Rogow, Melvin B. ‘44
George Ryan had a telephone interview with Mel Rogow on January 25, 2013. Mel said the Santa Catalina was on the maiden voyage and sailed from Philadelphia to an unknown destination (he said the crew was not told). The other Cadet was Keating, didn’t remember first name but thought he was from near Boston; Mel never had a chance to know him before and the ship had just left port. He thought part of the cargo was smokeless powder and that there were many explosions during the attack. (The German records from U-129 stated the cargo was gasoline–unlikely for a C-2 unless in barrels). There were 95 survivors and no loss of life. German records are found in U-boat.net.
Mel remembers he was asleep in his bunk when the first torpedo hit; he sprung out of bunk and shortly after another hit. Mel ran to engine room to see if everyone got out. No one was there and he climbed the ladders as quickly as he could as the ship was listing badly. Everyone was trying to abandon ship but they were only able to launch from one side due to list. The motor lifeboat was launched with only the Captain, Armed Guard C.O. and a few others; they pulled away from the ship and stayed away. Mel never forgot that and lost respect for the Captain. The ship was burning and explosions were going off. Other boats were launched. Mel had lost his lifejacket and one shoe but found another and was on the boat deck with the all Chinese national stewards department who were in a state of panic. Mel climbed down a short rope and fell into the water; somehow everyone got off the ship. The last man off the ship was the radio operator who had physical impairments. He must have sent a distress signal but most important he began to throw cigarette cartons and other supplies over the side to the boats; to Mel, Sparks was the only hero.
Mel was in an ore propelled boat and attempted to have the crew row properly since he was trained at Kings Point. The crew was undisciplined. Mel thought they were on the water for more than a day or so. At one point a ship saw them but did not stop. Later from hearsay he was told the ship was ordered to turn around by a PBY aircraft. He thought it was a Swedish ship and only knew the name Venezia from a recent website. They were landed in San Juan Puerto Rico. Mel had only the oily clothes he survived in and only one shoe. He can’t remember how he got more clothes. The officers and cadets were berthed in the Hotel Contado (sp?). They were fed in the main dining room and the chicken was tough. He sent it back and had a drink, then another and another. Pretty soon he was up on the stage playing with the band as he was a musician playing tenor sax and other instruments in high school. Although the other Cadet Keating was on the ship only a comparatively short time, he became a friend with whom Mel did carouse around with for almost a month in San Juan. The crew was flown back to New York after a month and he returned to school. At one point he was told to get into NYC with full uniform; he wasn’t told why but he and other crew received some medal from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Mel doesn’t know what medal it was or what it was for; he doesn’t have it now. That was the only other time he saw the captain. Mel did keep the life jacket and proudly shows it to students when he gives talks.
Mel ultimately became an attorney; studied Yiddish and became proficient enough to manage programs in Yiddish. He is enjoying life with his family and is looking forward to meeting Kings Point Superintendent Admiral Helis when he visits San Pedro, CA in the next few months.