Clinton 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. [RohnaSurvivors.org]
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.
The 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.