By Frank G. Stankiewicz
Special to the Voice
My name is Frank G. Stankiewicz. I am Rohna survivor Walter F. Stankiewwicz’s nephew, and like many others, I was listening to someone talk about a TV documentary that was on the History Channel concerning a ship sunk in the Mediterranean around Thanksgiving Day during World War II.
When I heard this I immediately remembered that my Uncle was on a ship that was sunk around that time. I called my cousin and then began our search for any and all information. The documentation found was saved by her mother, thank God.
My family and I always knew that my Uncle went through an ordeal but like so many others, I never knew the details.
My earliest memory dates back to when I was about 8-10 years old. During a midnight Christmas Mass my mother, father and Uncle Walter sat together. My Uncle silently began to cry. After asking my mother over and over again why he crying, she finally said that Uncle Walter was just happy to be celebrating Christmas with us. My Aunt Josephine (my Uncle Walter’s younger sister) told me that around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) he became very emotional. No one fully understood why.
With that said, I would like to share this story with you. This story was told to me by my Aunt Josephine. Fortunately for us, she has excellent memory and has been a source of information concerning the family during that time.
On or around Nov. 26, 1943, my grandmother woke up in the middle of the night and began opening each door while walking through the house. Soon the entire household was up and all came out asking her what was the matter.
She told them (my grandfather, father and aunt) that she heard Walter calling for her. They tried to convince her that she must have been dreaming. She insisted that that this was not a dream and actually went outside and walked around the outside of the house, convinced that he was home on leave and locked out of the house.
After a while they calmed her down and she made a notation on the calendar marking the day and time. I’ve read the letters posted on various Web sites from survivors and some of them recall that during the night while waiting and hoping to be rescued, they heard men praying out loud and some could be heard calling for their mothers.
I’m absolutely positive that God in one way or another answered them all and I’m equally convinced that at least one mother actually heard her son call for help that night.
A little time after that incident, my aunt went to get the mail and a telegram from the US Army arrived. She opened it and gave it to my dad. It was a telegram like the one shown on the documentary that stated that their brother was missing in action.
My father decided to hold onto the telegram and not show it to his parents right away, as not to upset them while hoping that his brother would be accounted for in time. My grandmother began asking why letters from her son had stopped and my dad and aunt kept giving her reassuring answers while holding onto this telegram.
Another lady who lived in the neighborhood was passing by the house one day and asked my grandmother if she heard from her son and then asked how he doing. She said that she hadn’t received a letter for a while.
The lady told my grandmother that her son who was in the US Navy, told her that Walter was in a hospital and was going to be OK. Her reason for worrying was confirmed. This convinced my grandmother that the incident that occurred that night around Thanksgiving was real and she made absolutely sure that the rest of the family should have never doubted her.
After the war was over and my Uncle came home, the family would sit down from time to time and talk about everything that happened to him and amazingly as information was shared about that night everything seemed to chronologically coincide.
Finally, I would like to say that my interest in World War II goes back at least 20-25 years. I’ve read many books, watched documentaries etc. and for the first time I feel that this unexplained interest in this specific time in history now has a very special meaning and in retrospect an important purpose.
Soon after the day that I see my Uncle Walter’s name listed on the Rohna Web site, I’m going to his grave, say a prayer, place a flag there and give him a salute. Actually I promised him at his gravesite this past Christmas that I would do everything possible to have his name listed.
Thanks for reviewing the documentation sent and having my uncle’s name listed as a survivor of the HMT Rohna. My best to you and all the members of this organization.