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Veterans meet in Omaha to honor namesake of naval vessel

Posted at 6:27 PM, Apr 26, 2018

More than two dozen former sailors on the now-decommissioned U.S.S. Roark came to Omaha this week to honor the namesake of their ship.

William Roark was from Omaha and died in the early stages of the Vietnam War.

While the men never met Roark they feel a connection to him after serving on the vessel named in his honor. 

They came from all over: Oregon, Washington D.C., Wisconsin and elsewhere to honor the man who's name was on the ship they all used to call home. 

"It was always the big hill at the end of the trip. and so for me to get up and present and speak about his deeds, that was pretty overwhelming," says Al Rocheck, crew-member, U.S.S. Roark. 

Most of the men were on the vessel during the tail end of the Vietnam War in the early 70's. One particular event was the subject of many of the stories the men told. 

One day, a part of the U.S.S. Roark caught fire and the men were able to extinguish it before the fire could take down the ship.

"So we all thought that Mr.Roark had been with us even after his death because he took care of us. Because at the time the ship was burning up, the torpedoes were melting, the ship should have blown up is what should have happened," Doug Fields - plank owner, U.S.S. Roark

Roark was killed in combat in 1965 and some of the vets say coming to his grave-site made it personal and a way to re-capture history.

"To come here, I never thought I was going to come where he was buried at. It's the camaraderie, we're still connected all the way back to Lt. Roark and us," Henry Lange - crew-member, U.S.S. Roark.

This was the third straight year the vets were able to reunite, but it was the first time they did so in Omaha. They are planning on coming back to the metro next year, which will be the 50th anniversary of the ship's commissioning.