This thirty-nine-part series is all about remembering. In French it’s le devoir de mémoire, the duty to remember.
Ensign Melvin C. Roach’s name appears many times in this book. He got a few close calls.
At first, I thought he had survived the war just like Ensign Mortimer Kleinmann whose son Michael wrote a comment last week.
My father did, indeed, survive the war and became Grumman’s chief test pilot flying the F6F at Floyd Bennett Field. He went on to medical school becoming a psychiatrist. He spent sixteen years as an Army psychiatrist proudly wearing his Navy wings on the Army uniform. I now have those wings. He retired from the Army with the rank of Lt. Colonel. He passed away in 1990.
Mike and I exchanged “a few emails”.
David Hansen, who I call as master modeller, even sent me these images of the Wildcat Mike’s father flew and Pug Southerland took off with.
Mike Kleinmann found my blog by Googling his father’s name.
Lo and behold this is what he found!
Mike told some interesting stories about his father, and I offered him to write about it here.
So don’t touch that dial yet.
Next time I have something very special about the next pilot.
Two months ago I had contacted this pilot’s grand-nephew when I Googled Marion Dufilho’s name. He had a few things to share with my readers, but I had to wait.
Now what about Ensign Melvin C. Roach?
This is what I found when I Googled his name.
Lt. Roach with his aircraft “Little Betty” named after his wife.
Caption on the back to his wife, “This is my own plane how do you like the name of it?”
Lt. Melvin Roach was from Oilton, OK. He graduated from Oklahoma A&M with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Lt. Roach was a Hellcat pilot assigned to the Yorktown, Saratoga and Essex, squadrons VF-5, VF-6 and VF-15. He fought at Guadalcanal, The Solomon Islands and Coral Sea.
Ensign Melvin C. Roach was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism in the Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942 and posthumously awarded the American Legion Gold Star.
Original Distinguished Flying Cross citation presented to Ensign Melvin C. Roach, United States Naval Reserve signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. The Citation reads as follows: “For heroic achievement in aerial flight as a pilot of Scouting Squadron SIX in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942. While engaged in combat patrol, Ensign Roach, at great personal risk made a daring attack against enemy aircraft approaching the U.S.S. YORKTOWN and assisted in the destruction of at least one enemy airplane. His skill as an airman, his courageous perseverance and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
As a member of “The Fighting Five” Squadron VF-5, they were responsible for shooting down 98 enemy aircraft. Lt Roach was credited with four kills and two unconfirmed kills.
Chicago Sun newspaper article
Lt. Roach shot down an enemy reconnaissance aircraft during the Battle of Guadalcanal but not before return fire shot out his oil line and seized his engine. He ditched and swam 25 miles to a Japanese held island and hid in a sea cave until his rescue four days later.
Out on the town in Chicago while on leave from the war. Caption on the back “A boy from Texas
and myself having a big time in a nite club here”. The other pilot is Lt Mark Bright.
After Guadalcanal, the squadron flight surgeon diagnosed several of the pilots with flying fatigue and were awarded 30 days leave. During that time, Lt. Roach and four other VF-5 pilots toured the US in an effort to sell war bonds and broadcast their war stories on CBS radio, Chicago.
July 27, 1944 – Newspaper article of Lt. Melvin Roach’s death
On June 12, 1944, he volunteered to take the place of a fellow pilot who fell sick. The mission was to attack a Japanese convoy on the island of Saipan. Lt. Roach launched off the Essex in Hellcat (plane #34) which was normally flown by his squadron mate, and according to witnesses, the plane went down about a mile directly in front of the ship. The plane exploded upon impact. No one knows what happened and his body was never recovered. A destroyer was dispatched but no remains were recovered.
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