Thanks to Andy Fetsko for contributing the following story of his experience with the 31st Signal Heavy Construction Bn. and the Rohna. Andy’s story has been edited slightly.
. . . I entered the U.S. Army Signal Corps at Camp Campbell, Kentucky along with approximately 380 men. The name of the camp reminds me of the rescue ship, Clan Campbell that picked me up in the Mediterranean Sea. To me, this is a coincidence like I had with entering the army and being discharged on the same date of another year.
After the Rohna was bombed some of the men may have succumbed to the cold and “numbing waves”. They were churning and getting colder. After being in the waves and fighting them to stay afloat, the body gets so numb. The numbness continues up into your head and begins to numb even it, and then tiredness and sleep take over. Then a person falls asleep and lets go to drown. I was hanging on to the rope of a lifeboat and this almost happened to me. I couldn’t lift myself into the lifeboat. I was numb from head to toe. I barely had enough strength to poke a man who was sitting down in the lifeboat. Two men pulled me in and I just lay there for a good while to get my bearings… To this day, I don’t know the whereabouts of these two men. After struggling to stand up in a moving up and down boat, I finally managed to climb up the cargo net and was helped over the railing to the deck by a British sailor. There, I stood shaking on deck with the wind blowing and making me even colder. My teeth were chattering and I kept getting colder and my body was shaking too.
Then a British sailor said, “Give that chap a spot of rum.” It was not just a spot, but a canteen full which I sort of gulped down. The sailors gave me a cheer and I began to feel the effects of the rum and I followed a sailor into the cabin to change clothes and by then I didn’t give a damn what would happen. I just wanted to sleep.
So I did.
In the morning, I woke up to a call to get in and be counted. Then we were taken to Phillipeville, North Africa. I kept hearing the name Doolittle’s Hdgs at Phillipeville. We were outfitted and sent by rail to Bizerte in N. Africa. (Ed. Note: and then on to India)
As anywhere else, our guys in the 31st had their moments of sadness and melancholy days, but as already heard everywhere they were true to their name as “rough and ready”. We were a well-oiled machine and worked our darndest to complete every job we were assigned to in the states and overseas. We were their own promoters and bragged about our accomplishments stringing wire on telephone poles over the Ledo-Burma Road and then into China over the Himalayas Mts. Linking the B-29 Air Bases in China, Burma and India.
This was done even though many hazards were encountered and conquered such as rice paddies, snakes, wild animals plus malaria, and other diseases. At the first of the year, the 31st completed setting in the ground telephone (poles) complete with cross arms on the top of the poles and strung with telephone and Teletype wire attached to glass insulators. The number was 6960 poles with a space between them of 180 feet. At the end of the war the total was much greater even over rough terrain. This is why we were rugged individuals and believed in each other, as I did, and joined them to the fullest. It was rough, but we loved the challenge of beating the deadline.
(Editor’s note: According to the official history of the #31st Signal Bn. they set 21,153 poles, strung 9919 miles of wire, and raised 5145 cross arms between March 1944 and August 1945.