Tag Archive | "unsung heroes of World War II"

Unsung Heroes

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Many nations have had their defining moments in time; history recalls their distinctions.  America’s moment began with the signing of the Declaration of Independence and reached its peak with World War II.  This global conflict inspired our country to rise to the occasion, despite its not being prepared at the onset of the war.  To bring to fruition President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of winning “the inevitable victory, so help us God,” many men, women, and children got involved in the war effort.

To create formidable armed forces, Congress enacted the draft, whereby able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 45 were inducted into military service.  America was also compelled to retool industries to build the equipment and manufacturer the supplies that we needed to conduct war.  Leaders of government and industry joined forces to attain this monumental objective that came to be known as, “The Arsenal of Democracy.”  This Arsenal supplied not only our own troops but also those of our Allies, who were sorely in need of war materials.

Throughout the four bloody years of World War II, many acts of heroism were performed.  Some of our military personnel received commendations for their actions; some did not.  This is a tale of a man in the latter category, an unsung hero.

When my brother Rocco turned 18, he received a letter from the local draft board ordering him to appear for a physical examination prior to his induction into the armed forces.  However, Rocco was rejected for military duty via the designation of 4-F (“unfit for combat”).

Rocco did not like the label of 4-F, so he decided to make a contribution in the way that he knew best.  He was attending Bok Vocational School in South Philadelphia at the time, studying to become a skilled laborer, a machinist.  As a top student, he was proficient in operating various machine tools.  Upon graduation, my brother received the American Legion Award of Excellence for leadership and vocational training.

He then procured a job as a machinist at Clark Cooper Industries, a Palmyra, New Jersey-based manufacturer of vital hardware for the U.S. Navy.  After his job ended for the day, back at Bok Vocational, Rocco instructed war workers concerning the use of various machine tools.  He continued this voluntary service until the war ended.

Always an achiever, Rocco managed to put himself through Drexel Institute to study Mechanical Engineering.  Twelve years of college taking night classes earned him a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering.   He was elevated to plant engineer by Clark Cooper upon attainment of the degree.  During his pursuit of the degree, Rocco was elevated to Shop Foreman at Clark Cooper, married his lovely wife, and brought a daughter into the world.

After the war, Clark Cooper Industries was sold, and the new owners planned to move the business out of State.  My brother was asked to make the move, but Rocco denied the request because of his strong family ties.

Rocco later procured a job at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard’s Naval Air Station.  The Station’s expertise focused on the launching and arresting gear used on aircraft carriers.  My brother’s skill and work ethic earned him recognition as a quality-oriented, cost effective engineer.  For a while, the Station utilized him as a troubleshooter.  In this capacity, he toured many shipyards nationwide, instructing personnel and repairing assigned gear.

Rocco was once asked to provide the gear necessary to land a helicopter on a destroyer as the ship rolled and pitched in the sea.  The strategy was to extend the security range of a fleet consisting of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers charged with protecting vulnerable aircraft carriers.  An additional helicopter would extend the security perimeter around the carriers.

My brother’s direct contribution was to design an optical system that allowed the chopper pilot to view a green-colored light.  This light provided the correct angle on which to land the helicopter on the rolling aircraft carrier.  Asked to name his invention, one of Rocco’s colleagues suggested that he name it the RP-1 in his honor.

The unit that Rocco devised was attached to a destroyer.  After a shakedown cruise, it was hailed a success.  The ship’s captain announced, “The unit will stay with my ship.  Build another one for somebody else’s ship!”

In 1974, the Naval Air Station at Philadelphia was moved to Lakehurst, New Jersey, a situation that concerned many engineers who could not make the move due to transportation issues.  Ever the problem solver, Rocco contacted the Philadelphia Transportation Agency to arrange a bus schedule to accommodate the workers requiring transportation to Lakehurst.  From Monday through Friday, the engineers assembled at Broad and Oregon Avenue at a predestined time and from there, proceeded to Lakehurst.  The bus waited at Lakehurst to carry the engineers back home.   Mission accomplished!

My brother was subsequently elevated to Acting Branch Manager, a position that he held until he retired in 1988.  Upon his retirement, U.S. Navy brass at Lakehurst honored him with a testimonial dinner at the Cherry Hill Inn.  My brother Anthony and I, and our wives, were among the honored guests.  Adapting a Father Guido Sarducci persona, the chaplain roasted my brother to the cheers and laughter of all.  I called it the icing on the cake, which Rocco richly deserved

In Rocco’s honor, I entered his name into the World War II Registry, which recognizes military personnel as well as civilians that helped win the war.

Always a perfectionist in everything he undertook, yet very humble concerning his accomplishments, Rocco demonstrated leadership and love of family and country, qualities that are sorely lacking in many of our leaders today.  The stories of the unsung heroes of World War II are the legacies of those who put country first, those like my brother and thousands of others across this nation.  These were the men behind the Arsenal of Democracy, the men who helped us win the inevitable victory that FDR had envisioned.

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