Fifty seven years after that devastating November day in 1943 the Congress of the United States recognized and gave honor to all who were directly and indirectly involved in the Rohna disaster.
For years there had been many individual but unsuccessful and frustrated efforts to achieve governmental acknowledgement and recognition of that incident. Many who tried were left with a deep sense of disappointment, anger and a feeling of hopelessness. Families of casualties were given next to nothing with which to have closure on their grief over the loss of their loved ones. Survivors were saddled with traumatic memories haunting their sleep for years afterward, nightmares without ending. Rescuers, especially those crewmen of the USS Pioneer went decades without official acknowledgement of the amazing feat they performed, all the while putting their own lives at peril.
A breakthrough finally occurred when in early 2000 an Association member met with Congressman Jack Metcalf of Washington State along with his chief of staff; and his special assistant, specifically concerned with Veteran’s Affairs. A complete briefing about the Rohna incident, written and oral, was provided to Congressman Metcalf. Moved by what he heard and learned, Metcalf and his staff agreed to take positive action that would finally provide United States Government recognition of the event and the people who were involved in it. Congressman Metcalf committed to delivering a speech about this incident on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives; and to propose, sponsor and introduce a Resolution, later to be known as House Concurrent Resolution # 408.
In the months that followed intense activity and communication took place; much with other legislators such as Senators Murray and Gorton of Washington State, Senator Baucus (Montana) and various Congressional staffers to obtain co-sponsors of the Resolution. And there were also important communications with British counterparts to verify important information to avoid potential blindsiding at some critical moment later on.
Eventually, on the prompting and “go ahead” from Metcalf’s office, the Association became involved in this effort as a whole unit. Following the reunion of the Rohna Survivors Memorial Association in San Antonio, Texas in May, 2000 there was a change. No longer were individual efforts relied upon to achieve goals of recognition. Instead, a magnificent collective effort began, and it worked. A carefully orchestrated letter writing campaign was initiated.
Members of the Association, under the guidance of Metcalf’s staffers and spearheaded by Association member Jim Bennett and then-President Robert Brewer, survivors, NOKS, rescuers, others in Convoy KMF-26 and friends and relatives worked together pooling their energy and efforts in a grand letter writing, e-mail sending and telephoning campaign to the Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees of Congress and to the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen insisting on United States Government acknowledgement and recognition of the Rohna disaster and the people involved.
At the same time, Congressman Jack Metcalf of Washington State fulfilled his promise to deliver a speech entitled, “Remembering the Sinking of The HMT Rohna” on the floor of the House of Representatives on September 12, 2000. This speech was then entered into the Congressional Record.
On October 10, 2000 a Resolution (House Concurrent Resolution # 408), authored and introduced by Congressman Metcalf, was voted on in the House of Representatives and passed unanimously. Much of the credit for the success of this effort was due to the lobbying efforts of the members of the Association and their supporters.
On October 27, 2000 after a frantic race against time (Congress had been scheduled to adjourn for weeks), the Senate of the United States voted with Unanimous Consent to pass House Concurrent Resolution 408. This was accomplished with the Special help of Senator Max Baucus of Montana, Senator Patti Murray of Washington State and Senator Slade Gorton also of Washington State. Senator Gorton’s office took the initiative to work the measure through the various steps and procedures in order to bring it to the Senate for vote.
It was a clean sweep. The House of Representatives, with the Senate concurring has taken the Rohna disaster of fifty seven years ago and made it a part of United States history. And the participants, both living and dead, have been given their due.
View the full text of Resolution 408, in which the Congress of the United States recognized and gave honor to all who were directly and indirectly involved in the Rohna disaster.
View the full text of the speech delivered by Congressman Jack Metcalf of Washington State entitled,”Remembering the Sinking of The HMT Rohna” on the floor of the House of Representatives on September 12, 2000.