Ships are named for Hibbing and two of her servicemen

The USS Roche (DE-197) was a Cannon-class ship with a length of 300 feet and a beam (the width at the widest point) of 36 feet 10 inches. She had four diesel engines and two propellers. She displaced 1240 tons (light) and 1620 (full). It is very possible that the steel used to build her came from the Mesabi Iron Range. She was named for a Hibbing boy who died serving his country.

The Iron Range has a long list of things to take pride in. One of those things is that so many young people from this area served their country in the Armed Forces. Many of those men and women went off to the Service during very dangerous war times, then came home to work hard and contribute to building our communities. Others “gave their all” on battlefields around the world.

The very land on which we live here on the Range also gave of itself, sharing the iron ore needed to build and maintain the components of a mighty Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

These treasures of people and natural resources always need to be honored and remembered.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune on June 29, 1946, published a special commemorative edition of the newspaper. It celebrated the victory of the Allies in World War II and the many local contributions to that tremendous effort.

Isabelle Rinaldi wrote the following article included in that commemorative edition. She relates the stories of three commissioned ships in the United States Navy which have deep ties to Hibbing.

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

Warships Are Named After Roche, Greiner, and Village of Hibbing

As long as these three ships remain atop the waters of the world, the names of two Hibbing heroes and the name of Hibbing itself will be perpetuated.

With those names – the U.S.S. Hibbing Victory, the U.S.S. Greiner, the U.S.S. Roche – on their majestic bows, those seeing them will, perhaps, little realize the story that lies behind them.

To us, however, they’re not just names, nor just ships; they are heroes, carrying on for their namesakes who were forced to drop the torch and for a city whose war record is probably unequalled and certainly unsurpassed.

Here are the stories once more, as part of the history of Our Town. For us who experienced the years of war, knew the heroes, and knew the role Hibbing played in the victory, they shall serve as a reminder. To those “too young to know,” they shall, later, make all stop and think and be thankful; and to the boys – Lt. Kenneth and Ensign Dave – they shall be our tribute.

Mrs. Carrie M. Roche sent the U.S.S. Roche down the ways (a sloping structure down which a new ship is launched) at Port Newark, New Jersey, January 9, 1944, to avenge her son, Ensign David John, shot down in the Battle of Midway, June 1942.

The sub-killer took to the sea and war as naturally as had her namesake, the gallant young Dave, listed as missing in the Japanese “face-saving” attack on Midway that June, presumed dead a year later.

But where one died, three sprung up. Yes, winged sons of Nippon (Japan) had shot down David out of the sky – but David’s brothers-in-arms took to the air at once and made the Japanese know it had been their brother who had been killed.

Dave went down fighting, a credit to himself, to Hibbing, to the nation.

The American Defense Service Medal, the Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Area campaign banner, the Purple Heart, the Navy Cross were his. And then the ship.

Great honor for one lad. But he was a great lad.

The citation accompanying his Navy Cross tells his story:

“For extraordinary heroism as pilot of an airplane of a torpedo squadron in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. Participating in a torpedo plane assault against Japanese naval units, Ensign Roche, in the face of tremendous anti-aircraft fire and overwhelming fighter opposition, 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. Undeterred by the grave possibilities of such a hazardous offensive, he carried on with extreme disregard for his personal safety until his squadron scored direct hits on two enemy aircraft carriers. His self-sacrificing gallantry and fortitude were in keeping with the highest traditions in the United States Naval Service.”

Dave was born in Hibbing on December 2, 1918. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. David Roche and their three honorably discharged sons (Henry, who served in the Army Air Corp; George, who served in the Naval Air Corp; and Clarence, who served in the Army Air Corp) live at 2128 Third Avenue West. Dave attended the local elementary schools, high school, and Junior College where he starred in football. (David graduated from Hibbing High School in 1936. His Hematite yearbook quote is, “Who says that I am too tall? Well, if you’re short, you’re sure to fall.”)

On November 13, 1939, he signed with the U.S. Naval Reserve in Minneapolis and took preliminary flight training there.

He was appointed aviation cadet on February 23, 1940, and took further flight courses at Pensacola and Miami, Florida. That November 8 he was ordered to active service in a torpedo squadron attached to a carrier. Duty in the Pacific, the Coral Sea, brought him to Midway in the late spring of 1942, where he met his death.

A new honor came to Dave just last April. His name was added to the title of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Its name is now Johnson-Messner-Roche, another tribute to a noble Hibbing naval man who deserves all that – and more.

The U.S.S. Roche was a destroyer escort. Known as a “submarine-sinker,” she was the 36th ship launched from U.S. Steel’s Port Newark shipyard in the first month of 1944. Imagine how many ships were turned out in a year!

The Roche made many trips back and forth across the Atlantic in her first year on the water. Following the end of the war in Europe in June 1945, the Roche was sent to the Pacific where she re-trained at Pearl Harbor. The war with Japan ended in August 1945, and the Roche was sent out as on anti-submarine patrols to protect Allied ships against any Japanese subs that had not gotten notification about the surrender.

In September, while near Tokyo Bay, the Roche struck a floating mine. Three men were killed and many injured in the explosion. In the following months, it was determined that the ship was economically not repairable. Some of her parts were salvaged before the rest was sunk off of Yokosuka, Japan, in March 1946.

•••

Letter Home

The following is a letter sent in 1944 to George Fischer, the Managing Editor of the Hibbing newspaper, from Paul Klisurich, a Navy man stationed “somewhere in the Pacific.” It concerns an article that had just appeared in a Navy magazine regarding the naming of a ship after fellow Hibbingite Ensign David Roche. Isn’t it wonderful that the Hibbing Daily Tribune made it to the South Pacific on a regular basis in wartime!

Dear Mr. Fischer,

Just a line to let you know that I haven’t forgotten you back home. I may be way out here in the Pacific, but I still am able to receive “The Daily Tribune.” It sure is good to read about my buddies and this is the only way that I am able to keep in touch with them.

I can tell you that the Navy hasn’t forgotten our lost buddy. This is an article that was in the “Our Navy” magazine; it sure is good to know that they named a ship after him and we will try to get revenge for what the enemy has brought to us.

I am on an island in the Pacific which is not to be mentioned by me, but everything is well with me; it was a mess when we first hit here, this place, but now that everything is cleared up we have a decent place to live although the area isn’t very big. As yet I have not met any of the local boys, but I’ve heard that there are a few boys from Ely around here; I hope to meet some of them soon.

This isn’t much, but I wanted to let you know about Mr. Roche. Give all my friends my best regards; “Doc” Savage, Coach Lukens, and I see where he is still a champ with his boys. I sure could go for some snow down here. Signing off for now.

Yours truly, Paul

Don’t miss next Sunday’s Years of Yore page for the story of the U.S.S. Greiner and the U.S.S. Victory.

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