Talk about the USS Arizona, and many people remember the massive loss of life. Its 1,177 sailors lost were among the 2,403 U.S. citizens killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Mention the HMT Rohna and all you’ll get are blank stares.
Blank stares, even though 1,138 men died during the Rohna’s Nov. 26, 1943, sinking in the Mediterranean by a German Luftwaffe glide bomb off the coast of Algeria. Nearly as many died as on the Arizona.
While the 461-foot Rohna was a British transport ship, 1,015 Americans — some of them from Connecticut — were among the dead that day. It was the largest loss of U.S. servicemen at sea in World War II, says Michael Walsh, past president of the Rohna Survivors Memorial Association, whose stepfather served on the USS Pioneer, one of five ships that rescued about 1,000 survivors of the Rohna.
But for reasons that include the fact that it was one of the first successful uses by the Nazis of radio-guided glide bombs during World War II, the Rohna’s sinking was quickly classified by the British and U.S. governments. For years, many relatives of those lost on the Rohna weren’t even told how they died — and generations of kids grew up knowing only that their father or uncle or other relative “was lost in the war.”
“There were a lot of relatives who never knew what happened to their loved ones,” says Walsh, a Newport, Rhode Island, author and video producer who has recorded 38 hours of the Rohna’s survivors — many of whom have since died — telling their stories.
Even now, the story “is not well known,” says Walsh, who has written two books on the Rohna — Rohna Memories and Rohna Memories II. So when the 75th anniversary of the Rohna’s sinking rolls around on Nov. 26, there is likely to be little fanfare. But there will be at least one commemoration in Connecticut a few days later.
While many of the enlisted men who died on the Rohna trained at what was then Bradley Field in Windsor Locks, no one seems to know exactly how many Connecticut residents died in the boat’s sinking. But we do know that among them were three sons of West Haven, all of whom grew up together and enlisted on the very same day in January 1943: Pfc. John T. Cox, Pfc. Pasquale J. Logiodice and Pfc. Pacifico Migliore.
There is a brick bearing Logiodice’s name and the name of the ship on the West Haven Veterans Walk of Honor in Bradley Point Park on the Savin Rock shore. But there is little else in Connecticut to commemorate the Rohna’s loss.
“We want them known. We want the story known — it should be,” says West Havener Joe Weber, a retired teacher. “It’s an amazing national story.”
The Rohna “is second to the Arizona” in lives lost, “and millions of people every year go to the Arizona,” Weber says. “Our goal is to make it known in some small way.”
Weber and others working with him in West Haven have no direct connection to the Rohna or the three West Haveners who lost their lives on it. But West Haven is a city full of veterans. It is home to the VA Connecticut Healthcare System’s West Haven Campus as well as the West Haven Veterans Museum & Learning Center. This kind of thing resonates in the coastal city. It’s fitting, then, that just a few days after the anniversary of the Rohna’s sinking, a ceremony honoring those aboard the ship is scheduled for Dec. 2 at 1:30 p.m. at the West Haven Veterans Museum and Learning Center, 30 Hood Terrace.
“My father was a World War I disabled veteran. Two of my brothers were World War II, and my best friend was killed in Korea,” says Weber, who grew up in New Haven’s City Point neighborhood, just across the West River from West Haven. “My great-grandfather was a German immigrant, and at 33 he was in the Civil War,” he says. “I was inspired by that stuff.”
Weber, who first learned about the Rohna through his involvement with the city’s Ward-Heitmann House Museum, has been working for months with John Dolan, who has helped research the sinking of the Rohna and track down relatives. “Joe Weber asked me about a year and a half ago,” says Dolan, whose sister is a reference librarian. He quickly enlisted her help.
Their first big breakthrough was a story they found on microfilm from the May 17, 1944, New Haven Evening Register — nearly six months after the Rohna went down — with the headline, “West Haven Buddies Lost In Sinking.”
“War-time tragedy struck at three West Haven homes today. Within the space of 24 hours the fateful War Department telegram, ‘We deeply regret to inform you…’ was delivered to the families of three lads who had previously been reported missing, lads who will now join the ranks of heroic men who gave their lives for their country,” the story began.
The three young men “died in the murky darkness of a night last November when the troop transport on which they were heading toward battle was sunk in the Mediterranean by enemy action.”
The three “had been brought up in West Haven together, they went to grammar school and West Haven High School together. They entered the army on the same day, they were in the same company, they came home on furloughs together — they died together.”
Through other research, Dolan and Weber managed to get in touch with two nephews of Logiodice — both now in their 60s but born years after their uncle died.
“My best recollection was that my grandparents never wanted to talk about it. It was a taboo subject,” says Peter Logiodice, who lives in Maine. “Even to this day, (Pasquale Logiodice’s) one living sister doesn’t want to know anything or talk about it. I believe they were bitter about what happened.”
Peter’s father was Pasquale’s brother. Peter’s brother, retired state trooper and Guilford resident Bill Logiodice, declined to talk about his uncle or what happened to the Rohna.
For years, Peter Logiodice says, he knew nothing about what happened to his uncle. It wasn’t until his son dug up some information about the Rohna online about 15 years ago that he learned the whole story.
But looking back on his life, certain things now have become clearer. “When I was 18, Vietnam was going on,” and in 1968, “my father pushed me to join the Army Reserve, just so I wouldn’t be drafted and sent over there to fight.” Logiodice’s father “never talked about it with us until much later in life,” he says.
Logiodice may not make it down to the West Haven event to honor Pasquale Logiodice and the others who died on the Rohna. But he believes that “anybody that served in any of our wars and gave their lives for our country deserves to be honored.”
One source of information for Weber and Dolan as they research the loss of the three young West Haveners is Catherine Ladnier of Greenwich, an author and playwright. Ladnier’s late uncle, William George Brown, was a Rohna survivor who served in the 853rd Engineers Aviation Battalion, which she says was based out of Dyersburg, Tennessee, although enlisted men trained at Bradley Field.
Ladnier wrote a one-act play, Apron Strings, based on a trove of letters from Brown to his wife, Mae, and sister, Eva — Ladnier’s mother — that she found in her mother’s house after she died in 2001.
There were two units on the Rohna with Connecticut connections, the 853rd and the 332nd, which trained at Yale, Ladnier says.
“Just about every state lost someone — but Connecticut, they lost a lot,” says Ladnier, a native of South Carolina, which is where her mother lived and died.
She was pleased to be in touch with Dolan and Weber, saying, “My goal, since I discovered this and found the letters from my mother, has been to tell the world about these brave men.”
The West Haven people “really want to do something to honor the people they lost,” Ladnier says.
Ladnier also has been talking to Dolan and Weber about someday staging a reading of Apron Strings or some of her mother’s letters from her uncle in West Haven.
One letter in particular, written to Ladnier’s aunt two years after the disaster, tells a riveting story of the attack on the Rohna, almost from start to finish.
At one point, “A bomber came over the escort vessels and dropped ordinary bombs that bracketed the destroyer Pioneer on four sides,” it reads. “The explosion almost lifted that little boat right out of the water.
“About five minutes later, I saw one of these bombs turned loose by this same bomber. It followed behind the plane for a little while, then got ahead of it. It made a right hand turn and started toward our ship. The captain hollered, “Glider bomb — look out!” About that time it hit the ship dead center, just above the water line. It penetrated to the engine room and exploded, knocking a hole on the other side of the ship below the water line. The engine room was completely destroyed. All power and means of communication were cut. The hole where the bomb entered the ship on the port side was large enough to drive an Army truck through sideways.
“I went to my station on the lifeboat deck to take charge of the men as they came out. Every one was in a panic and did not know what to do. I tried to quiet the men down that were not injured and started helping take care of the injured persons.
“The cries of anguish and pain is something that I will never forget. Men were caught under timbers and could not get out. Men were burned beyond recognition. Fire started almost immediately and began to spread pretty fast. As many men as could make it were in the water in about 45 minutes.
“There was only one lifeboat that got into the water without capsizing. I saw my mess sergeant. He was covered in dough from head to foot, and he did not have a lifebelt. He was deathly afraid of the water and could not swim. I tried to give him my life belt, but he would not take it. I went hunting one for him, but when I got back he was gone.”