By Abir Hossain’15
Explosions, death, and a deck of cards are just a part of what defined Thanksgiving of 1943 for Sgt. Anthony Pumelia, the father of Mrs. Janice Pumelia.
Mrs. Pumelia, the Assistant Principal of the English department, spoke about how her father, Anthony Pumelia (1920-2004), was a technical sergeant for the Army Air Core during World War II. Mrs. Pumelia spoke about several of her father’s exploits during the war but spoke the most about how her father was on the HMT Rohna on the day it sank. Mrs. Pumelia made this presentation to Ms. Guida’s English class because they are reading a Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, which is set during WWII.
The HMT Rohna was a British troop ship that was carrying 2,000 American soldiers that was sunk on November 26, 1943 by a German bomber off the coast of Northern Africa, near Algeria. Mayhem, chaos, and death ensued. While all of this was happening, Sgt. Pumelia was playing cards with his friend, John Messina. Upon realizing what was happening, Sgt. Pumelia and John jumped into the water together, holding on to each other for dear life. They and the other survivors remained in the water for over an hour before they were rescued by the American rescue ship, the Pioneer. On that day, 1,138 men lost their lives, 1,015 of whom were Americans. The attack came from a German guided missile, the most advanced of its time. For this reason, the American government decided to classify the Rohna’s sinking because they did not want the world to think that the Germans had weapons that were more advanced than theirs.
Sgt. Pumelia remained in the Air Core for the remainder of the war, mostly repairing bombers, and returned home on Christmas of 1945. He was awarded a Purple Heart and served a total of 26 months in the military. Upon returning, he worked in a deli before opening a deli-grocery of his own, marrying, and starting a family. All this time, he was never able to tell his family about what happened that day on the Rohna, only being able to mention certain things until information about that day was declassified in 1991. Throughout the years, he lost touch with John. Then suddenly in 2003, Sgt. Pumelia decided to find John, and with the help of Mrs. Pumelia and her brother, he discovered that John was still alive and living in Anaheim, California. They also discovered that there was a Rohna Reunion Group for veterans who had served on it, and they had a convention every year. Sgt. Pumelia and his family went to the next convention, and it was here that he reunited with John. Following the convention, Sgt. Pumelia expressed how he was content with life and that he had finally gained closure upon reuniting with John.
Sgt. Pumelia passed away a few months after the convention and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery. Mrs. Pumelia said, “We were sending him home.”
Following her father’s death, Mrs. Pumelia has continued his legacy, and the legacy of all of the men who served on the Rohna. She attends the Rohna Reunion convention every year. As the last of her siblings, she alone preserves the memory of her father.
By Abir Hossain’15