‘The brave 749’: Town honors US servicemembers involved in tragic Exercise Tiger
By KIERNAN DUNLOP | The (New Bedford, Mass.) Standard-Times | Published: April 28, 2019
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — On a cold blustery Saturday a crowd gathered at Fort Taber to commemorate the 75th anniversary of an event that was almost lost to history. The event, known as Exercise Tiger, was a World War II training operation off the coast of England that ended in tragedy when tank landing ships full of American soldiers were discovered and ambushed by German E-boats.
What was supposed to be a rehearsal for the D-Day invasion became an active combat mission that cost 749 American servicemen their lives.
The truth of the unexpected battle was shrouded in secrecy because, according to Peter Clark, chairman of the Exercise Tiger Service, of “fear of the enemy … knowing what it had accomplished.”
The late Joseph Theodore had helped bring the truth of that day out of the shadows in New Bedford 30 years ago when he formed the Exercise Tiger Memorial Committee and created the first monument in the U.S. honoring the soldiers and sailors involved.
Saturday’s event featured politicians and family members of Exercise Tiger servicemembers who spoke about the importance of the mission of Exercise Tiger and of the sacrifices military men and women make for our country.
“Those men deserve our highest reverence, not only for their own sake — and their family’s, of course — but also for those who are serving now,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell to the crowd of more than 50. “We need to convey to them that what they’re doing matters.”
Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., pointed out that without Exercise Tiger, “we would not have been successful” on D-Day.
“The things that weren’t successful there would make us successful later,” said Keating, who presented a citation to the Exercise Tiger Memorial Committee for the 75th anniversary.
State Rep. Tony Cabral, who also presented a citation, said members of the military “make sure we can enjoy every day in this great country of ours.”
Other politicians in attendance included City Councilors Ian Abreu, Naomi Carney, Brian Gomes, and Brad Markey and State Rep. Christopher Hendrix.
The day’s events were particularly solemn because two survivors of Exercise Tiger who would have attended the event, Vincent Riccardi and Winfred Polzin, passed away in the months leading up to it.
Winifred Polzin’s son-in-law, Paul Dorow, said that in the months before he died, Polzin told him the thing he was most proud of in his life was his military service.
“I was kind of hoping he could be here for the 75th anniversary, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Dorow.
Vincent Ricardi Jr. said how much it meant to him that New Bedford was honoring veterans like his father, who were “overlooked” due to the secrecy of Exercise Tiger.
“Our family will always be grateful to the city of New Bedford for honoring his service and for honoring the service of the brave 749,” said John Souza on behalf of his uncle, New Bedford native Louis Souza.
All the family members of Exercise Tiger servicemembers were given a medals of valor and citations from the Exercise Tiger Memorial Committee.
The event ended with a rifle salute and the laying of a memorial wreath.
John Tomawski attended the event with his son. He said he did so “to share it with the younger generation so they realize freedom isn’t free.”