John Rockis is both a personal hero and a national hero. During WW II, in North Africa, Lt. John Rockis was given the chance to become a captain if he would take over being commander of a company of life convicts (who would be given their freedom if they survived the war.) But that is getting way ahead of the story.
Rockis grew up in a West Virginia coal camp in the Scotts Run area. There, fighting was part of life… of survival really. And John survived. He graduated high school and was given a scholarship to play freshman fullback at Notre Dame University. But after a year he became homesick and returned to graduate while playing football at West Virginia University… and through ROTC being commissioned second lieutenant in the Armored Corps.
After the war Rockis became a history teacher and an assistant football coach at Morgantown High School in West Virginia, which is where he became my idol…my hero. He lived a short distance from me, and I rode with him the one mile to school every day. Though he was reluctant to discuss his part in the war, it came out little by little and the following paragraphs relate some of his exploits as he told them to me.
I was fortunate that John took a personal interest in me. His encouragement was compelling. For example, on a snowy February 13th — my 16th birthday — my father said that there was no way he’d take me to get my driver’s license, considering how slick the roads were and how hilly Morgantown’s terrain was.
On the way to school I lamented this reality to John, who asked, “Both you and Goose (Chester Gosney, my best friend) have History at 10 o’clock, right? And Goose has his driver’s license, right?”
So it was settled. Goose drove John’s 1938 Packard sedan to the sherriff’s office and I took the test in John’s Packard, thereby fulfilling an important right-of-passage — being licensed on your 16th birthday.
On many occasions John would fill his Packard up with gas and let me borrow his car for a “hot” date. It is hard not to like a friend like that. Though there are many personal hero snippets, the really important part of this blog entry is John’s war time accomplishments…a story that should not be lost in oblivion. A story that will continue tomorrow.
Ray (Jerry) Friant lives in Morris Township, belongs to the Morristown United Methodist Church and is active with Morris Habitat for Humanity. The retired corporate turnaround executive is the author of Beyond Buzzwords.