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James J. Roberts III

Company K-1

31 Jul 1938 - 11 Jan 1973

Place of Death: Newport Beach, CA

Interment: Military burial at sea


Class Memorial Pages\K-1 Jim Roberts.pdf

Assembly/Taps Memorial Article:

No.23810 • 31 Jul1938 -11 Jan 1973 • Died in Newport Beach, CA Military burial at sea.

On 11 Jan 1973, the life of Captain James John Roberts III, ended. With his death, the War in Viet Nam claimed another ca­sualty. JJ's name won't be carved on the Viet Nam Wall, or on the Class of'61 plaza honoring members of the Classes of 1861 and 1961 who died in war. His death, however, was directly attributable to battles fought in Viet Nam in 1965-66. His name deserves to be etched on an Honor Roll among those who gave their all for Duty, Honor, Country! His decorations didn't include a Purple Heart, but JJ was deeply wounded in Viet Nam. On his return, most couldn't see the change, but the war's effect was there. JJ's death left a great sadness in the hearts of those he left behind: his beloved wife Susan; his parents, COL James and Rosella Roberts; his younger brother Douglas; and a long list of friends, in­cluding his K-l classmates.

Despite the sadness, it's impossible to recall JJ without forming a smile. His roommate captured his memory well: " ... my memories of other classmates are in black and white, but JJ's are always in Technicolor." We grew up on movies about World War II in which the infantry squad always reflected a cross-section of America-the guy from Brooklyn, the pro­fessor, the jokester, and, of course, the Golden Boy from California, tanned and with blond, sun-bleached hair. In Company K-1's sample of Americana, James]. Roberts was a perfect match for that last role. Although his parents, a career USAF family, did finally settle in Santa Barbara, CA, JJ's birth in New Jersey and his appointment to West Point from New Mexico reflected the frequent moves of a service family. JJ and his brother Douglas, as typical service brats, adapted to the cycle of meeting new friends and saying farewell when you moved again.

At 16, JJ struck gold at Mitchell Field, NY; he met another Air Force brat, Susan M. Deal. Their romance deepened, despite the distance created when Susan's family moved to California and JJ entered USMA. Fred, Susan's brother, recalled her sharing parts of JJ's letters and remembered JJ as a great friend-more a brother, than a brother-in­ law. "He had a gifted intellect and a hilariously clever sense of humor. His boundless enthusiasm for new experiences had a profound influence on me. He introduced me to his love of 'The Sports Car' and to snow and water skiing." JJ's classmates came to know Susan as the beautiful California Girl, whose picture adorned the top shelf of his locker; later, as the girl he would marry on 15 Jul 1961 in Newport Beach, CA; and finally, as the wife who would be by his side (or as JJ, in humor, would say, "One step to the left and one step behind!").

JJ was entertaining; always a pleasure to be around as he lived life with an innate spirit of fun and adventure. His Yul Brynner scowl and his great Cossack dance were well known. With arms folded across his chest, he scowled, leaped, and thrust out his legs-it was an awesome display! Indeed, JJ was a "character" whose antics made you smile. Every morn­ing before reveille during Plebe Year, JJ leaped from the top bunk, yelled "SHAZAM!" while pulling off his pajama top, and proclaimed, "#@&:>/o*, it didn't happen!" when he didn't turn into the superhero. Most of us just atended West Point. JJ experienced it! He toured the steam tunnels, visited the K-1 cabin, participated in after-taps pranks, and sunbathed on the barracks roof Most came dressed for the beach, but JJ chose cadet trousers, gray jacket, topped off with the cuffs and collar from his dress gray coat. He sampled it all: walked hours on the area, played intra­murals, napped under his "brown boy;" and occasionally-to protect his "bottom of the class" academic standing, studied!

A K-1 Star-Man with a 'top-of-the-class' perspective pointed out, "Most didn't realize JJ's brilliance, considering his class standing. I helped a number of classmates but never J]. At the last minute, he always pulled through. He had that knack!" JJ even claimed to hold a West Point academic record-passing three turn-out examinations in a single semester. But, being last section isn't all status, some­ times it's survival. In "Juice," JJ and a companymate, while inserting 220v circuit cables, were met by a blue arc of lightning from the wall-plug, knocking out power and causing an evacuation from Bartlett Hall, amid smoke and flame. Despite such academic adventures, Susan's visits during Plebe Christmas and upper-class years, with their walks to Ft. Putnam or along Flirtation Walk, were al­ways the highlights of JJ's life.

Where else could a golden couple go to begin their marriage? Only Hawaii! On their first assignment, Sue and JJ were joined by Nancy and classmate Ron Beckett. As Nancy and Ron matched JJ and Susan's zest for life, they became a great foursome and the closest of friends, enjoying the romantic aura of Hawaii and creating great memories of their assignment there. JJ and Susan became the proud godparents of Ron and Nancy's first child, Natasha. It was an idyllic beginning, but all things eventually must come to an end. In 1965, Ron was the first to go to Viet Nam, but JJ wasn't far behind. During his Viet Nam tour, JJ earned a Bronze Star for Valor while serving as the Company Commander of B Co, 1st Bn, 18th Inf in the 1st Inf Division. In 1967, after returning from Viet Nam, an accident in his sports car at Ft. Knox resulted in JJ's medical retirement. Returning to California, JJ and Susan began their journey down the long road toward his recovery, a goal not fully reached before he passed away.

James J. Roberts brightened our lives and his memory continues to produce smiles, instead of tears-a true testament of his impact on our lives. We walk with you, JJ--one step to the left, and one step behind! You are not forgotten! Rest in Peace!

-Susan Roberts Tauer, Dr. Fred C.S. Deal, Douglas Roberts, Pat Murphy, Bill Tyler, Jack Dorr, and his other 1961 classmates in K-1