It was after 10 p.m. on Memorial Day and most of my duties, both social and professional, were over. I had but one obligation left to discharge. It is to a talented friend and colleague. It is simple, actually. I want him to be remembered.
USAF veteran George Roache of Salisbury, Maryland, died alone last week. He was 67 years old. He was a graduate of the elite Swarthmore College, president of his class. He also had been over his career a corporate executive, an academic, a journalist, a public official and, when he worked for me, the deputy director of a homeless shelter for U.S. military veterans in Philadelphia.
Last week I got a call from his pastor in Salisbury, Reverend Bill Warren of Allen Memorial Baptist Church. George and I had worked there together as well, running the church’s homeless program. When I got the job in Philly he eventually joined me there. He did a seriously good job as my XO. Confident, articulate, and professional, he handled himself with aplomb.
But George, like many of us, had his demons. On occasional nights we would hang out at the Copabanana in University City, sip bourbon, and talk about all sorts of things. He was one of those guys who found it very difficult to transition out of the military. Any vet reading this knows the military takes months or longer to train and make you into a member of the armed forces. However, they let you go, at least in the past, with hardly a second thought.
For many of us the military was our first professional experience as adults. It also had a profound influence on us as individuals. When we left we came to understand that the virtues that are held in high esteem in the military are not exactly those that will ensure civilian success. To a great degree George fell victim to that, as have many vets, and it caused him complications for the rest of his life. Conversely, that’s probably why he generally did so well in Philadelphia, because we ran the shelter like a military unit. Then, he shined. But even there, his demons caught up with him and he left us after a couple of years.
Since that time he had returned to Salisbury and worked there for about six years. He had issues again and when he died he was alone. No wife, no kids, no family or associates of note. Hence why the police who found him called his pastor, they discovered some info relating to the church, and Bill Warren called me.
Reverend Warren and I are in the process of trying to organize a funeral for him. I’ll be damned if my XO goes to his rest alone. Tuesday we get on the horn to the VA, the American Legion, and the office of Congressman Andy Harris of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Hopefully they can help us get him buried in a veteran’s cemetery. If that is the case then we’ll ask the general public, as has happened in other cases recently, to attend his funeral to show their respects to him, the USAF, and the country George nobly served.
For at the end of the day it’s not the inevitable failures and losses, things we all sometimes experience, we recall about our brothers in arms. It’s the devotion to duty, the striving for honor, and the individual behind the job and uniform.
So here’s to you George, zoomie par excellance. You made the grade in life and had the scars to prove it.
In the final sum, we have been made better men by knowing you.