04 April 2007

JHR bio

A Mixed Bag by JHR in 2003
As published in The Raincross (The Riverside March Field Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Volume 35, Issue 7, July 2003)

A Mixed Bag by Colonel John H. Roscoe, USMC (Ret)

I was born in Syracuse, NY in a hospital now replaced by a Coca Cola bottling plant. Not a very auspicious beginning. My father and grandfather had a large wholesale fruit business. Great-grandmother was a widow at a young age, a time when there were few employment opportunities for women. Nevertheless, she made a family fortune selling a new invention all over the US, the rubber stamp.

My European antecedents first arrived in Boston in 1635. Like Will Rogers, none of them arrived on the Mayflower, but some were here to meet it. One of them, a Mohawk, married an early physician antecedent of mine many generations ago.

Grade school was accomplished in Syracuse and high school at Flushing, the oldest high school in New York City, where more than 5000 students attended a school built for 1300. The teachers there mostly wore Phi Beta Kappa keys and provided an education so excellent it enabled me to graduate from Syracuse University with a degree in business administration in three years. I stayed on to obtain an M.E. in Geography, after which a Ph.D. came from Maryland.

At Syracuse I was approached by an army colonel who wanted me to join the army because of my knowledge of airphoto interpretation, something not then used by our military. I refused this opportunity because I had accepted a position at UCLA. Col. Smith then made the journey to California, and this time he convinced me I was needed in Washington DC. So before we entered World War II, I joined the War Department and was assigned to Army Air Corps Intelligence, then only seven people.

My first job was to write the initial airphoto intelligence courses to be taught in the Army and Navy schools. After the Pearl Harbor attack, I was given the Japanese airphotos of it, which had been raised by the Japanese to the Shah of Iran, to assess the extent of the damage to our fleet so we could know how much the Japanese knew. Next I was given several sorties of US airphotos of the Japanese attack on Wake Island, so we could learn what was happening there. These analyses were done for the Navy at the request of Commander (later RAdm) Quackenbush, who was starting the Navy Photo Interpretation School.

After more than two years with the War Department, they told me I had to be a commissioned officer. I chose the Marines because both of my brothers were in that service. Since I received a direct commission without any training, I asked my boss to allow me not to wear the uniform until I was trained as a Marine. Not wanting to send me for a long period of training, he found a 30-day retread school for Marine officers who had left the service before the war. Condensing a year of training into a month was difficult, but somehow I managed with the help of my veteran classmates. Upon graduation I was assigned by error to train Seebees to build roads in swamps. I protested, but the adjutant outranked me. I learned much more than I taught before the error was corrected. I returned to the War Department and later was transferred to the Navy photo Interpretation Center. There I taught in its school and performed operational photo intelligence.

My next tour was in Europe where I met only three other Marine officers. My orders were unusual, merely instructing me to go to the European Theater and then to carry out my basic orders which were verbal and secret. I presented them to COMNAVEU, the former Navy CNO who wanted to know what I was to do. I had to say: “I presume Washington informed you. I am not permitted to discuss it.” He stared at me for a full minute and then went back to his office.

I worked with RAF and HQ, Eighth Air Force in England concerning their scheduling for targeting and then departed for the front lines to assess the results. There I joined the a small organization of about fifty mixed civilians, officers and enlisted personnel from all US services, all of whom were technical experts in gathering intelligence. We were frequently in no-man’s-land as the Germans retreated and the allies advanced. We operated on different fronts, in four-man teams (a jeep-load), gathering information and documents before the allied troops could arrive. At the end of each month I would return to England for a day or two to be briefed on RAF and USAF operations planned for the next month, per order, to coordinate our activities. On the last such trip the war ended and I was fortunate enough to be in Paris on the official V-E Day and in London on the official V-E Day.

Returning to the Navy Photo Intelligence Center after the war, I remained on active duty for a while and then went to the University of Georgia as an Associate Professor of Geography and Curator of the US Government Map Collection there. In December 1946 I was recalled to active duty to catch Operation Highjump already two days at sea enroute to the South Pole. This was an expedition of 13 ships, 6 R4Ds, 6 flying boats, small aircraft and helicopters and 5000 men. It was to airphoto map Antarctica, but they had sailed without a photo-interpreter. RAdm Quackenbush, the Chief of Staff, sent a message to CNO asking for my service. It was the first of many times I was recalled to active duty.

At Little America I briefed and debriefed airphoto crews and participated in exploration flights. I shared quarters with Admiral Byrd, where I prepared maps and kept him up to date on the airphoto discoveries of all three Task Groups. They also sent me on the next expedition, Operation Windmill, where I was involved with the scientists establishing ground positions for mapping and also gathered data on glacial iceforms to make a manual for analysis of the airphotos of glacial iceforms. I then returned first to the Naval Photo Intelligence Center, and later to HQ, USAF Intelligence, both of which assigned me to Admiral Byrd’s Polar Projects Office, where I was Byrd’s Scientific Advisor. This involved contacts abroad with foreign governments that were sending expeditions to Antarctica, as well as activities during the International Geophysical Year. During this period I was also able to finish my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Maryland. It was based on my Antarctic work and a new coastline I had discovered under the very thick ice from photo analysis. Concurrently, I was also employed on several working groups of the Joint Chief of Staff in the Pentagon and of President Eisenhower’s Operations Coordination Board.

In 1957 I left Washington DC for Lockheed, which was developing the first major satellite. There I managed development of the thousand-pound airphoto intelligence satellite payload, and later the ground equipment to receive, process and interpret the photos. Later I left Lockheed to become Vice president of an electro-optical equipment manufacturer in Los Angeles. In 1963 I returned to Lockheed at its President’s request to manage a satellite program to provide electric power in space, after which I was involved in selling the concept for building a quiet reconnaissance aircraft for use in Vietnam. In all I had four tours in Vietnam, mostly involved with basic defense and sensors for DOD ARPA. For this duty it seemed to DoD my grade of Colonel was insufficient, so I was awarded the grade of General in the US Army, per the Geneva Convention Treaty. It came with a small team and the use of a CIA (Air America) airplane. My team made visits to essentially all bases in Thailand and Vietnam from Khe Sanh to the Mekong Delta, where I was wounded during the Tet Offensive. Back at Lockheed, I was the manager of the first unmanned air vehicle program for the Army. After being recalled for two tours at Quantico in research and development and one as interim G-2 of the First Marine Division, I retired in 1973. On my last call to Marine duty, I was 70 years old and sent to Germany on a NATO organization mission on Permissive Duty Orders.

During my career at one time or another, I was attached to all five US armed forces, including Navy ships and three Coast Guard Icebreakers. When not on active duty, I commanded Marine reserve organizations, two specializing in intelligence and one in missiles. On one assignment my group canvassed every Marine reserve officer to determine his professional qualifications for which there was no Marine Corps Military Occupational Specialty. This proved very useful in a number of instances. For example, when the Marines needed two Captains who were experts in airfield petroleum pollution, I was able to provide them with eleven very experienced candidates. On another occasion when a field hospital was being designed, Quantico needed a physician with considerable combat experience. We were able to nominate infantry veterans who had become physicians after becoming inactive. In addition, I worked in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, etc. on terrorism prevention.

Early on I had taught geography at Syracuse University, Cartography at UCLA, Foreign Service at George Washington University and Economics at Montgomery Jr. College. Principal Military schools were the Naval War College and the National War College. In addition to the World Wide Explorers Club, I was honored by membership in the polar exploration societies of ten foreign countries as well as US and foreign geographical societies and two engineering professional societies. For the past twenty years I have been researching and writing about the Crusades, for which I have been honored by knighthoods in three chivalric organizations which had been active during the crusades. (Duty with the Knights Templar, who were also monks, were more rigorous than a lifetime in a Marine Corps boot camp.) Also, the President of Poland granted me a Knighthood in Polonia Restituta, the second highest Polish honor. The US Government has placed my name on a glacier and also on a large coastal promontory in Antarctica.

The love of my life, and I truly mean that, is Elsa who married me 35 years ago. I took her to Vietnam during the war on our honeymoon. She is the widow of two Army officers. I did not know the first who lost his life in WWII, but the second was the best engineer who ever worked for and with me. Elsa had a long career at Kodak and served as the confidential secretary to the Vice Presidents, President and Chairman. She is still very active, does yoga and pumps iron.

I also have 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren from a former marriage. During World War II , my former wife was with the Dept. of State, worked with the OSS and was involved with the creation of the United Nations for which she received commendations from many foreign countries.

I have had a good life in and out of the military and with my family. This only scrapes the surface. Along the way there were many other assignments and events which furnish interesting anecdotes but it is already too long. I omitted my connections with a number of military organizations like TROA (MOAA), the Naval Order, the Navy League and others.

Meet Col John H Roscoe

[originally published in Marine Corps League News Letter - May 2006 from Marine Corps League Breckinridge Detachment #10]

In another "Meet Your Fellow Leaguer" profile, I'd like to introduce you to John Roscoe, Ph.D. John is a gracious and fascinating gentleman, one who's multi-faceted career as professor, intelligence officer, polar explorer, earth scientist, aerospace engineer, and Colonel of the Marines has carried him to the Arctic and Antarctic, and to all the oceans and continents in between.

In his varied career, Col. Roscoe has taught geography, cartography, photogrammetry, economics and foreign relations at 5 universities and has lectured at some USMC schools. As a civil servant, he became the US military's first air photo and radar sensor image analyst at the request of the War Department in 1941. He was geographer and aerial reconnaissance officer to Admiral Byrd on 2 south polar expeditions, and indeed served as Byrd's Scientific Advisor and Internal Affairs Advisor until the admiral's death in 1957.

As an engineer and program manager at Lockheed, John was responsible for developing the airphoto payloads and processing systems for the original "spy-in-the-sky" satellites. He also developed advanced systems and techniques for geothermal power, military and industrial security, satellites for producing electrical power, ground remotely controlled reconnaissance aircraft, and methods for reducing collateral damage from nuclear weapons.

John served for 30 years as a Marine Corps Reservist. He was one of a very few Marines with combat experience in Europe in World War II, and served 5 times in Vietnam. In fact, John and Elsa's honeymoon in 1968 was while John was on one of his tours in Vietnam and Thailand; Elsa stayed relatively safely in Saigon or Bangkok while John was in more dangerous areas. He retired in 1973, at the age [54], but was called back many times, the last at age 70. He accumulated credit for 13 years active duty service. He was assigned to HQUSMC, which loaned him at times upon request to each of the other military services. He served briefly as the G-2, 1st Marine Division, at the Quantico's R&D Branch for the last 2 years prior to his retirement.

In addition to his active duty, at various times during his many tours John was assigned as a civil servant or civilian consultant to Army, Navy, or Air Force headquarters and other overseas organizations, as well as to various combat zones, in such fields as sensors, intelligence, and installation. John represented the Office of the Secretary of Defense in all 4 Corps areas of Vietnam with the assimilated grade of a 4-star General of the US Army (per the Geneva Convention). He has also served on Navy ships, Coast Guard icebreakers, and briefly with military or police organizations in England, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Educated at Syracuse University, UCLA, and the University of Maryland, John's military schools include the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, the Navy War College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He said that one of his professors taught him to become "more knowledgeable than anyone else in any 1 area, no matter how small that area, because a person who does this becomes the expert and is sought after by the encyclopedias. I had 2 such fields."

His unclassified publications include authoritative articles in published encyclopedias, some written under his own name, and some ghost-written by him for other people. He is listed in "American Men and Women of Science", "Who's Who in the West", "Who Knows--and What", among others.

Col. Roscoe has received many honors during his long career. In 1984, he was knighted in Rome by the Knights Templar for his services supporting the NATO Reserves. The United States named a glacier and a large promontory (both in Antarctica) after him in recognition of his discovery of previously unknown coastlines buried under very thick ice, his dissertation on glacier morphology, and his comprehensive Bibliography of Antarctic Literature. The President of Poland (in absentia in England during World War II)awarded John the Knighthood of Polonia Restituta and later a Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St Stanislas, thereby increasing John's knighthoods to 5, including the Order of St. John.

Born in Syracuse, NY, John grew up in Chicago, New York City, and Beverley Hills. In 1940, the War Department dispatched a colonel to Syracuse University to entice John to join the War Department. A year later, the colonel came to UCLA to tell John that he was "really needed," so John went as a civilian. He was later told that he had to become an officer or he would be drafted. "This could not happen because I was 4-F, but later, I chose the inevitable and, in a rare event, the USMC commissioned me without any schooling." Later, he attended a 30-day school for "retreading former USMC officers." John notes that he passed only by the help of his classmates. By error, he was then assigned by the local Marines to train a Seebee battalion building roads to navigate the swamps of Camp Lejeune near the ocean, and reports that "six weeks later, after I learned more than the Seebees, the Pentagon finally found me and brought me back."

John has served as the State President for the Retired Officers Association (now MOAA), as State Vice President for the Reserve Officers Association, as a National Director of the Navy League, as a national officer of the Naval Order, and as an officer or member of many veterans organizations, one of which, we are proud and honored to say, is the Marine Corps League and its General J. C. Breckinridge Detachment!

John has 2 daughters, both of whom live in Fremont. His son died at the age of 42 from cancer. He has 8 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren, with more on the way. A grandson serves in the Oregon National Guard, and another in the US Army. He and Elsa divide their time between their homes in Riverside and Portola Valley. When John is in northern California, we occasionally have the chance to visit with him at a monthly Detachment meeting - a treat not to be missed, for he is a superb raconteur.

Note from me: I wish I knew who wrote this article. I found several copies in various forms among my father's effects that he had edited and thought I would include it here.

JHR Interview - polar sites

Polar Interview site an oral interview with Colonel John Roscoe, conducted as part of the Polar Oral History Project of the American Polar Society and the Byrd Polar Research Center of Ohio State University on a grant from the National Science Foundation by Brian Shoemaker, interviewer.For a transcript of this interesting interview done with JHR go to the original pdf version: http://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/1811/24309/1/RoscoeTranscript.pdf

For anyone wondering what will happen to JHR's extensive Polar library collection, it is marked to go to Ohio State University's Polar Collection.

For information about JHR named places in the antarctic:

Roscoe Glacier

Roscoe Promontory

JHR, by the way, was not the first in our family to be a polar explorer. His maternal grandmother's great uncle was Peter Warren Dease whose contributions to the exploration and history of the Canadian North is commemorated in a range of place names: Dease Lake and Dease River (a tributary of the Laird) in northern British Columbia, named by Robert Campbell; Dease Arm, the northeast arm of Great Bear Lake, and Dease River flowing into the head of that arm, both named by John Franklin; and Dease Strait between Kent Peninsula, and the south coast of Victoria Island, named by Thomas Simpson.

For further information on JHRs gggreat uncle, read From "Barrow to Boothia: The Artic Journal of Chief factor Peter Warren Dease, 1836-1839" ed., William BarrMcGill-Queen's University Press ISBN 0-7735-2253-0

JHR's summer job

Dad used to regale us with stories of how he put himself through college. He had a variety of odd jobs, bought and rented out cars, drove people back and forth across the United States (the most famous was the actress Donna Reed. Prior to her fame, of course). One of my favorite stories was about one of his summer jobs while he was still in high school, though.

Dad went to Flushing High School in NYC and graduated when he was 16. He was very proud that he got an excellent education there from teachers who all wore Phi Beta Kappa keys.

One summer, before he went on to Syracuse University, he got a job with one of the steam or ferry boat tour companies on the Hudson. They took people out to show them the sights up and down the river while someone, over a loud speaker, announced each sight by saying something like: "On the left you will see...". Of course the tourists would all then rush over to that side of the ship and the vessel would tend to dip into the water under all the additional weight.

In the late 1800s there had been a horrible steamboat accident where many people were killed, after that ships were under a lot of pressure, even in the 1930s, to make safety an issue. To keep this ship from capsizing under the weight of all the passengers standing on any one side of the ship's upper deck, they had hired men to roll barrels full of sand on a deck below to the opposite side of the ship, thus creating a ballast of sorts. I believe this was one of Dad's least favorite summer jobs. He was a tall and very thin teenager. He might have been crushed had a sand barrel rolled back on him as the deck above slowly rocked from one side to the other. Like he said, he only had that job for one summer. I'm thinking that pin-setting in the local bowling alley was a better favorite.

We will sorely miss his stories.