A no-stress life
Toward the end of World War II, on April 8, 1945, Bill Roscoe of Sharpsville, PA, found himself in the kind of situation where people bargain with God. Like, “Lord, get me out of this and I promise to serve you the rest of my life.”
Bill had already made that commitment when he was much younger. So he made a another promise, one that is a far greater indication of deep faith: “Get me out of this and I promise you I will never worry again.”
He was the radio operator on a B-17 Flying Fortress. During a “milk run” (a routine bombing mission that was assumed to pose little danger), they were hit with anti-aircraft fire from a gun the Germans had camouflaged in a railroad car.
“I was the old man in the crew, and I was only 27,” Bill said. “The rest were just kids, 18 and 19 years old.”
The pilot and the nose gunner were killed when the plane was hit. The co-pilot gave the command to bail out. Bill could have taken the safest action and been the first one out, but he didn’t. His friend was the ball turret gunner, stuck in the tiny pod that hung beneath the plane. The space was too small for the gunner to wear a parachute, and it was impossible to get out of it without help. Bill had promised to get him out if they were ever hit.
“So I did,” he said. “In the meantime I pushed all these youngsters toward the door, and they were standing there dumbfounded, bewildered. I pushed them out.”
They should have counted to ten before opening their chutes so they would be a safe distance from the plane, but they didn’t. They were all in a row too close to the plane when it exploded. A burning wing broke off the plane and threatened to take them all out.
“I was the last one out, so I held my chute, didn’t open it, until I got a hold of that trailing edge and just moved it a hair so the wind took it. Otherwise they would have burned.”
It wasn’t long before Bill discovered his troubles were only beginning.
“My chute was full of holes. I came down real fast and hit that ground like a thud. Boy, did I hurt my feet. I hurt my metatarsals.”
Bill and the only other crew member who landed near him were captured by the Gestapo.
“They gave you the butt treatment, beat you with the butts of their rifles. Knocked a couple of teeth out and beat the hell out of you. The kids were the worst, the Hitler youth. It was a good thing the Gestapo got me, otherwise I wouldn’t have been here. They marched us to the southeastern part of Poland, then back into Deutschland. We’ll never know why they did that. They were going to take us into Czechoslovakia, but we were bombing it. We walked through muck and mire, and the guards were walking with us. There was nothing to eat but sawdust bread, compressed loaves made from sawdust and potatoes. We were all starving.”
They ended up in Stalag Luft 7A, a POW camp for airmen.
“I heard someone say, ‘Hey Bill Roscoe.’ I said, ‘I know the voice, I can’t see the face.’ It was Capt. Henry Soborski. He was a B24 pilot. He looked terrible. We shook hands, and I don’t know what happened to him afterward.”
There was hardly any food in the camp. Bill’s weight dropped from 185 lbs to 85. In spite of the starvation and severe treatment by the Nazis, the American prisoners kept their courage.
“We weren’t afraid of anything. The GIs showed no fear. The Nazis hated that, because when they clicked heels, we should have bowed, but we didn’t. When we got into camp, we got interrogated by a guy who spoke perfect English and perfect German. He was from Rochester, New York. I know his face. If I ever saw him, I would know what to do.”
The prisoners were threatened several times with execution in a gas chamber.
“Then one day we got the word to lay low, General Patton is coming through with his forces. Carl Zappa, one of our soldiers from Farrell [PA] came through with him. They said dig in, because he’s going to blow the place to kingdom come.”
Everybody wanted to shake General Patton’s hand.
“Of course he had his pearl handled pistols. We said, ‘can we come with you?’ He said, ‘no you guys go the other way. We’re still fighting in this direction.’ He told us to get home any way we could. A friend and I hitchhiked, rode trains, army trucks. We only had on a pair of shorts and a shirt. Finally we got back to an American base. ”
Bill arrived back in Baltimore in June, 1946, and spent three months recovering in Atlantic City.
After the war, Bill went back to work at Westinghouse, where he had worked as an electrical and electronics tester before the war. It wasn’t long before he met the love of his life. A friend of his, who was also a friend of Delores (Dee) Rogers, arranged a double date.
“My buddy and I got our suits pressed,” Bill said. “We were just out of the service. We had our air force wings shined up and everything. We went down to Stoneboro to take these two girls out. They said, ‘you didn’t call us.’ We said, ‘why, do we have to call you?’ They went to choir practice and left us standing there with our shiny suits and shiny wings.”
It never occurred to Dee to skip choir practice for a date. But she was impressed with Bill Roscoe. When he and her friend showed up again for a date, she made another good decision.
“I was supposed to go out with my friend,” she said, “and Bill was supposed to have a date with my girl friend. I said to him, let’s change dates tonight. And he agreed. From then on we dated.”
But when it came to a deciding between going to church and dating, there was never any hesitation. Leaving the guys standing while Dee went to choir practice wasn’t a one-time choice.
“It’s been like that in this family ever since,” she said. “The Lord comes first. Bill was always close to the Lord when he was young, and I always was, too. I just really believe the Lord brought us together.”
It wasn’t easy at first.
“For ten years after he got out of the service,” Dee said, “all Bill could do was go to work because he was very sick. Thank God he could go to work. I know he went many times under duress, but he got through it all. He was yellow from toxic poisoning. His skin was filled with oil and grease as a result of all he went through. The only thing that pulled him through was a doctor from Saegertown, Dr. K. W. Bertram, and the Lord.”
Looking back at their life together, Dee and Bill have no reason to doubt that the Lord brought them together. At his 90th birthday party last year, Bill awed everyone when he told them that he and Dee had never had an argument. He said he lived a no-stress life with a no-stress wife.
The no-stress life resulted from his faithfulness to the promise he made when his plane was shot down: not to worry. It is also rooted in the commitment he and Dee both made to serving the Lord – both in their home and in their church. They passed their love of the Lord on to their three sons. The oldest, Dr. William R. Roscoe, is a doctor at Metro Hospital in Cleveland, The second, Larry, is an area sales manager for the Flagship Credit Corporation in Houston, Texas. Their youngest son, Bertram, lives with them.
“Bert was born legally blind and had a lot of allergies,” Dee said, “so he couldn’t do a lot of things. He decided to spend his life doing volunteer work. He has more than 20,000 hours of volunteer work, first at Woodland Place in Mercer, and for the last five years at John XXIII.”
For 20 years Bill and Dee were Eucharistic ministers who took the Eucharist to shut-ins who couldn’t get to church. And they taught religion at Notre Dame and other churches in the Shenango Valley for far more years than that.
“Between the two of us,” Dee said, “we have over 100 years of teaching – 53 years each.”
“It was a great run,” Bill said. “And here’s the payday: Years later, we went to a function, and here comes a guy who says, ‘Hey Mr. Roscoe, I had you in CCD Class, in Religion class, and taught my son and his son, too.’”
Bill and Dee are prouder of their family and their “paydays” than they are of the Distinguished Flying Cross that was finally awarded to Bill, fifty years later, for his heroism on that day in 1945. That, after all, was for a few minutes of his life. The love and respect they share – from their sons and grandchildren, their friends, the people with whom they shared the Eucharist, and from the people they taught – are rewards for more than 58 years of faithful and courageous service together.
Bill passed away on March 21, 2o10.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 1, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2007