World War II


RAYMOND DOWNS JR. of Quincy, Massachusetts, was eight years old when, on May 19, 1942, a U-boat torpedoed his ship in the Gulf of Mexico, about 40 miles southwest of New Orleans. He and his father Raymond Sr., mother Ina, and sister Lucille were aboard the freighter SS Heredia, heading home from South America, where Ray Sr. had worked for the United Fruit Company. All four survived, but 36 others perished. Today, Ray, 84, still works every day in the insurance business, as he has for nearly 60 years. With a soft South Texan drawl and friendly manner, he easily recalls that terrible night—chronicled in the 2016 book So Close to Home: A True Story of an American Family’s Fight for Survival during World War II by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary—though he occasionally chokes up when he thinks about what could have happened.

How did you end up on a freighter in the Gulf

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