Skip to main content

Remember the Rohna. Remember Clinton Whitehead.

100_1149Clinton Webster Whitehead was born 8 February 1923 in Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County, Georgia to John M. and Alma Whitehead.  By about the age of 7 years, Clinton was living in Atlanta with his parents and siblings.  Ten years later in 1940, the family was still in Atlanta.  Clinton's father was a laborer for the Works Progress Administration Park Project.

At the age of 19, about six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Clinton registered for the draft.  Another six or seven months passed before Clinton officially enlisted in the United States Army on 7 January 1943 -- a month before his 20th birthday.  Ten more months would pass.  Then, just after Thanksgiving 1943, Clinton would be lost at sea.

Sinking of the Rohna

On November 26, 1943, during WWII, one thousand, one hundred and thirty eight men perished when a British troopship, the HMT Rohna, was attacked from the air and destroyed in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Algeria…

…it resulted in the greatest loss of troops (1,015) at sea in U.S. history. Combined with the loss of ship’s crew and officers, and three Red Cross workers, more lives were lost than on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.  []

According to Jesse Greenspan, author of A Calamity at Sea, 70 Years Ago (published 2013),

[As the sun set on 26 November 1943] a remote-controlled glider bomb slammed into the HMT Rohna, a British transport with mostly Americans onboard, and blew gaping holes in both the port and starboard sides. Despite the presence of nearby rescue boats, 1,149 men went down with the Rohna, an incident the U.S. government largely kept secret for decades.

An estimated 300 men died in the blast…Within an hour or so, the Rohna disappeared below the surface, and all those who hadn’t yet jumped into the water were forced to do so. Many were sucked under the ship never to reappear; others found themselves covered in leaking oil. The cold, darkness, big swells and strong currents also took their toll, as did German strafing fire.

A memorial to those lives lost with the sinking of the Rohna was dedicated in 1996 at Fort Mitchell National Cemetery in Seale, Alabama by The Rohna Survivors Memorial Association.  This association also maintains a casualties list by name, rank, serial number, and unit.

Whitehead, Clinton W., T/5, 34682739 – CE

Clinton's unit was the 853rd Engineer Battalion, Aviation Corps of Engineers.

Wall of the Missing Image by Jeffrey A. LowdermilkThe World War II and Korean Conflict Veterans Interred Overseas database at Ancestry, derived from original data that includes those lost or buried at sea, indicates Clinton W. Whitehead's last known status as Missing in Action.  Cpl. Whitehead is memorialized on a "Wall of the Missing" (image at right) at North Africa American Cemetery in Tunisia.  A search of the American Battle Monuments Commission website confirms with the following:

Clinton W. Whitehead
Service # 34682739
Rank Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army Air Forces
Unit 853rd Engineer Battalion, Aviation
Entered Service From Georgia
Date of Death November 27, 1943
Status Missing in Action
Memorialized Tablets of the Missing, North Africa American Cemetery

Clinton's mother Alma died in 1962.  His father died in 1969.  They rest at Hopewell Church Cemetery back in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where there also sits a cenotaph dedicated to their son (pictured at top).  Given the noted secrecy that surrounded this catastrophe for years, I wonder if Clinton's parents ever knew what truly befell him in 1943.


Darla M Sands said…
Thank you for sharing this history. What a loss! I hope you are well, my dear.
S. Lincecum said…
Thanks for stopping by, Darla. Hope your garden is still thriving.
Perry Herndon said…
I can tell you that neither his father nor his mother ever knew what happened to Clint.

His siblings only found out much later. In the 80s or 90s. My aunt (his sister) found out through a formal freedome of information act request.

Thank you for the respectful write up.

-Perry (Clint's grand nephew)

Popular posts from this blog

Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

Why do people put rocks on grave stones? Some time ago, I learned that the rocks signified a visitor. That is true enough, but I decided to learn a little more about the custom and share my findings with you. Putting rocks on tombstones is most often described as a Jewish custom. There are many "Ask a Rabbi" columns out there, but I did not find one that knew for sure where the custom originated. They all agreed, however, that a rock symbolized a visitor and when put on a tombstone said, "I remember you." I also read that some people pick up a rock wherever they are when they think of a person that has passed. Then, the next time they visit the grave, they place the rock to say, "I wish you were here." Rabbi Shraga Simmons offers a deeper meaning: "We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. H

Southern Cross of Honor

I'm late to this discussion, but it's one I'd like to join. :-) Terry Thornton at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Hill Country started with Grave Marker Symbols: The Southern Cross of Honor and UCV (link no longer available). Judith Shubert at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Covered Bridges continued with Hood County Texas: C.S.A. Veterans & Southern Cross of Honor Symbol . [UPDATE, 1 June 2009: Judith has moved this post to the blog, Cemeteries with Texas Ties . The link has been corrected to reflect this move. You may also link to her article via her nice comment on this post.] Wikipedia states: The Southern Cross of Honor was a military decoration meant to honor the officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates for their valor in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It was formally approved by the Congress of the Confederate States on October 13, 1862, and was originally intended to be on par with the Union Arm

Thursday Link Love: EyeWitness To History

Yesterday, a link was added to the Genealogy Research Resources Group at Diigo. The link was to the website titled EyeWitness to History through the eyes of those who lived it . It's a great site, and I encourage all to visit it. Here are several items I found while snooping around. - Inside a Nazi Death Camp, 1944 : "Hitler established the first concentration camp soon after he came to power in 1933. The system grew to include about 100 camps divided into two types: concentration camps for slave labor in nearby factories and death camps for the systematic extermination of "undesirables" including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded and others." - Crash of the Hindenburg, 1937 : "Radio reporter Herbert Morrison, sent to cover the airship's arrival, watched in horror. His eye witness description of the disaster was the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast and has become a classic piece of audio history." [You ca

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

So I answered, "O Lord God, You know."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!' Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live...'" (Ezekiel 37:1-5, NKJV)