July 16, 1919 – Feb. 26, 2016
In November 1943, Frank C. Schulz was on the deck of a British transport ship in the Mediterranean Sea watching a card game when a German bomb hit the ship broadside.
He was fortunate to get on a functioning lifeboat.
One of the few remaining survivors from the HMT Rohna, Mr. Schulz died Friday in his Town of Tonawanda home. He was 96.
More than 1,000 American soldiers on board the Rohna died in the calamity the U.S. government largely kept secret for decades. After the sinking, Mr. Schulz continued his World War II military service, and then after the war he raised a family and contributed to civic and religious causes. But for decades he didn’t talk about the sinking of the troop ship.
“He buried all of what happened to him – the loss of men’s lives and that terrible tragedy,” said his daughter, Mary Ellen Carver. “He never shared that story with the family for 30 years.”
Mr. Schulz was a sales representative with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. for 24 years before retiring in 1982.
At St. Andrews Catholic Church, he was president of the Holy Name Society, lector, Eucharistic minister, choir member and a parish council member. He received the diocesan St. Joseph the Worker Award. He also was past commander of the Harry E. Crosby VFW Post and Milton J. Brounschidle American Legion Post, a member of the Northside First Friday Club and a fourth-degree member of Our Lady of Hope Council No. 3076 Knights of Columbus.
The first reunion of Rohna survivors took place in 1993 after articles were published about the sinking.
“Once that started, he went to the reunion every year,” Mrs. Carver said, and he often took his family with him. “It was comforting for him to know there were survivors still living and carrying on good lives.” Mr. Schulz helped organize a reunion in Buffalo, and he kept a bulging folder full of news clippings, personal correspondence and pleas from next of kin seeking recollections of their loved one.
Mr. Schulz volunteered to speak to student groups about World War II and what happened to him.
He often asked students if they knew about the USS Arizona, the RMS Lusitania and the Titanic. Of course, they did. But none knew of the Rohna.
“This was World War II’s best kept secret,” Mr. Schulz, then 93, told Lancaster High School students during an appearance in 2012.
One student asked him if it was hard to return home after what he had been through.
“No,” he replied without hesitation. He wanted to be reunited with the wife he hadn’t seen in three years.
He married Evelyn E. Horn in May 1943, five days before leaving with the Army Air Corps. She died in 1979. He married Rose Marie Brindamour in April 1996.
Born in Buffalo, he graduated from the Little Seminary, attended Niagara University and then graduated from Canisius College with a degree in history.
Mr. Schulz was drafted in 1942 and assigned to the Army Air Corps, 322nd Fighter Control Squadron, as a communications officer. He was stationed in Oran, North Africa, when he departed there aboard the Rohna. Mr. Schulz was involved in the campaigns of India, Burma and China. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Asiatic Pacific and American Campaign and World War II Victory Medals. He was discharged as a first lieutenant in 1946.
Mr. Schulz was a member of the “Rohna” Survivors Memorial Association.
In addition to his daughter and wife, other survivors include three daughters, Sharon Lee Darisse, Susan Scheider and Tina Marie Sellon; a son, Michael; and a sister, June Grandits.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in St. Andrew Catholic Church, 1525 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda.
– Patrick Lakamp