Citadel Man in Hamburg’s Ohlsdorf Friedhof

Thanks to the dedicated research efforts of Steve Smith, ’84, it has come to light that there is another Citadel Man permanently interred in a WWII military cemetery in Europe . His name is Charles “Chuck” Prichard Lesesne, and he entered The Citadel in the academic year 1929-1930 as a Cadet Recruit with the Class of 1933. His is an intriguing story. In 1941, Lesesne left the United States, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and became a bomber pilot. Killed in action on March 31, 1945, he now rests in peace in the British Commonwealth military cemetery in Hamburg, Germany.

Lesesne_1933

Courtesy of The Citadel Archives and Museum, Charleston.

[Visit F/L Charles Lesesne’s In Memoriam page]

Born in Orangeburg, South Carolina on March 4, 1911, Chuck grew up in Sumter and then went on to attend The Citadel, in Charleston, and the University of South Carolina, in Columbia. As a journalist during the 1930’s, he first wrote for the Sumter Journal and then joined the editorial staff of the Charlotte Observer. While there, he learned to fly and became the Observer’s aviation reporter.  In 1940, at age 29, he registered for the draft while living and working in Charlotte, North Carolina, but he left his job and country before the United States entered the war to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. [1] [2]

“Throughout his career with the RCAF, Lesesne would have been viewed as an “old man,” after joining at the age of thirty. It seems quite likely that he did all he could to arrange for an overseas posting and the assignment to wartime operations. He was assigned to No. 431 “Allouette” Squadron. This was the RCAF’s largely French speaking squadron and it is likely that Lesesne had learned the language through his Huguenot background.”[3]

On his 22nd mission, Flight Lieutenant Lesesne was killed after the Halifax bomber he was piloting was shot down near Luneburg, Germany. He and his crew bailed out in time, but he died on the ground shortly thereafter. Initially buried in  grave 511 Plot 38 at the Bergedorf military cemetery near Hamburg, his final resting place is Plot 6A  Row D Grave 13, Hamburg Ohlsdorf Friedhof. [4] [5]

Commonwealth war graves at Hamburg Cemetery

Commonwealth war graves at Hamburg Cemetery [6]

There are 3 Commonwealth War Graves plots located within Hamburg Ohlsdorf Cemetery: Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf 1914-1918, Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf 1939-1945, and Hamburg Cemetery Ohlsdorf Post War. These plots are owned and maintained by the CWGC. Within the three plots, there are 708 WWI, 1466 WWII, 378 post-WWII graves, and 14 war graves of other nationalities.[7]

“Since 1995 it’s called Hauptfriedhof Ohlsdorf. Opened in 1877 so far 1.4 million people have been buried there. Currently there are 280,000 burial plots in use. Unlike US cemeteries, the German resting places are not eternal, unless the grave site is considered historically significant, and the community continues to pay for its up-keep. Usually the family of the deceased “leases” the plot for 25-50 years, before the grave is leveled and re-used. At over 1,000 acres in size, Ohlsdorf Cemetery is the second largest in the world. Just the National Cemetery in Calverton on Long Island (New York) is larger. “[8]

When I first heard the news from Steve, I was pleased but also disappointed and frustrated. Disappointed because only two months before, I had stopped in Hamburg where I had the great pleasure to meet a very recently graduated member of the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, Theresa Johansen, ’12. Had I known that there was a fallen Citadel Man so nearby, I would have paid my respects, but I passed through the area unaware. I was frustrated, too, because I should have paid more attention to his uniform in his photo and seen that he had served in a “foreign” service. More important though, I was pleased because another Citadel Man, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the liberation of Europe from the Nazis, is remembered and shall not be forgotten.

Finding and remembering Charles Prichard Lesesne ’33 has only increased my resolve to continue to research, locate, and honor all Citadel Men who have fought and died in Europe and Africa, especially those who are buried or missing “over there”.

/RL

Notes:
[1] Charles Lesesne, Of Sumter, Reported Killed Over Germany, Associated Press, July 17, 1945.
[2] Draft Registration Card for Charles Lesesne, NARA, Ancestry.com
[3] Charles P. “Chuck” Lesesne, A Pilot’s Sacrifice, Canadian Bomber Command Museum
[4] Ibid
[5] Cenotaph at Manning Cemetery, Manning, South Carolina, FindAGrave.com memorial Charles Prichard Lesesne
[6] Photo courtesy of Commonwealth War Graves Commission
[7] CWGC Cemetery Details Hamburg Cemetery
[8] Ohlsdorf Friedhof, Find A Grave.com

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