THE FORGOTTEN WOUNDED
SLAPTON SANDS, WWII

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UPDATE ON THE FORGOTTEN WOUNDED PROJECT

 

The Forgotten Wounded Project is now an official Vandenberg Chapter undertaking And this project has also been officially recognized by the national body of the Military Order of the World Wars.

 

The purpose of the project is to proceed with the efforts to get World War II veteran USN Chief Motor Machinist Mate John P. Rosa Jr. his well deserved Purple Heart Medal.  Due to circumstances of secrecy during the practice exercise Operation Tiger, off the coast of England, thirty days prior to the famous Normandy Invasion of WWII, many U.S. service men were not recognized for their injuries during the German E Boat attack while participating in exercise, Operation Tiger.

 

This project has been approximately five years of planning, writing, leg work and meetings with anyone who would listen to get the government to do the correct action, concerning awarding the Purple Heart Medal to Chief John P. Roza Jr. The efforts of Commander Chuck Ward and past NationalCommander / Vandenberg Commander, COL Jack Jones and past Commander, Dick Hathcock have not been successful. The final blow came after 2 rejections by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of the Navy.

 

A new approach, long overdue, has been formulated to include our National Order, the Regional District of the Order, the office of Congresswoman Lois Capps, Congressman Steve Knight, and a proposed comprehensive package hand delivered to every member of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.  There is a possibility of getting the Forgotten Wounded story formatted in the form of a television documentary, WWII history drama or some other form television/movie format.

 

The objective is to set the stage for a bi-partisan bill/resolution to finally recognize these Forgotten Wounded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chief John Rosa Jr. at last year's Veterans Tribute Luncheon with Capt Dick Hathcock and his bride LV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOME BACKGROUND:

 

Seventy one years ago in April, 1944 the Allies launched a massive dress rehearsal for the invasion of Normandy — the famous D-Day landings that would happen five weeks later. But that rehearsal turned into one of the war's biggest fiascos. It took place on Slapton Sands, a beach in southwestern England. British historian Giles Milton wrote: "The beaches there are long and they're wide, so it gave the soldiers plenty of opportunity to really experience what it was going to be like.  The beaches in the west of England are almost identical to the beaches in Normandy."

 

The rehearsal was given the code name Operation Tiger. The plan: To get landing boats into the English Channel, then have them simulate a water landing on the beaches of the Devon coast. The man in charge was the great Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"He wanted to put them out in the rough waters of the channels, have them shaken around, [exposed to] seasickness, everything else that soldiers are prone to," Milton says. They told us nothing. They told us absolutely nothing.

 

Then, the idea was for these ships and tank landing craft involved in this operation, to bring them up toward Slapton Sands where there was going to be shellfire and gunfire so the men would land in real battlefield conditions. But to ensure the safety of their men and the effectiveness of the whole exercise, Allied Command had to keep the operation a secret — even from their own men.


An Unwelcome Surprise

 

But the lack of Germans on the shore belied a German presence on the water.


"A German patrol fleet is out in the English Channel," Milton explains. "And quite by chance, it picks up on its radar this enormous flotilla of vessels, and dramatically and suddenly launches attacks on some of the easy pickings of the flotilla." "The torpedoes tear into these vessels and literally blow them apart," Milton says. "They all catch fire and there's complete carnage, pandemonium. Men on fire,  tanks on fire, the ships on fire.  And of course,  the ships starting to sink."


Allied commanders, monitoring from London, ordered all the boats to scatter immediately, hoping to avoid any more direct hits from the Germans. But the order left hundreds of men floating in the icy waters. "When we got back and then the light broke, you could walk across the dead bodies in the water, There was over 700 of them killed."


A Second Disaster 

 

It's all the more staggering when you realize that more people were killed in the rehearsal for the landing at Utah beach than were killed in the actual landing at Utah beach.

 

Yet the carnage wasn't over. Many of the ships continued on toward the beach at Slapton Sands. Eisenhower had ordered live fire to be used in the rehearsal, because he had wanted to simulate real-world conditions. "Now, the idea was that the shelling would stop very, very shortly before the American soldiers came onshore, so that the wreckage of war would still be around," Milton said. "The smells of war, the sounds, the shell-blasted beach would be there. But there was a terrible mix-up of timings, which meant that as the American soldiers came onto the shore, the British were still shelling the beach. [This] meant the Americans came under devastating friendly fire from the British."


Within minutes, 300 more American troops were dead. "The orders were, in the hospital, you will not ask these men anything. You will not ask them anything, you will just take care of them." When the whole affair was over, close to a thousand American troops were dead.
"It's a staggering figure," Milton says. "All the more staggering when you realize that more people were killed in the rehearsal for the landing at Utah Beach than were killed in the actual landing at Utah Beach." Utah Beach was one of the beaches in Normandy that Allied troops charged on D-Day.


The Lessons of Operation Tiger

 

For nearly 40 years, well after the end of the war, Operation Tiger remained a secret. "Allied Command did not want the bulk of the troops about to risk their lives going over to Normandy knowing that this disaster had unfolded in the west country of England," Milton explains.
Operation Tiger did have its benefits, however, Milton says. The Allied commanders ordered better life preservers, for one, and made sure each soldier was properly trained on its use. For another, a system was put in place to collect soldiers who were left stranded out in the water.


But perhaps the most important change was to fix the broken system of communication, Milton says. "All the different command structures and all the different ships involved in the D-Day landings, all these radio frequencies were standardized so that this miscommunication could never happen on the big day itself."


Five weeks after Operation Tiger, hundreds of thousands of Allied troops unloaded onto the beaches of Normandy, a decisive victory that was to be the beginning of the end of World War II. Today, on the beaches of Slapton Sands, there remains a small memorial to the 946 men who lost their lives that April day, 71 years ago.

 

 

OPERATION TIGER, WWII:

 

This is a reproduction of an article that was featured in the April 2015 issue of the Officer Review, The Military Order of the World Wars, magazine. 

 

THE FORGOTTEN WOUNDED OF WORLD WAR II “OPERATION TIGER”,
THE PRACTICE EXERCISE, BEFORE THE D- DAY INVASION OF NORMANDY, FRANCE.

 

To most observers of World War II history D- Day means the invasion of Normandy. What does the “D” in D-Day mean? Time Magazine reported on June 12, 1944 that “as far as the U.S. Army can determine the first use of D for Day, H for Hour was in Field Order No. 8, of the First Army A.E.F., issued on September 20, 1918, which read, “the first Army will attack at H-Hour on D-Day with the object of forcing the evacuation of St. Mihiel salient.”  In other words, the D in D-Day merely stands for Day and all the Invasions of Europe and the Pacific Theatres had D- Days  The meaning now clarified we begin the story.

In preparing for the Normandy Invasion, the United States Army and Navy conducted various training exercises at Slapton Sands, in Start Bay, on the coast of Devon, England.  Slapton Sands was an unspoiled beach of course gravel, fronting a shallow lagoon that was backed by bluffs that resembled Utah Beach.  After the people in the nearby villages were evacuated, a six week task, it was an almost perfect place to simulate the Normandy landings.  The training was long and thorough.  The culmination of the joint training program was a full scale rehearsal in late April and early May, 1944.  The May rehearsal had no casualties.  Live ammo was to be used in the April 22-30 exercises.

 

Tiger was the code name of the top secret training exercise for Utah Beach assault forces under Admiral Don P. Moon.  It was held from April 22-30, 1944  The troops and equipment embarked on the same ships and for the most part from the same ports from which they would later leave for France.  Six days in the exercise were taken up marshaling of the troops and the embarkation of the landing craft.  During the night of April 26-27, 1944, the main force proceeded through Lyme Bay with mine craft sweeping ahead of them as if crossing the channel.  Since German E-boats, which were high speed torpedo boats capable of operating at speeds of 34-36 knots, sometimes patrolled the channel at night, the British Commander in Chief, Plymouth, who was responsible for protecting the rehearsal, threw patrols across the mouth of Lyme Bay.  These patrols consisted of two British destroyers, one of which had a mechanical problem and was disabled and three motor torpedo boats and two motor gun-boats.  Operation Tiger included support ships, nine large tanks ships (LSTS) and 30,000 allied and U. S. Troops.

 

In the early morning hours of 28 April, 1944, nine German torpedo boats (E- boats) moved into the area. Drawn in by heavier than, normal radio traffic, the torpedo boats found themselves caught up in the midst of Operation Tiger.  The German torpedoes hit their mark.  One LST (landing ship tank) was seriously crippled.  Another burst into flames, trapping many of the victims below deck.  And a third sank immediately, sending hundreds of U.S. soldiers and sailors to their watery grave.

The casualties from Operation Tiger are difficult to pin down because of incomplete information.  The major numbers in the operation came from the sinking of LST 531 and LST 507.  There were 290 survivors out of a contingent of 744 soldiers and 282 sailors on LST 531 and 13 dead and 22 wounded on LST 507.  The total estimate, and the U.S. Army records are possibly not complete, is that there were 749 killed and more than 300 wounded.  Estimates go as high as nearly 1000 men killed and 500 wounded. SOME OF THE CASUALTIES MAY NOT HAVE BEEN COUNTED.

 

In addition to the ships being torpedoed the E-boats fired their weapons (rockets) toward the landing area, on the beach, inflicting casualties on the landing troops.  John P. Roza had left his ship in a landing craft (LCVP) in the early morning hours of April 28, 1944 and was in the process of landing his craft when the barrage began.  His coxswain, Charles Sena and he were both wounded by the incoming bombardment. The coxswain suffered a wound to the throat and Roza was wounded in the leg and torso.  Roza administered first aid to the coxswain by wrapping a shirt around his exposed vocal cords and then drove the landing craft back to their ship.  Upon arrival at the ship, Charles Sena was helped to sick bay by other crew members and Roza followed.  The medics then attended to Roza’s wounds, his right shoulder was bleeding due to a gash from shrapnel.  The medics clamped the wound to stop the bleeding.  The right leg shin area was not bleeding but he had a great deal of soreness in the leg.  His left leg, two days later was very sore and he returned to sick bay.  The medics said he had a large hematoma in the thigh area and the medics removed the liquid from the hematoma and Roza went back to duty.  To this day, John Roza has a four inch scar on his right shoulder and the damage to his right leg has an area that has really never healed. Roza says that you can see the impression of where the object hit his leg.  His right shoulder, right leg, shin area has given him pain since the day of the wounding.

 

Later on, Roza remembered that the ships crew was briefed by their Officers, stating that the ships company could not talk or release any information concerning any incident that happened during Operation Tiger and if they did they would be punished under the UCMJ regulations.  From that day on Operation Tiger was never mentioned again.  This is a clear memory as stated by John P. Roza.  Thirty nine days later the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson APA 30 was involved in the Normandy Invasion and John P. Roza was one of the first boots on Blue Beach, marking the beach for the incoming troops.

 

The U.S.S, Thomas Jefferson APA 30 designated a President Jackson- class attack transport was built by the U.S. Navy for use in World War II and was assigned the task of transporting troops to and from the battle areas. She was a storied ship, nick named by her valiant crew “The Lucky T J” because of her ability to avoid disaster during combat. “The Lucky T J” during World War II, participated in six (6) major invasions including North Africa, Sicily, Salerno Bay, Normandy, Southern France, Okinawa and was preparing for her seventh invasion on the main land of Japan when the atomic bombs were dropped and the war ended. The U.S. Thomas Jefferson received six battle stars for World War II service and four for the Korean War.  The ship was decommissioned 18 July, 1955 and was sold for scrap.


Many valiant men, 68 Officers and 1197 Enlisted served on “The Lucky T J during WW II and one warrior sailor in particular, Motor Machinist Mate, First Class John Pereira Roza Jr., SN 5644626, born February 18, 1918, who was on board for  five D-Day invasions.  Roza’s duties included being the first boots on the beach, marking directions for the incoming troops to proceed to their assault missions.

 

To continue the history of John Roza and what happen many years later is quite a story.  In June of 1987, John P. Roza was leading a group of friends and family in Lisbon, Portugal.  After dinner one night John was arranging transportation, because he spoke Portuguese, by cab for his group to return to their hotel.  John sensed that some one was staring at him and he turned to see a cab driver staring at him.  After a moment John, wondering what was going on, approached the cab driver and said,” Is there was a problem”.  The driver replied,” I know you.” And John replied,” I think you are mistaken, I have never been to Portugal before.”  The driver said,” I will never forget your face! On D Day, June 6, 1944 you saved my life, you were on Utah Beach and you saw me in the water lying face down.  You pulled me up and revived me before I headed inland.  I was in the U.S. Army.”  The cab driver told John that after the war he moved to Lisbon, Portugal the homeland of his parents.  John said he will never forget that emotional surprise after all those years.  And yes, John did remember pulling the soldier out of the water.  Life is sure full of wonderful surprises!  And the memories of war leave faces of strangers imprinted in your mind forever.  What a blessing that a soldier, after all these years, was able to thank the man who saved him.  The only sad part about the story is that both John and the cab driver were so surprised and emotional that they forgot to exchange names and now that is lost forever.

 

John Pereira Roza Jr. had a brother who also served in the U.S. Navy, Joseph Pereira Roza, as a sailor on P T Boats in the Pacific Theater and he just happened to be in the same squadron as former President John F. Kennedy. Joe has since passed away.


When John Roza returned to civilian life after the war, he returned home to San Luis Obispo County and three days after his return, John’s father died and for many years he supported his mother until she passed away.  John Roza was a truck driver and a Boat Shop Operator for many years.  He was still driving and delivering new boats to the east coast when he was 86 years old.

 

John Roza, had many civilian accomplishments and belonged to many service organizations including the Brotherhood of Elks, the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and the California State Sheriffs Association.  He also attained the second highest ranking in the Masonic Lodge, 32nd degree Mason. John was Veteran of the Year for San Luis Obispo County, November 11, 2010 in a ceremony at the Faces of Freedom War Memorial, in Atascadero, California.  Roza has led by example and he has demonstrated hard work, honesty and he has lived a life of honor.

 

John Roza never told or spoke of his secret war experiences and certainly did not tell the story for fame or glory, until 2009 when a family member persuaded him to tell his story to an interviewer for the Library of Congress’s Living History Program.  His family and military friend’s, then began to make the case for awarding him the Purple Heart as a testimony to an exceptional man doing exceptional acts in an exceptional time.


Chief Motor Machinist Mate, John P. Roza, SN 564426 USN (FMR) is 97 years old and in the later stages of his life, he served his country with nobility,  honor and distinction and he deserves the Purple Heart.  He was Honorably Discharged at the end of World War II.  A few observations are in order:

 

In the appeal process, it has been noted that no medical records for that time exist. Two sworn affidavits from witnesses must be obtained for consideration of the award.  John is now the sole survivor of the original crew of the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson APA 30.  He has one affidavit from a former crew member, that crew member has since passed away and chances of getting a second witness is nil.

Mr. Roza is 97 years old and will probably join the ranks of World War II veterans that are leaving us at a rapid rate.  I doubt if awarding him a well deserved medal will cause a rash of 97 year old’s making the same claim.

 

Mr. John P. Roza has always lived his life with truthfulness and honor.  What the government can do is to present John P. Roza with the Purple Heart he so deserves and they honor this man, born to the Worlds Greatest Generation.

 

On October 30, 2014, the Hoyt S. Vandenberg Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars sponsored a WWII Veterans Tribute luncheon in San Luis Obispo, CA.  The Vandenberg Chapter had 102 WWII Veterans attend and each Veteran was introduced and honored.  Chief Motor Machinist Mate John P. Roza was honored for his service to his country during WWII.

 

The Companions of the Hoyt S. Vandenberg Chapter of the Military Order of the World Wars attempted to assist in John Roza’s quest by pursuing all avenues available to secure recognition and justice for John.  To date, we have not been successful even though we believe that the cause fits the ideals expressed in the Preamble of our Order’s Constitution. For example:

 

*Cherish memories and associations of the World Wars
*Acquire and preserve records of individual Services
*Encourage and assist in Commemorations and Memorials of the World Wars
*Transmit all these ideals to posterity

 

Finally, John P. Roza’s experiences and those of the other men killed or wounded in similar classified actions during WWII, no matter how secret they were at that time, should be honored and their contribution made public at this time before they are gone.