BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — If there’s one word to describe the Rogers family’s loss, it’s “devastating.”
On the night of November 30, 1942, in the middle of World War II, a fleet of 10 United States battleships intercepted eight Japanese destroyers during a supply run. However, the battle ended in the Axis Powers’ victory, with the U.S. losing over 400 naval soldiers in what is known as the Battle of Tassafaronga.
Among the hundreds killed were 30-year-old Edward Keith, 22-year-old Jack Ellis Jr. and 19-year-old Charles Ethbert Rogers, three brothers from Birmingham who were onboard the USS New Orleans.
Who were the Rogers boys?
The Rogers family tree, headed by Jack Ellis and Josie Viola Rogers, branches off into eight siblings total, including Keith, Jack and Charles.
Keith Charles Rogers remembers hearing stories about his uncles from various family members, including his father, Raymond Howard Rogers.
“My dad was the youngest brother and I was named after two of the brothers,” Keith said. “So I carry that heritage and that legacy very honorably and am very honored to be named after them.”
The three brothers received seven battle stars for their service including in the Attack of Pearl Harbor, the Battles of Coral Sea, Midway and Eastern Solomon Islands with two stars earned in the Guadalcanal campaign and posthumously in the Battle of Tassafaronga.
Affectionately referred to as “The Boys” by the family, the three volunteered to serve and are remembered for their athleticism, as well as their love for their family and country.
“[Edward Keith] was like a second dad, and originally he was on another ship and requested to go onboard the New Orleans with his brothers,” Keith said. “He told his mom and dad ‘I got transferred because I got to look after these knuckleheads.'”
Linda Rogers, daughter of Emmett Hugh Rogers, painted a vivid outlook of the family’s tragedy, spoken in stories few and far between.
“I can remember as a child, the family had a picture album [of the brothers] and I would sit in the closet and look at everything,” Linda said. “And I was so afraid of war that whenever I would hear an airplane going over, I would think ‘Oh dear, are we going to be bombed?’ Because their deaths devastated the entire family.”
Linda said that shortly after the deaths of the brothers, her father Hugh withdrew from school and, with the consent of his parents, enlisted when he turned 17. He would go on to serve on the repaired USS New Orleans, the very same ship his brothers were killed onboard.
“Daddy went with anger and hatred in his heart to get revenge [on the Axis] because they had killed his brothers,” Linda said. “But he realized that that wasn’t the right way to feel and changed his attitude after he became a Christian and realized that Jesus and God would not want him to feel that way.”
One of the last letters Josie Rogers received from her sons was from her eldest son, according to Keith.
“It almost seems like [Edward Keith] had a premonition because at the end, he wrote ‘Mom, we’re all paid up, prayed up, and ready to go’,” he said.
A letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt
When Keith and Linda were contacted concerning their family’s history, they were not expecting to learn that a letter signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was up for auction online.
The Rabb Collection is a “recognized name in important historical autographs and documents” located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Recently, the collection unveiled a letter of condolence sent and signed by Roosevelt addressed to the Rogers family from January 4, 1943.
Prior to being contacted by CBS 42 about the letter, the Rogers family had no idea that it had been sold in an auction
“We had no idea knowing that this letter, that was originally in possession of a family member, had been lost out of the possession of the family,” Keith said.
Keith said only copy of the FDR letter he had seen was a version that had been published in The Birmingham News shortly after his uncles’ deaths.
Both Keith and Linda hope to be able to get the letter back, saying Roosevelt’s recognition of their uncles’ sacrifice soothed the family’s grief.
“They were so devastated that most of the time, they didn’t even want to engage in talk about it because it was so traumatizing,” Keith said. “I can’t imagine my grandmother not getting one notice, but three notices all at one time that her three of her oldest sons were killed.”
“To lose three of your boys,” Linda said. “I mean they were just devastated.”
Representatives from the Rabb Collection said the letter was purchased from a private collector and “like most historical documents, it has likely been owned by several parties over the past eighty years. Now someone else has the chance to be its custodian,” according to a statement sent to CBS 42.
Swann Auction Galleries, a historical auction located in New York City, was also in possession of the letter and sold the item in 2019.