Congressional Recognition

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.

Jack Metcalf (November 30, 1927 – March 15, 2007) served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001.

A Breakthrough

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.

 

Joint Efforts Produce Results

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.

Remembering The Sinking Of The HMT Rohna - Speech by Jeff Metcalf

September 12, 2000 [Page: H7493-4] GPO’s PDF

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Washington (Mr. Metcalf) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. METCALF. Mr. Speaker, the greatest naval disaster in the United States during World War II was the sinking of the USS Arizona. 1,177 were killed.

The Arizona has been memorialized in the national consciousness.

On November 26, 1943, however, a loss of American military personnel of almost identical magnitude occurred when the British troop transport ship, the HMT Rohna, was sunk by a radio-controlled rocket-boosted bomb launched from a German bomber off the coast of North Africa. By the next day, 1,015 American troops and more than 100 British and Allied officers and crewmen had perished.

The U.S. troops aboard the Rohna have been largely forgotten by their country. I only learned of this disaster because a neighbor of mine on Whidbey Island had a brother who was lost when the Rohna was sunk. He made me aware of the issue and his book about the sinking of the Rohna.

It is a grim story. Hundreds died when the German missile struck. The majority, however, died from exposure and drowning when darkness and rough seas limited the rescue efforts. Less than half, over 900, survived, which was less than half. American, British and French rescue workers worked valiantly to save those Rohna passengers and crew who made it off the ship and into the ocean. The USS Pioneer picked up two-thirds of all those that were saved, 606 GIs. Many of those in the water had to endure hours of chilling temperatures before being picked up. As the evening moved into the middle of the night and the early morning hours, some men were speechless with the cold. Many died deaths of unbelievable agony.

The United States Government had not properly acknowledged this event.

Because inadequate records were kept, some survivors had to fight for years to prove that the Rohna even existed, let alone that survivors might be due some recognition.

Finally, at a 1996 memorial dedication honoring the Americans who died on the Rohna, survivor John Fievet spoke the following words:

“I dedicate this memorial to the memory of those who fell in the service of our country. I dedicate it in the names of those who offered their lives that justice, freedom and democracy might survive to be the victorious ideals of the world. The lives of those who made the supreme sacrifice are glorious before us. Their deeds are an inspiration. As they served America in the time of war, yielding their last full measure of devotion, may we serve America in time of peace. I dedicate this monument to them, and with it, I dedicate this society to the faithful service of our country and the preservation of the memory of those who died, that liberty might live.

The men who gave their lives for their country on board this ship were heroes who deserve to be recognized and not forgotten. Parents of virtually all of them died without learning how their sons had died, because this was something that was not made public. Their brothers and sisters, wives and children need to hear their story. All Americans need to learn of their bravery and sacrifice. Not only do the victims of the tragic sinking need to be honored, but also their comrades, who survived, to be sent on to the Burma-India-China theater of the war and there to serve valiantly.

On November 11, 1993, Charles Osgood featured the Rohna story on his widespread radio program. For the first time, in 1993, a broad cross-section of America got to hear the story of some of its unknown warriors. Osgood revisited the subject two weeks later. According to Osgood, `It is not that we forgot, it is just that we never knew.’

Americans need to know about the Rohna. They need to know about the men, who died on board, sacrificing their lives in the fight against tyranny.

Americans need to know, and certainly must never forget.”

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Concurrent Resolution 408

Passed the House of representatives October 10, 2000
Passed the U.S. Senate by Unanimous Consent October 27, 2000

Whereas on November 26, 1943, a German bomber off the coast of North Africa sunk the British transport HMT ROHNA with a radio controlled, rocket-boosted bomb;

Whereas 1,015 United States service members and more than 100 British and Allied officers and crewmen perished as a result of the attack;

Whereas hundreds died immediately when the bomb struck and hundreds more died when darkness and rough seas limited rescue efforts;

Whereas many families still do not know the circumstances of the deaths of loved ones who died as a result of the attack;

Whereas more than 900 United States service members survived the attack under extremely adverse circumstances;

Whereas United States, British, and French rescuers worked valiantly to save the passengers and crew who made it off the HMT ROHNA into the sea;

Whereas one United States ship, the USS PIONEER, picked up many of those who were saved;

Whereas because of inadequate record keeping, some survivors of the attack struggled for years to verify the details of the sinking of the HMT ROHNA;

Whereas the men who died as a result of the attack on the HMT ROHNA have been largely forgotten by the Nation and;

Whereas the Congress and the people of the United States have never
recognized the bravery and sacrifice of the United States service members who died as a result of the sinking of the HMT ROHNA or the United States service members who survived the sinking and continued to serve the Nation valiantly abroad during the war:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress expresses appreciation for–

(1) the United States service members who died in the sinking of the HMT ROHNA, for the heroic sacrifice they made for freedom and the defense of the Nation;
(2) the United States service members who survived the sinking of the HMT ROHNA, for their bravery in the face of disaster and their subsequent service during the war on behalf of the Nation;
(3) the families of all of these service members; and
(4) the United States, British, and French rescuers, especially the crew of the USS PIONEER, who endangered their lives to save the passengers and crew of the HMT ROHNA.