My great uncle, Pvt. Alexander Lofman, died during the Second World War. A member of the United States Army Air Forces’ 853rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, he perished while aboard the
H.M.T. Rohna in November 1943. The Rohna, a British troopship, was en route to the China-Burma-India theatre of war when it was torpedoed and sunk by the German Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Algeria. More than 1,100 American soldiers died, making it the greatest loss of U.S. troops at sea in a single incident. Despite the enormous death toll, 600 survived.
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 was awarded the U.S. Military’s Purple Heart posthumously. His brother, my Great Uncle Louis, was close to Alex, and he held his medal and certificate. When Lou died some year ago, the items were passed to his daughter and my cousin, Lisa. I talked to Lisa at Rose’s funeral, and she said the Purple Heart was one of her father’s most treasured possessions. She also told me her father rarely spoke of Alex as it was too painful.
- 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.
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.