be protected and save lives, but by dropping anchor, she couldn’t be moved, so there was a greater loss of life. The Christmas holidays had an effect on the amount of attention given to the situation.
“There were a number of problems with the whole episode that people thought could have been done differently. There was a board of inquiry. There probably was a little more ineptitude than should have been.”
Schmidt noted that the language barriers between allies in the war were a real hindrance in properly transmitting orders and utilizing strategy.
“The captain of the Leopoldville was Belgian and could not speak English,” he said. “His crew were either Belgian or African. Who knows what languages they spoke.”
Displayed at the VFW Post in Farmington are two telegrams received by Rigdon’s mother and father — ones that the parents of World War II troops dreaded to see.
“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Sergeant Norman L Rigdon has been reported missing in action since Twenty Five December in European Area. If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified. Dunlop acting the Adjutant General.”
then there was the second one.
“The Secretary of War asks that I assure you of his deep sympathy in the loss of your son Sergeant Norman L Rigdon who was previously reported missing in action. Report now received states he was killed in action Twenty Five December in European Theater. Confirming letter follows. The Adjutant General.”
According to the honorstates.org website, Rigdon is memorialized at Tablets of the Missing at Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France, an American Battle Monuments Commission location.
Rigdon was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for military merit and for wounds received in action resulting in his death. The telegrams, Purple Heart medal and other related items are on display in the Norman L. Rigdon Post 5896 VFW Hall in Farmington.
For more information contact Bob Schmidt at email@example.com
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.