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The WWII Tragedy America Chose to Forget

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 29, 2023 3:01 am

The WWII Tragedy America Chose to Forget

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 29, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, because of the devastating nature of the attack, the U.S. government chose to keep the details of this attack hushed. Grove City College political science professor Paul Kengor brings us the details through the eyes of Sergeant Frank Bryer.

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You could redeem some serious prizes. Live the Chumba life. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. From the arts to sports and from business to history and everything in between. Including your stories. Send them to

They're some of our favorites. And this next story, well it's the story of Frank Briar and the tragedy of the British transport ship Rona in 1943. Despite being the largest loss of U.S. troops at sea due to enemy action in a single incident, the full details of the attack weren't released until 1967.

Here's professor of political science at Grove City College, Paul Kangor, to tell the rest of the story. Any veteran of World War II can tell you stories. But for Frank Briar, his story, one he could never forget, was a terrible one. It began the moment his ship, called the Rona, was sunk. When that ship went down on November 26, 1943, Frank's life changed forever.

And very few people beyond the men tossed into the sea ever knew what happened. The HMT Rona was an 8,600 ton British troop ship carrying mostly an American crew to the Far East theater. It went down the day after Thanksgiving in the Mediterranean off the coast of North Africa, the victim of a German missile. But it was not just any German missile. This was, it seems, the first known successful hit of a vessel by a German rocket-boosted radio remote-controlled glider bomb, one of the first true missiles used in combat. It was, in effect, a guided missile, and the Nazis had achieved it first.

And the results were immediately destructive. According to the website that today serves as the official online gathering spot for the Rona Survivors Association, more lives were lost on the Rona than on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Over 1,000 boys, to be exact, lost their lives, and their government kept the entire episode a secret out of fear of information being leaked about the power of the German guided missile. The government feared the effect on the morale of the U.S. military and the wider population. The hit was so devastating, states the Rona Survivors Association, that the U.S. government placed a veil of secrecy upon it. The government, it said, still does not acknowledge this tragedy, and thus most families of the casualties still do not know the fate of their loved ones.

It's very sad that only now, long after the few survivors are even fewer, the Rona Survivors are attempting to hold reunions, over 70 years after the event. The secrecy was so tight that Frank Breyer's daughter, Mary Jo, spent painstaking years with her dad trying to tug out details and piece together what occurred. Dad was haunted frequently by this, Mary Jo told me, but it was not so much the sinking of the ship, but his personal inability to save many men. Those awful moments of fire remained seared in Frank's brain. As the ship burst into a giant fireball, Frank manned the ropes of a lifeboat packed with injured soldiers. He was ordered to hold the ropes tight and lower the boat with the soldiers into the water below.

This was no simple task, especially in a chaotic panic situation. A lifeboat filled with men isn't light. That was proven quickly as the ropes broke and Frank watched the men below him in his care fall to their death in the sea. The image of those men slipping from his hands into the abyss horrified him, but the nightmares, they would come later. In the meantime, Frank too was forced to abandon ship, which submerged within nearly an hour. For his own crowded lifeboat, he and five other men seized a floating wooden bench. As the darkness slowly enveloped them with night setting in and with the fear of still more German missiles, Frank led the group in reciting the Lord's Prayer.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there were none on that wooden bench in the water that night either. Frank and his group with their floating wooden bench took turns.

Four of them would float on the bench and two would hang on the ropes. They feared not only Germans, but sharks, and for good reason. Anyone familiar with the horror story that was the USS Indianapolis knows how the sharks slowly but steadily devoured the boys floating in the water over a course of several long days. The crew of six tried to get some sleep while floating in the cold water, but couldn't. They needed to stay focused on holding on to their floating device, the bench. To their great fortune, they were in the water only for about six hours. Just as the sun started to rise, they spied a rescue boat on the horizon.

It was a mine sweep that picked them up. They were taken to a facility in Algeria to recover, but for Frank, there was little emotional comfort. All they could think about was the wounded soldiers that he couldn't save. But worst of all, Frank could not share what he was going through. They were ordered not to write or talk about the Rona with their family or even among themselves.

The military censorship was so strict that they were threatened with court martial if they ever disobeyed. And so, Frank kept it secret all the way to the grave, tormenting him yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, night after night throughout the rest of his life. Frank Breyer died on January 4th, 2016 at age 92, seven decades after the sinking of the Rona.

He now at long last rests in peace. Let us at long last remember him and the entire crew of the Rona. And thanks again to Paul Kengor and that was his story and his contribution.

And Paul is a professor of political science at Grove City College. And there are so many untold stories of World War II and so many of our nation's battles. We tell them here on Our American Stories. And if you have one yourself, family members, something from your family history, and I don't care if it goes as far back as the Civil War. We had one great lady from Memphis who had sent some Civil War letters to us and we recorded one and it was just extraordinary.

And she'd kept it as a namesake, as a keepsake for her family heritage and her family lineage. So send them to us. We'll have them recorded by you. Again, that was Paul Kengor and that is Frank Breyer's story and the story of the Rona.

And all those forgotten men and unknown men who died and perished on that tragic day. Their stories all here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love Luckyland Casino, asking people what's the weirdest place you've gotten lucky? Lucky? In line at the deli, I guess.

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Are you feeling lucky? No purchase necessary. 18 plus terms and conditions apply. See website for details. The stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past. Know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College. A place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. Go to to learn more. Live the Chumba life.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-02 00:51:03 / 2023-04-02 00:55:07 / 4

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