On October 6, 2019, and October 13, 2019, the Years of Yore page featured the story of American warships named in honor of two Hibbing heroes and the town of Hibbing itself. The USS Roche was named for David Roche, the USS Greiner was named for Kenneth Greiner, and the USS Hibbing Victory was named for the town’s contributions to the war effort in ore and human treasure.
I always appreciate hearing from readers, and after those stories appeared I was so glad to hear from the Roche family! Carol Roche Hooten, her brother David Roche and his wife Carol, have shared with me more information about their uncle, Ensign David John Roche, and the ship dedicated in his name.
On this page today I would like to share pictures and stories about the USS Roche and its namesake, Ensign Roche. He gave his life for America during the Battle of Midway.
Currently in movie theaters is the new film “Midway” which depicts the pivotal battle that took place in the South Pacific, June 4-7, 1942. In his film review of “Midway,” Owen Gleiberman who writes for “Variety” and previously wrote for “Entertainment Weekly,” says of the battle depicted in the film that we are being reminded, “This is what it took to save civilization.”
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
David came from a large Hibbing family. His parents were David and Carrie Roche. The children included seven boys: Arnold Dolezel (from Carrie’s earlier marriage), then Francis, David, Henry, George, Clarence, and Richard, and two girls: Marie and Dorothy. Henry, George, and Clarence also served in the Armed Forces.
Apparently the younger boys’ interest in flying was influenced by Arnold and Francis. Arnold is described as being an avid builder of model airplanes and Francis a Navy pilot in the 1930s. David was quite the high school athlete at Hibbing High School and Hibbing Junior College. He participated in boxing, baseball, and was the quarterback of the football team on both high school and college teams. After working in the Civilian Conservation Corp, he joined the Navy to be a pilot. He graduated from the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, and, ironically, could fly planes but did not have a driver’s license for cars!
He was a member of Torpedo Squadron 3 flying off the USS Yorktown. These squadrons performed harrowing jobs and did them well, changing the course of the war in the Pacific. On the first day of the Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942, David was reported missing in action. He received posthumously, among other honors, the Navy Cross. The citation reads, in part, “In the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire…he pressed home his attack to a point where it became relatively certain that, in order to accomplish his mission, he would probably sacrifice his life.”
America, the “Arsenal of Democracy,” geared up her industries to build the armaments needed to fight a war on two fronts. Shipbuilding was of great importance and by 1944 upwards of 40 ships a month were being launched at shipyards on both the east and west coasts. On January 9, 1944, a new destroyer escort, “a sub-sinker,” was launched at U.S. Steel’s Federal Shipyard in Port Newark, New Jersey. Work to build this ship began three months earlier. Her name—the USS Roche DE197. On hand to christen the new ship in the name of her son was Mrs. Carrie Roche and another one of her sons, George.
In 1993, a reunion of the crew of the USS Roche gathered for the fifth time. They invited the Roche family to attend and almost twenty members of the family did attend. The Hibbing Daily Tribune on August 23, 1993, reported on the upcoming reunion. Hibbing Tribune reporter Michael Lemmons spoke to George Roche about that time 50 years earlier when the ship named for his brother was launched. The following is from the 1993 interview.
During World War II only destroyers and destroyer escorts were named after war heroes.
Then a Navy aviation cadet in January 1944, George Roche traveled by train from Pensacola, Florida, to join his mother, Carrie, for the launch of the USS Roche from Newark, New Jersey.
“They informed me in Pensacola that I was supposed to be there. So I had to go to New Orleans to catch a train,” George said recently. “I sat on the train for two days and three nights. There was no seat. So I sat in the men’s washroom. I was tired when I got there, but it was worth it.”
This time, George plans to be a little more comfortable.
“I’m flying out to Vegas,” he said.
Soon after launching on January 9, 1944, the Roche escorted convoys across both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, then returned to New York. From mid-1944 to mid-1945, the ship and its crew of nearly 200 continued its dangerous Atlantic escort duties , including assisting in the rescue of 11 men from the a mid ocean collision. The first man they rescued will be attending the reunion, along with over 40 of the Roche’s crew members.
By May 1945, the Roche was transferred to the Pacific. While en route, the Japanese surrendered. The Roche and its crew escorted transports to Wake Island, protecting them against Japanese submarine crews who may not have learned about the surrender.
Leaving Wake Island for Japan, the ship struck an underwater mine, killing three crew members and injuring ten. Towed to Tokyo Bay, the ship remained moored for a month until the Navy inspection revealed it to be too badly damaged for repair. The ship was stripped of salvageable elements and the hulk sunk near Yokosuka, Japan, on March 11, 1946.
Coincidentally, George Roche was based near Yokosuka shortly after the war, though he is unsure if he saw the USS Roche while he was there.
The faithful crew of the Roche formed an association after the war. They gathered for reunions and published a newsletter, including one that contains a crewmember’s photos of ship life before and after encountering the underwater mine. In the commemorative program for the 1993 reunion is a portrait of Ensign David Roche and a summary of his life. It ends with the following words:
Like the USS Roche, Ensign David Roche rests on the Pacific bottom. May they rest together forever.