The son of Polish immigrant parents, Stephen Koscianski was born in Philadelphia PA on May 23rd, 1907. He received his early education at St. Philip's Catholic School in Philadelphia. The family, which included brothers Walter and Anthony, and sister Tillie, later moved to a house at 966 Bulson Street in Camden NJ, where the were members of St. Joseph's Catholic Church at 10th & Liberty Streets. Stephen ran an auto salvage and used car business out of the lot adjacent to the family home. He was inducted into the Army at Camden NJ on October 24, 1942.
After joining the Army he was assigned, along with at least 13 other men from Camden County, to the 31st Signal Construction Bn. He received training at Nashville Tennessee and Camp Atterbury IN, where he was instructed in the business of building telephone systems, raising poles, and stringing phone cable. In September of 1943 his unit shipped out of Fort Patrick Henry in Virginia on the Liberty Ship Alexander Hamilton, arriving in Oran on October 23rd, 1943.
While in North Africa, Stephen had the opportunity to visit the grave of Walter J. Koscianski, his older brother, who had been killed on February 7th of 1943. He also wrote home several times, to his mother Antonia, sister Tillie Krajewski, and nephew Ronald.
On November 24th, Stephen and his company boarded the HMTS Rohna, a British operated ship that was being used as a troop carrier. The Rohna was to join a convoy whose final destination was to be India by way of the Suez Canal. The Rohna joined the convoy on November 26, 1943.
Later that day, the convoy was attacked by German airplanes. The convoy fought their attackers successfully until one plane launched a radio controlled guided missile, which hit the Rohna in its engine room and blew holes in both sides of the ship. Over 300 men were killed instantly. Many, many more were lost in attempting to flee the rapidly sinking ship, and in the water. Of the survivors, many spent as much as 10 hours in the fifty degree water before being rescued. Lifeboat drill never had taken place, the civilian crew lent little or no assistance in getting the troops off the ship, and much of the rescue equipment simply did not work. An eyewitness to the sinking later told the family that Stephen had made it off the ship and into the water, this however has not been verified and may never be. Before the sun rose on November 27th, a total of 1015 American soldiers and 3 three Red Cross workers were lost that day. Only the loss of the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor exceeded the Rohna sinking in terms of American lives lost.
Steven's mother was notified by telegram that her son was missing in action shortly thereafter. No other word was given until the following June, when telegrams were sent to some, but not all, of the families of South Jersey men lost. The official announcement that Steven and the others were lost was not published by the Department of War until June 13, 1944, over six months after these men were killed, and the local public was made aware when the news was published in the local newspaper, the COURIER-POST, on that day.
The loss of the Rohna was kept a secret to the American public for many years. The government as late as 1993 was not responding to requests for information about this incident. While the Koscianski family received some information after the war by an eyewitness to the sinking, most families never knew the details of their loved one's fate. Virtually all of the parents involved never learned what became of their sons.
To learn more about the sinking of the Rohna, how the truth finally came to life, and how survivors and the next of kin have dealt with the situation, click on the CAMDEN NJ HMTS ROHNA MEMORIAL link, and follow the links on that page.
15 DEAD, 2 MISSING
FROM SOUTH JERSEY
Fifteen South Jersey men were among the 1511 reported by the War Department today as killed in action on the six fighting fronts. Two others from this area are reported missing.
3 On Troopship Lost
Ballerino, Koscianski, and Carr are believed to have met their fates on the same transport. War Department telegrams to families of all three men reveal that each was a passenger on a troopship that was lost due to enemy action in the Mediterranean on Nov. 27, 1943. All have been awarded Purple Hearts.
Koscianski, 34, formerly was in the used car business here. His death marks the second war casualty among the three sons of his widowed mother, Antonia. His brother Walter, former truck driver for the city highway department, was killed in Algerian Feb. 6, 1943. Another brother, Anthony, is employed in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Also listed as dead in today's official casualty list but previously reported in these columns are: Private Michael Yachus, 679 Ferry Avenue, Camden; Joseph H. Johnson, 1273 South Merrimac Road, Camden; Private Harry V. Taylor, 3 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield; Private Merl H. Reagle, Maple Avenue, Lindenwold; Private Jacob K. Jenkins, Marne Highway, Mt. Holly, formerly of Pennsauken; Private Harry E. Harker, 6 Beach Avenue Blackwood; PFC Jack S. Dubois, Church Street, Williamstown, and Charles R. Stewart Jr., 319 Linden Street, Camden.
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