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Herbert E. Thiel

When I was growing up and even to this day when I am around certain relatives and people who have known me since I was young, and some elderly folks, I bore the moniker, “Little Herbie.” Man, I hated that. I hated to be called Herbert, too, because there was NObody even close to my age that had a name like Herbert! What were my parents thinking to name me Herbert and allow people to call me “Little Herbie?”

Okay, now that the giggling, laughing, chortling, chuckling snorting and outright guffawing have simmered down I will tell you.

My dad used to talk about his brother all the time. He often tells the story of how, when he was a little boy, growing up on the farm with 11 brothers and sisters, his older brother, Herbie, bought him a train set for Christmas. In the 1930s, times were tough, you did not have a lot of money, and you did not get many “things.” You had to use your imagination to play games, there was no Nintendo, no TV and you might get to listen to the radio if you finished your chores and didn’t have something more fun to do. My dad cherished the toy train and valued it so much, that when other kids would come over to visit, he would put it away in his closet so they wouldn’t see it and possibly wreck it. He cherished his brother even more. His brother was a hero to him as well.

My dad wanted to sign up for WWII, but his hearing was bad and he was a little young and they wouldn’t take him. My German grandfather wanted to fight, but the Army told him, as politely as they could, that he probably needed to be home with all those kids. That’s when my uncle volunteered. He went down and signed up and the whole family, the whole town, really, was very proud of him. It appears from what little I know of it that Herbie was a popular fellow in the town of Saukville, WI and he was a hero before he even did anything. That was how it was in WWII and how small towns were and are. The town’s American Legion post, Landt-Thiel post #470, is partly named after him.

A new guided missile technology used by the Germans made a deadly hit on the boat and killed over a thousand troops (1015) and the government feared there would be panic if the news got out that the Germans had this rocket-powered technology. This was almost as many American troops dead as Pearl Harbor, but while the USS Arizona and the USS Indianapolis were becoming household words, the poorly manned, British-owned, Indian operated HMT Rohna, was being swept under the carpet. The maritime disaster of the HMT Rohna was not covered by the news at the time and actually appears to have been suppressed by the government.

There were many heroic deeds done that day and my dad still chokes up after all these years every time we talk about his brother, but there is one thing he points out with every telling. My uncle wanted to do the right thing. He knew joining the military and serving his country was the right thing for him to do, but he also had a secret. He told my dad that he would go and do what he had to do, of course, but he really did not want to kill anyone and had prayed he wouldn’t have to. His prayer was answered.

The link I am putting in this story, which I hope will work, is to a web page about my dad’s hero, The link to the creator’s e-mail is broken, but I am thinking it was done by one of the many cousins I have not stayed in touch with.

Here is the link to the page about the disaster itself

I hope the links comes through as such and you don’t have to “Cut & Paste” to see it, but even so, I think it’s worth it.

So, anyway, I have learned that I have a name to be proud of and when my Grandmother and aunts and uncles would call me “Little Herbie” it was an honor I didn’t understand. And no, don’t you even try it, because I might find some way to “honor” you.

Remember, as the Good Book says, “If you pay an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth the world will be full of toothless blind people.”


6 responses to “Herbert E. Thiel”

  1. […] what about when a German rocket hits your troop transport?  This is a reprint of a piece I posted originally on 10/27/04.  I have since learned that the website linked to Herbert E. Thiel was done by my cousin […]

  2. Erica Thiel Avatar

    I am related to you somehow,my Grandoa your Dad’s brither no doubt. But reading 1 of my Mom’s books on the HMT Rihna and was just doing a little more research when I came across this page.
    Love learning more. 💕


    1. Herb Avatar

      Hi Erica!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, your dad is my first cousin. The whole Rhona cover-up is interesting and I look forward to learning more, too.

  3. […] of this blog. On October 27, 2004, I posted about my dad’s favorite and beloved brother, Herbert E. Thiel, and why my dad loved his brother so much. In the original post, I linked to my cousin’s page […]

  4. Al Avatar

    Fascinating Article. Unsurprisingly, I had no idea about this incident. I can see why it was “covered up” during the war. Glad you researched and wrote this for your family’s benefit.

    1. Herb Avatar


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