Thursday, July 11, 2013

TWO WARS-TWO TROOPSHIPS-TWO SINKINGS ~ Submitted by Lee R. Christensen

Lee R. Christensen's  Photos and Stories From Mt. PleasantLee R. Christensen has shared both Hamilton School Photos, Military photos as well as allowed us to post quips and memories from his book, "You Knew Me As Buddy".


World War One SS Tuscania

When the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, my father, L R Christensen, was herding sheep for his father, J W Christensen. When the Draft Act passed a few weeks later he became a prime candidate, age 27 and single, to be drafted. He started looking for a military unit he could join that would take him overseas. At some point, he heard about an engineer unit recruiting experienced mill and forestry workers to cut and mill rafters and planking for the trenches. He had worked for his father at his mill up Fairview Canyon and this experience qualified him for the 20th Engineers (Forestry). He reported to American University, Washington D C, December 1917 where the unit was mobilizing. The unit did not spend much time on military matters; they were, after all, going to do in the military what they had been doing as civilians. They sailed for France on the 24th of January, 1918 on the SS Tuscania. Their troopship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland, early evening 5thof February. This disaster is covered in detail on the internet. Go to:

To read my fathers’ biography on this website: click on “Archives”, click on “24 January Passenger list”, click on “20 Engineers Co F”, scroll down to Utah and click on “Private Lee R Christensen”

Private Lee R Christensen December, 1917

(center, with receding hair line)

World War Two His Majesty’s Troopship Rohna

Just as in WW 1, it was the passage of a Draft Act that got my father back into the active military. He had been a member of Mt Pleasant’s National Guard unit, Btry D 222nd FA Reg since it was reorganized following WW 1. The Draft Act of August 1940, some 15 months before Pearl Harbor, called for the drafting of men 21 – 35 and the mobilization of all National Guard units. Mt Pleasant’s Btry D with the rest of the 40th Div Utah/California National Guard was called up 3 March 1941 and reported to Camp San Luis Obispo early April just as carpenters drove the last nail completing their mess hall.

A renewal of the Draft Act of 1940, passed in August of 1941, gave the military permission to send draftees and National Guardsmen overseas. The ink on this new Act was barely dry when the 2nd Bn of the 222nd FA Reg that included Btry D was alerted for assignment to the Philippine Islands to sail from San Francisco 10 December. In preparing for this overseas post a number of the older officers considered too old for a combat unit were transferred. My father was one of them.

After Pearl Harbor, and following a number of assignments that included Ex officer of the MP Bn at the Japanese Relocation Center, Santa Anita, he was assigned to train and take overseas a stevedoring Bn (men that load and unload boats). They trained spring and summer of 1943 on the Seattle docks and sailed for Oran, Algeria late September. After a short stay in Oran where the war had moved on, they sailed for India with sections of the Bn on a number of different troopships. My father and his staff were aboard the Egra directly behind the Rohna with a clear but nervous view of the sinking. Like the SS Tuscania in WW 1, this troopship disaster is covered in detail on the Internet. Here are links for more information on the sinking of the HMT Rohna.

KATHY:  I have now heard from the American Battle Monuments Commission.  There are thirteen Utah  men MIA from the sinking of the troopship Rohna, none from Sanpete County.  lee

  Eleven of the thirteen MIAs from Utah who went down with the troopship Rohna belonged to the 853 Engineer Bn, Aviation.  They were headed to India to build landing fields for our flyers flying the Hump to China.  Newel Nelson, Hamilton grade school class of ’34, flew the Hump.  lee 

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