On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma, which was moored next to the battleship Maryland, was hit by several torpedoes. Within 12 minutes the ship capsized. It resulted in 429 officers and enlisted men aboard the Oklahoma being declared killed or missing.
Until this time many Americans were isolationists, believing we had no business getting involved in a war. After the Pearl Harbor attack, however, that sentiment pretty much went the way of the dodo bird.
The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
Fortunately, many people at Pearl Harbor that day survived the attack. Jean Gardner Miller, a Zanesville native, was stationed at Pearl Harbor with her husband, U.S. Naval Ensign Charles F. Miller. Her letter to her mother was listed in the Zanesville Signal on Dec. 15. According to the article, “...she was awakened early Sunday, December 7, by the roar of bombs which 'left the whole house shaking.' Her home was at one of the most dangerous points on the island, although only two days before she had moved from an even more perilous residence at Hickam Field.”
One of the missing sailors from the Oklahoma was Seaman First Class Russell Clyde Roach of Zanesville. Seaman Roach was born in Akron, Ohio, on May 17, 1919, the son of Clyde M. Roach (1892-1933) and Dorothy Belle Smeltzer Roach (1895-1964.) After attending Lash High the young Roach joined the Civilian Conservation Corps before enlisting in the Navy on Aug. 12, 1940.
After the attack, the public was alerted to Seaman Roach's status in a brief Times Recorder article dated 12-11-1941: “Clyde Russell Roach, son of Mrs. Dorothy Roach, of 438 Schultz Drive, was stationed on the U.S.S. Oklahoma which was reported struck by Japanese bombs in the attack Sunday on Pearl Harbor, it was learned today. He enlisted in the Navy last August. Mrs. Roach received a letter from him about seven weeks ago. No word has been received from him since the attack Sunday.”
More ominous news was reported in the TR on Dec. 22: “Russell Clyde Roach, 22, Seaman First Class, has been reported missing, according to an official communication received here Sunday by his mother... Mrs. Roach received the news in a telegram from the Navy Department in Washington. No other details were given.”
After several anguished-filled days, in February 1942, the family received the news that no parent, sibling, child or spouse ever wants to hear. The TR gave the following announcement on Feb. 16: “The Navy Department, in a telegram Saturday to Mrs. Dorothy B. Roach of 438 Schultz Drive, Coopermill Manor, said that her son, Russell Clyde Roach, Seaman First Class, has been officially declared dead.
“The Navy telegram follows: 'After an exhaustive search it has been found impossible to locate your son, Russell Clyde Roach, Seaman First Class, U.S. Navy, and he has therefore been officially declared to have lost his life in the service of his country as of December 7, 1941.'”
On the first anniversary of his death, the Times Recorder remembered the young man: “One year ago today Russell Clyde Roach of Zanesville lost his life, being one of the victims of the Pearl Harbor bombing by the Japanese. Young Roach, 22 years of age, Seaman First Class, was officially declared as 'killed in action' several weeks following the attack. He was aboard the battleship Oklahoma.”
Interestingly, the article noted three of his brothers were in the service: “Walter Milton Roach, 30, enlisted in the army service in 1941 and is with the 80th Armored Regiment at Fort Knox, Kentucky. James Albert Roach, 20, enlisted in the Navy on July 14, 1942, and is stationed at Corpus Christi, Texas. Charles Herbert Roach, 17, joined the Navy in April 1942, and his present whereabouts are unknown, being stationed with one of the fleets in action.”
Many years later, in a Times Recorder article dated June 16, 2021, Chris Cook continued the story: “Not all the remains were able to be identified, including Roach's. The unidentified remains were buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific under a white rectangular gravestone marked 'unknown.' The names of soldiers and sailors known to have been lost were marked on a memorial, the Courts of the Missing.”
In 2015 unidentified remains were exhumed by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for further testing. On Oct. 17, 2019, Seaman First Class Russell Clyde Roach's remains were identified through dental records as well as mitochondrial DNA.
In 2021, after almost 80 years, his remains were returned to Zanesville, with burial in Greenwood Cemetery on Aug. 11. May he rest in peace and may we, his fellow Americans, never forget his ultimate sacrifice.
According to local historian Norris F. Schneider, in his book, "Muskingum County Men and Women in World War II," Seaman First Class Russell Clyde Roach was the first of 265 residents or former residents of Muskingum County who lost their lives while in the service of their country during World War II.
Lewis LeMaster is a retired school teacher of the Zanesville area.
This article originally appeared on Zanesville Times Recorder: Hero returned home after 80 years