By Joseph Weber
Special to the Voice
In the Oct. 1 edition of West Haven Voice, the story of the sinking of the HMT Rohna was related. Held secret for decades during and following World War II, the Indian ship, leased by the British, was hit by a radio-controlled, rocket-propelled weapon in the Mediterranean Sea on Nov. 26, 1943. More than 1,000 American soldiers, crewmen, and Navy personnel were lost in the strike and aftermath.
The losses included West Haven friends and schoolmates PFC Pasquale Logiodice, PFC John T. Cox, and PFC Pacifico Migliore. The GIs were finishing a brief stay at Oran, Algeria, and boarded the rusty Rohna to head to the India-Bermuda-China war zone to build air fields.
At the Ward-Heitmann House Museum, decades-old New Haven Register clipping with the briefest of war-time information were uncovered. Friends John Dolan and wife Sue made a computer search and returned with astonishing news of the terrific tragedy, and news of an existing Rohna survivors association that links members and has yearly reunions. Thus, began regular conversations between the Dolans and Janice Pumelia (Brooklyn) and Catherine Ladnier, author (Greenwich, CT) both survivors’ relatives.
All the participants were happy to have met each other for the sake of spreading the story of the GIs and the families.
Dolan and this writer continued forming a loose association we call The Rohna Remembrance Committee of West Haven. Our members are mostly West Haven graduates from Main Street.
At first in our attempts to spread the message, we didn’t find much interest. It was, after all, an old story, but we did point out that it was the 75th anniversary.
Talking to a nephew, Joe Weber, a retired state trooper, about our cause, he told us to go to University of New Haven and see Joe Sudol, a Forensics Department staffer. Joe is another retired state trooper. Our course was to change dramatically. Joe and Joe make a point of listening, watching, absorbing, and they smile, usually. What a find. Also, Joe Sudol’s father-in-law, Joe Morrissey of the “Clan Morrissey”, served on a minesweeper *in WWII. Joe quickly gave us valuable UNH tips and told us he would check genealogy listings of the families (which he did). He wanted us to keep in touch and he added, “See the chief!”
Before seeking the chief, we touched base with Director of Operations Julia Carbonella. When we told her our story that the parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters of Pasquale, John T., and Pacifico would never in 50 years, be able to talk to a survivor, she was visibly moved.
The “chief,” Vice-President for Public Safety Ron Quagliani, our former West Haven Chief of Police, was next in the quest. In our meeting, he listened ,while immediately going to work, giving us names of people, he would contact providing addresses, offering to help finance some memorial of the West Haven Veterans and Learning Center (Military Museum). He alerted the Vet’s Center of our project. We also learned of the UNH ROTC Program. We left the Chargers’ buildings feeling thankful for their support.
It was shortly after our UNH visit that John made a call to Mark Consorte, Social Studies Dept. chairman at West Haven High School. This was followed by a meeting with Consorte and staff to discuss plans for a students’ performance at the Veterans’ Center on Dec. 2, coinciding with a week-long exhibit of memorabilia there.
A very special guest on the occasion will be Michael Walsh, an author, who compiled two great books of survivors’ stories of the Rohna sinking.
We would like to note here that the members of the Rohna Remembrance Committee are Grace Youngs Hall, Judy Cascio Pfister, Patrice Farquharson, Sue Dolan, Barbara Quarz Melotto, Gloria Quarz Weber, Joan Vitolo, Dave Warner, and Bud Giaquinto. The co-chairmen are John Dolan and Weber. Resource Advisors are Beth Sabo and Dave Ricci. In a future report we will discuss the Vets’ Center personnel.
We would ask that any readers who might have memorabilia or who would share written memories of West Haven, or specifically WHHS, please send them to Ward Heitmann House Museum, Inc. PO Box 573 West Haven 06516.
In the next installment we will tell of the amazing rescue of 900 troops – 600 by the USS Pioneer, a minesweeper and 200 by a tugboat, the Mindful. A seaman left his gun position to spend hours saving hundreds at grave risk to himself.
The installment will also have details of the new missile the enemy launched and the stunned reaction of the witnesses. The vehicle had wings, a rear rocket engine, and it glided; worst of all it changed directions in flight and was heading directly toward the Rohna. Missile warfare had commenced.