We Are The Nation

CDR John 'Bug' Roach, USN

CDR John "Bug" Roach, USN

Lord, we are the nation!

We celebrate our birthday on July 4th, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence as our birth certificate. The bloodlines of the world run in our veins, because we offer freedom and liberty to all who are oppressed. We are many things and many people.

We are the nation.

We sprawl from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to Alaska and Hawaii, three million square miles throbbing with industry and with life. We are the forest, field, mountain and desert. We are the wheat fields of Kansas, the granite hills of Vermont, and the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. We are the Brooklyn Bridge, we are the grain elevators in the farm belt, we are the Golden Gate.

We are the nation.

We are 213 million living souls, and yet we are the ghosts of millions who have lived and died for us. We are Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. We are Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry. We are Lee, Grant, Abe Lincoln and George Bush. We are the famous and the unknown. We are Presidents, we are paupers.

We are the nation.

We stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard around the world. We remember the Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor, Inchon and the Persian Gulf. When freedom calls, we answer. We left our heroic dead at Belleau Wood, on the rock of Corregidor, on the bleak slopes of Korea, in the steaming jungles of Vietnam and under the rubble of Beirut.

We are the nation.

We are schools and colleges, churches and synagogues. We are a ballot dropped in a box, the harmonious voice of a choir in a cathedral, the crack of a bat and the roar of a crowd in a stadium. We are craftsmen, teachers, businessmen, and judges. We are laborers and nurses. We are parents and we are children. We are soldiers, sailors and airmen. We are peaceful villages, small towns and cities that never sleep.

Yes, we are the nation, and these are the things that we are.

We were conceived in freedom, and dear God, if you are willing, in freedom we will spend the rest of our days.

May we always be thankful for the blessings you have bestowed upon us. May we be humble to the less fortunate and assist those in need.

May we never forget the continuing cost of freedom. May we always remember that if we are to remain the land of the free, we must continue always to be the home of the brave.

May our wishbone never be found where our backbone should be. May we possess always, the integrity, the courage and the strength to keep ourselves unshackled, to remain always a citadel of freedom and a beacon of hope to the world.

We are the nation.

This is our wish...this is our hope...and this is our prayer.

John "Bug" Roach
United States Navy

This very special prayer was written by a good friend and a great American. It was first delivered at the Tailhook Convention, that annual gathering of naval aviators qualified to land their aircraft on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier at sea.

Tailhook is well-known as a rowdy party for a rowdy group, but when Bug Roach rose and delivered this prayer, you could have heard a pin drop in a banquet room filled with naval aviators and their guests.

"Bug" Roach was larger-than-life, a true legend in Naval Aviation. He was an enigma, a pilot who, in a Naval Career that spanned more than 25 years, never had a non-flying tour. He didn't care that it wasn't the smartest "career move." Bug wanted to fly, and that was all that mattered. The rank insignia on the shoulder of his flight suit was irrelevant.

He was loved and respected by many a pilot he "talked down," and there were many. You see, in addition to being a quintessential fighter pilot, Bug was an LSO, a landing signal officer. He was the guy who stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier and guided the pilots aboard. On those pitch-black nights, with no moon (and therefore no horizon), many a nervous pilot was relieved to hear the familiar voice say, "I gotcha."

One of the most famous "Bug" stories tells how one dark, black night, following a total engineering casualty on the ship (meaning there was no power whatsoever on the aircraft carrier), he used a hand-held radio to talk down six aircraft, with the flight deck illuminated by the headlights of flight deck tractors!

If you were airborne on a dark night, or returning to the ship with a damaged aircraft, or with vertigo so bad you didn't know which way was up, there was no voice you'd rather hear on your radio.

During his LSO career, Bug also waved, without mishap:

  • ten aircraft that had to be arrested by the barricade;
  • twenty aircraft making single engine approaches (that were NOT single-engine aircraft!);
  • five aircraft missing their main landing gear;
  • two A-4 aircraft with major battle damage;
  • and the first ever S-3 with an unlocked wing.

Stories about Bug can be heard in any gathering of those who were Naval Aviators between 1966 and 1991, and even later. He was so well-known for his expertise as an LSO that when the Navy League decided to sponsor an annual award for the "LSO of the Year," it was named the "CDR John 'Bug' Roach Paddles Award". The first award was presented in 1990, while Bug was still on active duty.

One gray October day in 1991, Bug was flying an A-4E out of NAS Miramar, "Fightertown USA" and Home of TopGun, with the Bandits of VF-126. His engine flamed out, and when re-light attempts failed, he was forced to eject from the airplane over the Pacific off the coast of San Diego. His wingman never saw a 'chute.

It was no coincidence that it happened to be a Wednesday. In the late 1980's and early 1990's, the NAS Miramar Officers' Club was legendary as the place to be on Wednesday night. There were rumors about the ladies being bussed in, and it was so crowded it was often difficult to make your way through the bar. There was never a dull Wednesday night at the Miramar O Club in those days.

This Wednesday night was a bit different. Bug had left instructions with Bonnie, the bar manager at the O Club, that drinks were to be "on him" the day he "bought the farm" (his words). As the word made its way around the base that afternoon, pilots and others made their way to the Club in disbelief, to share their grief and raise a glass (or mug) to pay their respects to Bug.

The tradition carries on to this day, albeit in a different venue. Every year, at the annual Tailhook convention, a gathering of those Naval Aviators qualified to land on aircraft carriers, the Friday night happy hour is known as the "Bug Roach Memorial Mixer," and glasses are raised in many a toast to Bug and other departed friends.

Bug Roach was one of a kind, and a true friend. We miss you Bug, and we'll keep your legend alive.

We know you're still out there somewhere, Bug, helping those Tailhookers make it back aboard, and we're grateful. Keep up the good work.

More tributes to Bug Roach.

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