Ed. Note: The following is part of an intermittent series on the sinking of The HMT Rohna off Algeria in World War II. Three West Haven residents were lost in the attack, and most details were withheld from the public for more than half a century. It was a newspaper clipping from the era that spurred interest.
In 1943, a lifetime ago, WW II raged across the globe. The New Haven area industries were busy around the clock for the war effort.
Every neighborhood in every town was aware of its own men and women serving. Every day our New Haven Evening Register and Journal Courier carried news of casualties, prisoner releases, completion of training of different individuals, etc.
May 17, 1944, brought heartbreak to three West Haven families, their relatives, and friends; and the whole community. The Evening Register reported the confirmed death of PFC Pacifico A. Migliore, PFC John T. Cox, and PFC Pasquale J. Logiodice. It was reported that the men were lost in a ship sinking on a dark November night in an enemy attack in the Mediterranean Sea six months prior. The details were, because of a necessity for military secrecy, almost non-existent. Over the course of time, no information was made available, time passed through decades. Older family members starting passing away with no answers.
During the run-up to a 2010 Flag Day Celebration honoring some World War II veterans, the Ward-Heitmann House Museum received a packet of newspaper clippings from the local Davey family. One New Haven Evening Register article pictured three uniformed GIs and was titled “West Haven Buddies Lost In Sinking.” It was an image that would not be forgotten. In a way, it reminded of the five Sullivan brothers lost in a ship sinking.
Eventually a member of Ward-Heitmann House asked John Dolan, a friend, to search a computer for any information available of the incident and if there were memorials somewhere locally that we could visit. John discovered that there were distant memorials, one in Alabama, and one in Tunisia; but more important was the story John Dolan and wife, Sue dug up, piece by piece.
To summarize the detail in capsule form, our three West Haven buddies knew each other, joined the service together and died together. They were mobilized, trained as Army Air Corps Aviation Engineers (Air Corp “Seabees”) and shipped out.
They embarked out of a Virginia port, joined a large convoy (enemy subs were always a problem). After a 21 day voyage, they were excited to see land (French Morocco) and went ashore for ten days. They boarded a different ship, the HMT Rohna, on Nov. 23. The next day, the Rohna left Algerian waters and joined a small convoy sailing east. On Nov, 25, Thanksgiving Day, the troops had canned chicken and bread infested with bugs. On Nov. 26, after a safety drill, an alert sounded and the convoy came under an air attack by German twin engine bombers and fighter escorts.
The ship was struck by a radio controlled, remote controlled air-borne missile (someone was later quoted (”that the missile age began here”); the strike tore a tremendous hole in the Rohna at the water- line in the aft section.
Power was immediately lost and water flooded the aft quarter. The ship had 90 minutes left afloat. Panic ensued but heroism was everywhere, in heavy seas and very cold water. There were not enough life rafts and as a consequence lives were lost in every direction. Final totals of American deaths were 1,015; this is a figure equal to the casualties aboard the Arizona lost at Pearl Harbor. There were more than 900 survivors. In the 853rd Battalion out of 793 troops, 495 were dead or missing.
Families were notified of their losses, but details were never given. The military authorities did not want the enemy to know of their missile’s success. The Migliore, Cox and Logiodice family among the 1000 families would never know where they died, how many died, and how they died.
Between 50 and 60 years later, survivors (who were sworn to secrecy under the threat of court martial) and persistent people began to gather, exchange information and eventually formed a Rohna Survivor’s Association.
In a future follow up, we will include our profound thanks for those institutions and individuals who will be working with us to memorialize these casualties and survivors including the Connecticut contingent and our three “West Haven buddies; Pacifico A. Migliore, John T. Cox, and Pasquale J. Logiodice.”