Born: July 4, 1923
Hometown: Easton, PA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: December 2, 1943 / Bari, Italy
Date / Place of burial: December 2, 1943 / Lost at
Sea – Bari, Italy
Francis B. Tone signed on as Engine Cadet aboard the SS Samuel J. Tilden on July 14,
1943 at New York, New York shortly before the ship sailed for Palermo, Sicily in convoy
UGS-15. After arrival in Sicily the ship was assigned to “shuttle” service between Allied
ports in North Africa and Italy. The vessel generally traveled in a convoy of 70 to 100
ships. On the vessel’s last run, however, she traveled between Augusta, Sicily, and
Bari, Italy, in a convoy of only three ships and a single armed British trawler. After
stopping at Tarranto, Italy to pick up about 300 military passengers and a cargo of
gasoline, ammunition and hospital units, the Samuel J. Tilden sailed for Bari, Italy.
arriving on the evening of December 2, 1943.
Upon its arrival at Bari the Samuel J. Tilden was anchored just outside of the port
waiting for a pilot to board the ship and enter the harbor. At the time, a shore
searchlight operated by British port control authorities was playing on the vessel to
guide the pilot boat to the ship. Under the fierce glare of the searchlight (which was not
extinguished until seven minutes after the air raid began), the vessel was easy prey for
the large force of German bombers that surprised the defenses of Bari. The
catastrophic results of this attack is known as the “Little Pearl Harbor”.
Cadet-Midshipman Robert Donnelly, who survived the attack, later described the events
of that evening in his a report on the loss of the SS Samuel J. Tilden.
“Approximately five minutes after the first flares were dropped, a bomb was
dropped through the fiddely hatch, just aft of the stack. This bomb
completely demolished the engine room where the writer was on duty.
The concussion blew the writer up to the next deck where he lay for
fifteen minutes. The rest of the men on duty in the engine room, including
the First Assistant Engineer, Second Assistant, Third Assistant, two oilers
and two firemen, are all believed to be lost. As the writer lay on the upper
deck unconscious, another bomb hit on the starboard side amidships and
the vessel began burning fiercely.”
It is not known precisely how or where Cadet-Midshipman Francis Tone was when he
died, but according to Donnelly’s report,
“The writer did not see Cadet-Midshipman Francis B. Tone, but it is
believed that he was killed in the engine room when it was struck by the
first bomb. He is classed as missing in action.”
The ship’s #3 lifeboat was destroyed in the explosion of the first bomb and subsequent
strafing of the ship by German bombers. The second bomb reported by Donnelly set
the ship on fire, first forward and then aft which caused the ammunition magazine in the
stern to explode. The crew and passengers of the Samuel J. Tilden began abandoning
ship after the attack was over in the remaining life rafts and lifeboats. Two boats were
able to reach shore, while others were towed by harbor launches. Casualties included
10 of the 41 man crew of the Samuel J. Tilden, including Cadet-Midshipman Francis
Tone, and 14 passengers.
Cadet-Midshipman Francis B. Tone was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone
Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Francis B. “Frank” Tone was the second Gerald L. Tone and Florence Young
Tone five sons and one daughter. Frank’s older brother, Gerald, graduated
from Kings Point in 1944. Frank’s younger siblings were his little sister, Mary Jane, and
brothers William, Donald and Philip. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Gerald L. Tone was employed as an Electrician. Known as “Fritz” to his friends, Francis Tone attended
Easton High School, graduating in the class of 1942. He was an excellent basketball
player, a leader among his friends, and an outgoing and well-respected young man.
. In the months before his death, Cadet Tone (who signed his letters as
either Fritz or Frank), wrote several letters home to his parents, asking them to look
after his girlfriend Winnie. The tone of his letters was upbeat, but also reflects the
frustrations that many young men felt at being so far from family and friends.
September 16, 1943
How is everybody at home. I hope you are all well. I am
doing OK, except that I miss everyone at home, especially
Winnie. And I am anxious to get back. We are at a port
somewhere in Sicily. I am hoping to get back within a month.
Although we may get shuttle runs. That will mean we won’t
get back for quite a while….
Mother and Dad I must ask you to do me a favor. It may be a
long time before I will get back. If you will invite Winnie over
to the house often. And see that she is still waiting for me
when I get back. You will be doing me a big favor. I may be
asking for a terrible lot. But I know I can depend on you. You
know how much Winnie means to me.
I’ll say so long now. I’ll write as often as I can. May God
Bless all of you. Hoping to see you soon. With love, Fritz.”