Monday, March 24, 2008

Farewell Col.Jack Roche

My Uncle Jack Roche was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC this week. Last spring we celebrated his 90th birthday with a great party in West Palm, Florida. I was the flower girl in his wedding to Aunt Pat in 1950 before he headed off again to the Korean War. The following is an article from the Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa:

STRAIGHT as a ramrod and handsome as a matinee idol, Col. John “Jack” Roche had medals galore, but he especially prized a membership card in his billfold. It was Card No. 1, of thousands issued, in the Dear Joe Club … a unique outfit of World War II service people. It had no dues, no officers, just a unique camaraderie tied together by a sports editor.Jack Roche was a figure in three wars, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His mind never forgot the buzz-saw roar of his B-24 bomber skimming the blazing hell of Ploesti, Romania, or losing a couple planes, or being involved with the atomic bomb.Col. Jack, ex-Davenporter, died in November in Palm Beach, Fla.
He always wanted to be buried among heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. “We wanted him to be buried this month, on his birthday, March 24,” says his widow, Patricia, who was one of the Davenport McCabes. “The request was granted and there will be a full military funeral, a caisson and military band at 11 a.m. on that date this year.”
Veterans of World War II are fading fast. We are losing them at a daily rate of about 1,135, the Veterans Administration says. There will be 414,000 deaths this year. All are heroes, but Col. Jack Roche was one of Davenport’s most notable.He was proud of all his honors and medals, but he carried a favorite in his billfold. Jack Roche was the first service person to be issued a “Dear Joe Club” membership card.The club was the brainchild of the late John O’Donnell, sports editor of the Democrat & Leader. In 1942, he began printing letters from service people in lieu of his Sunday column. It grew to two full news pages of letters. Service people who wrote — and those who didn’t — were mailed membership cards to O’Donnell’s Dear Joe Club. Every service person was “Dear Joe” to O’Donnell. Thousands of cards were mailed, ending up in foxholes and on flight decks. The club drew national attention.Col. Roche is a saga of guts and fame, a subject of Associated Press stories. After one raid, and while still a second lieutenant, he met Winston Churchill. The British prime minister had just finished a speech, thanking “Young America for coming to the support of Mother England.”He piloted 40 missions, losing two B-24s, both of them affectionately named “Ambrose,” because St. Ambrose College was his alma mater. Once, after Ambrose was shot up by Germans, Roche made a dead-stick landing in Algiers. Two engines were gone and three crew members dead. The plane broke its back in landing, but Roche’s piloting skill was able to save the rest of the crew and himself.
After his Europeans missions, he was called to assist with the Manhattan project to work out details of dropping an atomic bomb on Japan. Before assignment to the Pentagon, he commanded air bases in Korea and Vietnam.Still, he wasn’t ready to officially retire. He showed up in his dress uniform — with the “salad” of ribbons on his military blouse — when he made the rounds of Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. He was the airport’s uniformed ambassador, polite to the extreme, always giving visitors directions to this gate or that concourse, just like he directed a wing of World War II’s famous “Ted’s Flying Circus.” He would always laugh, “I was one of the clowns in that circus.”He was, indeed, one of our notable servicemen.
Some of us wonder what happened to his Dear Joe card.Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or

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