Born: June 5, 1920
Hometown: Elmhurst, NY
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: September 19, 1942 / 11-
Date / Place of burial: September 19, 1942 / Lost at
Sea – 11-20N, 58-50W
Chester E. Klein signed on as Engine Cadet aboard the MS Wichita on May 1 at New
Orleans, LA. He had been assigned to the MS Blenheim from the Cadet School in New
Orleans, but was abruptly transferred to the Wichita on April 30. He was joined on May
20 by recent graduate Ceslaus (Chester) Maciorowski, who signed on as Third
Assistant Engineer. The next day Cadet-Midshipman Robert J. Bole signed on as Deck
Cadet. The MS Wichita was a World War I-era “Hog Islander” converted from steam
turbine to diesel propulsion in 1929. The ship sailed for Africa in late May, calling at
several ports before sailing for the U.S. from Takoradi, Ghana.
The Wichita sailed from Takoradi on September 1, 1942, without any escort, bound for
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands loaded with general cargo. According to German Navy
records the Wichita was located and attacked by U-516 on the morning of September
19, 1942, when the Wichita was about 300 miles east of Barbados. The submarine’s
initial attack was unsuccessful. Re-positioning itself, U-516 managed to put a torpedo
into the Wichita between the foremast and the bridge despite the old ship’s desperate
zig-zagging maneuvers at its full speed of about 11 knots. The Wichita sank in less
than a minute with no survivors.
The U-516’s log book states that the submarine surfaced and searched the area but
found neither survivors nor lifeboats. Cadet-Midshipmen Chester E. Klein, Robert J.
Bole, III and Third Assistant Engineer Ceslau Maciorowski all died in the attack.
Cadet-Midshipman Chester E. Klein was posthumously awarded the Mariner’s Medal,
Combat Bar-with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential
Chester (Chet) Edward Klein was the oldest of Dr. Henry Klein and Lucy Ermold Klein’s two children and their only son. His little sister, Lucy, also known as “Sis,” was one year younger. When Chet and Sis were young teenagers the Klein family moved to Beacon, New York, to be closer to the families of Lucy’s father, George, and uncle Edward Ermold, owners of successful manufacturing businesses. Chet, Sis, and John Ermold, a cousin with whom they were close, spent much time on Edward’s Hudson River based yacht before the war. Chet and Sis attended Newtown High School in Elmhurst, NY.
Chet attended Middlebury College for one year after graduating from high school. However, according to his family, the next year Chet entered Pratt Institute of Technology to prepare him for his responsibilities running the Ermold family manufacturing businesses. However, after entering Pratt Chet applied for and was accepted to the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps and reported for training at the New Orleans, LA Cadet School. Letters to his family reveal that he enjoyed his Merchant Marine training and life.
In his last letters Chet said he was looking forward to a short trip of three months and then to return for shore school for ten months after which he would seek active duty in the Navy.
According to Lucy’s son, Mark Lofgren, in her last days his mother frequently asked for
“Chet” and that being told she would meet him soon eased her last days.