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Veteran’s Day Profile: Captain Emil Saroch Jr.

At 99 years, he’s made more history than he can remember

Emil Saroch Jr. , right, at the change of command ceremony, Minesweeping Division, in 1955. Seated are his daughter Wendy, wife Patricia and daughter Victoria.
      It’s another gathering of the family to whom Emil Saroch has devoted his life since the death of his wife Patricia on Christmas Day 2004.
      They seem to get larger every year. It started with him and his wife. Then the four kids came, then their spouses, then eight grandkids and two great-grandkids over the years. Many midshipmen, as well, have found the Sarochs’ home a welcome port and respite during breaks from the rigorous regimen at school at the Naval Academy.
      Emil Saroch watches it all over the large backyard of his home near Mill Creek off the Severn River.
     Forty-one kids, spouses, grandkids and great-grandkids. At age 99, he doesn’t remember some of the names. His body doesn’t always do what he asks, but he still works his garden every year, with help from the kids, and he lives without serious disease.
     Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Emil Saroch Jr. was born in 1920 in St. James, Missouri, growing up on a small farm along with two sisters and two brothers. He enlisted in the Navy in 1937 at age 17, serving as a seaman and advancing through the ranks. His industriousness, intelligence and potential leadership skills were noticed, and he was offered an opportunity to attend the Naval Academy. 
     During the war years, 1942 to 1946, the need for officers was so great that the curriculum was reduced from four to three years. The young men were sent into the teeth of battle for on-the-job training.
     Graduating with the class of 1945 in June 1944, he took command of the 120-foot-long LCS(L)-119 to join up with the Halsey Assault Group to help end the war.
     Lt. Saroch’s ship joined the assault on Okinawa in support of the army and navy invasion and to defend aganst waves of kamikaze assaults from the mainland. 
     “On a run past the beach, my ship was targeted by a kamikaze pilot seeking to make an impact,” he tells anybody who will listen. “The plane struck the starboard side of the ship causing extensive damage and disabling the LCS(L)-119’s engines.” For many years, his memory for details was exacting.
      The LCS(L)-119 was one of 368 ships damaged in the Okinawa assault; 36 were sunk. About a third of the crew lay dead or wounded. The ship was dead in the water. The 25-year-old lieutenant scrambled to help save the ship and crew, admidst cries of We’re all going to die. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the Silver Star, the United States Armed Forces’ third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. 
     After the successful invasion of the Japanese island, the LCS(L)-119, and the remainder of the crew, were towed back to San Francisco for repairs and refitting. By the time the ship reached dry dock on the West Coast, Japan had surrendered and the war was over.
      Saroch doesn’t think about the tests of those days much anymore. It was, after all, a long time ago and much has happened in the interim.
      He married Patricia Rementer not long after, in 1945, and they had four children while he traveled around the world during a 30-year career. Two of his children retired as commanders and several of the grandchildren or spouses serve in the Navy or Marines.
      He returned twice to the Naval Academy, first in 1950 as an instructor, then as chief of staff during a second assignment from 1963 to 1966. Living on the academy grounds was one of the fondest memories his children have growing up as Navy Juniors.
     He later served in the Pentagon in the Manpower Analysis Center.
     In the intervening years he served on or commanded several naval vessels, including the USS Rowen, a destroyer; USS Edistol, an ice breaker; the USS Turner and the USS Wallace L. Lind, both destroyers; and the USS Point Defiance, a dock landing ship.
     He was commander of the Lind during the Cuban missile crisis, when the Navy was assigned to stop the Russians from delivering missiles to the Communist government in Cuba. His ship was assigned to observe a Costa Rican trawler suspected of carrying missiles to the island.
      Life magazine ran a two-page photo spread that included the Lind, and friends saw and reported the story. But when the family wrote to the magazine for a copy of the issue, Life denied that it existed. The assumption was that early issues carried the picture, but that the Navy demanded that the magazine replace the pictures — for who knows what reason. The Saroch family never found out why the pictures disappeared, but they know they exist.
      His ships participated in the first landing of troops in Da Nang, Vietnam, and were active in the retrieval of satellites off the coast of Florida.
      Capt. Saroch’s final assignment of his 30-year career was serving under Ambassador William Middendorf as chief military advisor to the Netherlands, living there with his wife and younger children.
       After retirement, Saroch taught in an Episcopal high school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and served as a substitute teacher in the Anne Arundel County schools when the family returned to the area. He is a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church, where he has faithfully served in numerous positions, and was national representative to the Brotherhood of St. Andrews.
     Now at age 99, he is the partiarch of an ever-growing family. Some of his memories are fading. He has buried his wife and many of his compatriots, and he has told his stories.

Richard Dykeman of Edgewater is married to Emil Saroch’s second daughter, Wendy.