Five years ago today, Flight 3407 crashed Clarence Center, NY. As names were released to the public, there appeared, “John G. Roberts, III.” I felt a chill as I had served with someone by that name in the army. He was the Battalion Adjutant and I was assigned as the Assistant Adjutant. John was one of the finest officers I served with in my 29 years in the military.
Many years ago, we were in Germany and somehow John ended up in the Reichel building in Rheinberg (with heat, showers and hot food). I ended up in a tent in the middle of a field, (in January and in the snow), eating MREs and suffering from a lack of hygienic opportunities.
We were in the field for a couple of weeks when he drove out to drop off some material. When he saw us I think our appearance caused him to find a way to get us out of there and, on his own, he got us redeployed to Rheinberg and we were able to feel human again.
He also arranged a day trip for us to go to Cologne where we would have about 8 hours to see some sights. It was a great day for me as I got to tour the Cologne Cathedral. I spent the time wandering around the cathedral and the streets out front, just taking in the atmosphere and I bought a poster of the cathedral for my mother as I thought she would like it.
Back at the barracks later that evening, about 2 a.m., I heard a rustling as someone was looking for “Robert Shaw.” Even though the name was wrong I knew it was me they were looking for- but I didn’t get up. Somehow I knew the phone call was about my mother, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a good one. Eventually they rousted John out of his bunk and he came over to me. I was staring at the ceiling and I think he could tell by the look on my face that I knew what to expect when I got to the phone.
We went downstairs where I received the news my mother had died suddenly and I was needed back home. I don’t remember much of the next few hours except John taking care of all the arrangements to get me on the next flight out. He had me pack up my gear and I remember going from office to office with him as he tried to get me released. No one seemed able to help which only served to focus him even more. He cut through every bit of red tape that was thrown his way and secured the proper clearance from our unit back in the States, the unit we were attached to in Germany, and the airlines to get me home.
Because it took so long, the only flight I could get that day left in 3 hours. The only problem was the airport was over two hours away and you had to be there at least two hours prior due to security issues. Let’s just say that John set a land speed record of some sort. I remember him parking illegally out front and going with me to the counter. He waited as the agent took care of the ticketing and security went through their tasks. Finally he wished me well and I prepared to board my flight. I turned to say thank you but he stopped me in mid-sentence. We had worked together long enough to know there was no need to say anything.
When my wife realized my concern over seeing the name in the paper, she asked me what it was about John. I then told her about him and how he helped me. She told me that I had never talked about what happened that day. She also told me she finally understood why I had an old, framed poster of the Cologne Cathedral hanging in the hallway. Every day when I enter my house, I look at it. Instead of making me sad, it reminds me of someone who knew the right thing to do, when to do it, and didn’t expect to be thanked for doing what needed to be done.
To say that he will be missed is an understatement.
Ronald W. Shaw