Last week here on the Years of Yore page, the warships USS Hibbing Victory and the USS Greiner were remembered. Today, on this Memorial Day, the USS Roche and the many servicemen and servicewomen of the Iron Range will be honored. During World War II, only destroyers and destroyer escorts were named after war heroes. The USS Greiner was a destroyer escort, as was the USS Roche. Carol Roche Hooten, her brother David Roche and his wife Carol, have shared with me the following information about their uncle and the ship dedicated to his name.
Ensign David John Roche was born and raised in Hibbing. His parents were David and Carrie Roche and there were seven boys and two girls in the family. Three of David’s brothers, Henry, George, and Clarence, also served in the Armed Forces during the war.
David was quite the athlete at Hibbing High School and Hibbing Junior College. 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 could, ironically, 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.”
During the war shipbuilding was of enormous importance and by 1944 upwards of 40 ships a month were being launched at shipyards on both the east and west coasts of America. On January 9, 1944, a new destroyer escort, also called a “sub sinker,” was launched at U.S. Steel’s Federal Shipyard in Port Newark, New Jersey. It had taken three months to build her – which is an amazingly short time and shows how determined was America’s war effort!
On hand to break a bottle of champagne over the prow of this new ship was Mrs. Carrie Roche from Hibbing and one of her sons, George, who was, at that time, a Naval aviation cadet at Pensacola, as his brother had been. He was informed by his superiors in Pensacola that he was to be at the christening, so he took a very convoluted train journey to get to Newark, but made it in time to proudly help christen the ship USS Roche DE197.
The Roche escorted convoys across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The brave crew of nearly 200 continued this dangerous duty through 1944 and into 1945. They once also assisted in rescuing men who were in the water following a mid-ocean collision. After V-E Day (Victory in Europe) in May of 1945, the Roche was transferred to the Pacific Ocean, arriving soon after the Japanese surrender in August. The ship continued its duties because some Japanese submarines had not learned of the surrender and were still firing on Allied ships.
Leaving Wake Island for Japan, the Roche struck an underwater mine. Three crew men died and ten were injured. The ship was towed to Tokyo Bay where it was inspected and the Navy determined she was too badly damaged to be repaired. Salvageable elements were removed and the hulk sunk near Yokosuka on March 11, 1946.
The faithful crew of the USS Roche formed an association after the war. They gathered for reunions and published a newsletter. In the commemorative program for the 1993 reunion, there is a portrait of David 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.”