Note: on this Memorial Day weekend, I’d like to depart from writing about my marketing communications work and other related topics. Instead, I wanted to share a family story of loss and remembrance.
Incredibly, my family didn't know these facts for nearly 70 years.
Some backstory: my grandmother, Rose, died in 2011. During her funeral, I was reminded that her brother, Alex, was lost during WWII. While growing up, I was told his death was something of a mystery as our family wasn't able to learn the circumstances of his passing and his body was never recovered for burial.
After Rose’s funeral, I decided to look into the matter. I searched online and, to my surprise, it didn’t take long before I discovered why my family wasn’t able to acquire information at the time. As it turns out, the U.S. Government kept the events of his death secret for decades and news of the tragedy was revealed only slowly over time. In fact, a full account of the disaster wasn’t released until the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1967, nearly 25 years after the incident.
Keep in mind the Rohna went down in the mid-1940s, a much different time in American history. This was, of course, long before the “information age” – the Internet, social media, etc. The American public didn’t have nearly the same access to news and information as they do now. I have to believe a catastrophe of this magnitude would be much harder to conceal at present.
Alex’s memory, as well as his comrades who also perished aboard the Rohna, is kept alive on the Tablets of the Missing at North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia. There is also a Rohna memorial at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Alabama. In addition, a Rohna Survivors Memorial Association was established in 2000. The organization’s mission is as follows:
- To continue in the search for survivors as-yet-undiscovered and the families of those who perished, so as to provide them with information they never had about the fate of their loved ones,
- To bring the Rohna story before the public, to honor the men who lost their lives in this incident and those on the rescue vessels who acted selflessly in their rescue efforts,
- And to further, by reunions and other communications, the closeness among the membership.
When I told my family what I had learned, they were pleased to have some finality. However, my grandmother was one of nine children, and she was among the last living siblings. So, it's heartbreaking that my great grandparents, my grandmother, and most of my great uncles and aunts passed without knowing what became of their son and brother.
It also pains me to think there are other families whose loved one also died in the Rohna tragedy and have yet to receive closure. Therefore, if you know of someone who may have also perished aboard the ship, please contact the Rohna Survivors Memorial Association through its website: rohnasurvivors.org.
In closing, I wish everyone a safe and peaceful holiday.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.