"Fateful Enmity" Turns Into Sincere Friendship

by Captain George Duffy

The regular readers of the content of this space know of my experiences in the United States Merchant Marine in World War II. If you are a "first time" visitor, I suggest you first read "The Dreadful Saga of the American Leader and Her Crew". Having digested that, this article will be better understood.

When I came home in 1945, I commenced a search for information on the Michel, and learned that on September 17, 1943, in Japanese waters, she was torpedoed and sunk by the USS Tarpon (SS-175).

Then in May 1947 I was aboard a ship in Hamburg, Germany, and read a newspaper article concerning the war crimes trial there of Hellmuth von Ruckteschell, the Michel's commander. The British had brought him up on a number of charges, found him guilty, and sentenced him to ten years at hard labor.

Subsequently, I learned of two other officer survivors of the Michel - Jurgen Herr and Konrad Hoppe. A number of years later an American author sent me pictures of what was an annual reunion of Michel people. Needless to say, these were "zipped" back to him with the comment, "I am inclined to let them go down their own road".

After all, these men took part in the destruction of my ship and the deaths of eleven of my shipmates. They had nothing to do with our resultant transfer to the custody of the Japanese, but that hardly ingratiated me to the German Navy.

Thirty years after the end of the war, it was in late 1979 to be specific, a circumstance arose that fundamentally changed my attitude. The Boston company for which I was working became the local representative for Hapag-Lloyd, the large German shipping company. Soon thereafter, Hapag-Lloyd inaugurated a service whereby cargo containers from Europe consigned to New England customers were transferred from ocean-going ships at Halifax, Nova Scotia to a smaller "feeder" ship.

This latter vessel called weekly at Portsmouth, NH and Boston where the inbound containers were discharged and export containers loaded to be delivered to the next trans-Atlantic ship in Halifax. The obligation of handling the port details of this operation fell upon me. Once again I was aboard a German ship. Of course, it wasn't the same, and I quickly adjusted my feelings towards Germany and the German people.

Then came a surprise.

William N. Wallace of Wilbraham, MA was, in August 1942, the Third Assistant Engineer in the tanker William F. Humphrey when it fell victim to the Michel. He was one of eleven crew members who eluded capture and sailed for six and a half days before being rescued by a Norwegian freighter.

Curiously, in 1940-41 Bill and I had been cadets together at the Massachusetts Nautical School. One day in 1985, Bill and his wife Irene visited me and my wife Margaret at our home in New Hampshire. He was carrying a letter from the above-mentioned Konrad Hoppe. Konrad closed the letter with the words, "Whenever you see George Duffy, please give him my best regards".

It so happened that Margaret and I had made plans to visit Belgium and Germany within a few weeks. Locating Voerde, the town where Konrad lived, I determined that our schedule would not be disrupted by a brief visit. A letter suggesting a meeting was sent, followed by a confirming telephone call from Belgium. Konrad invited us to stay at his residence, but I demurred, offering acceptance at a later date.

On July 19, 1985 we met. After the greetings and introductions were completed, Konrad picked up from the dining room table and presented to me the following declaration:

Letter to Duffy from Hoppe

What an amazing statement of remorse - and trust! I could have been coming as a trouble-maker or even worse.

That evening we dined as guests of the Hoppes at an expensive restaurant over-looking the Rhine, and in the morning when I asked the owner of the hotel for the bill she indicated that Herr Hoppe had paid in advance.

One promise that Konrad did extract from me was my agreement to attend a future reunion. In 1987, on September 10, exactly forty-five years to the date I first met them, Margaret and I attended the annual Michel reunion. The next year I did it again, accompanied by Bill and Irene Wallace. In 1991 I was in Germany for the maiden voyage of a new ship; Konrad and Louise entertained me for several days. Following that I "made" the 1993, 1995, and 1997 reunions.

Jurgen Herr, William Wallace, Geroge Duffy, Kohnrad Hoppr
Former Oberleutnant zur See Jurgen Herr, Chief Engineer William N. Wallace, Capt. George W. Duffy, and former Kapitanleutnant Konrad Hoppe at the German Navy War Memorial at LaBoe, near Kiel, in September 1988. The submarine is type VIIc/41 U-995 built by Bloehm & Voss, Hamburg, 1943

For some reason, I missed last year's, but the first weekend in September this year will find me in Rendsburg on the Kiel Canal, once more in the company of Konrad and Jurgen and Gustav and Wilhelm and the others for whom the "fateful enmity" has turned into not one, but dozens of most sincere friendships.

Konrad Hoppe and George Duffy
Konrad Hoppe and George Duffy, Rome, 1998

As for Konrad, unfortunately, his Louise passed away in 1996. He moved into a small apartment and continues to travel as they did before her death. In the Fall of 1998 he spent two weeks with us - his first trip to the United States - and he will return for a few days in early November this year.

Could a similar reconciliation take place with any of the Japanese from my Java and Sumatra days? No way! I wouldn't go to Japan if they paid me.

A similar version of this story appeared in The Daily News of Newburyport, Massachusetts

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