Sullivan Recognizes R.C. Roberts as “Alaskan of the Week”
WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized R.C. Roberts, a World War II veteran with an extraordinary story of service. Roberts, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, landed on Omaha Beach in 1944 as part of the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France. Despite the discrimination he faced, having to serve in a racially-segregated unit several years before President Truman integrated the U.S. military, Roberts served his country heroically, earning a campaign medal with three Bronze Stars. Roberts’ work as a cement mason ultimately brought him to Alaska in 1964 where he helped rebuild many communities across the state in the aftermath of the Good Friday earthquake. Roberts, who turned 100 years old this week, was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”
Tribute to R.C. Roberts
I am here. Once again, it is the end of the week. At least in the Senate, it is the end of the week, not for the rest of America. But when we end up here with our work, on Thursday afternoon, I usually try and do a story about what I refer to as ``The Alaskan of the Week.''
Hopefully, everybody can see this photo. We have included our Alaskans of the Week's pictures here. This is a really good one, if you are watching anywhere in Alaska, I hope, and across America.
Now, the reporters usually like this speech because it signals the end of their week. Normally, we have a crowd of press in the Gallery, maybe not so much today.
But it is about somebody who has done something good for their community or the State or maybe for their country. This Alaskan of the Week is actually someone who did something for the world--the world. Saved the world. Stay tuned. No exaggeration.
Now, I always like to give an update on what is happening back home. We are getting covered in snow--tons and tons of snow. The Sun is starting to come back. It is a very cold and snowy winter. The Iditarod is right around the corner--the last great race. Senator Murkowski and I will talk about that soon. It is a beautiful time of year if you love the outdoors--skiing, snow-machining.
So come visit Alaska. That is what I always do--make the pitch.
And people don't know this, but Alaska is also an incredibly diverse State. In fact, Anchorage, my hometown, the State's largest city, is home to the country's three most diverse census tracks--racially, in terms of nationalities. By the way, the fourth most diverse is Queens, NY. So more diverse than Queens, NY, in terms of race, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are very proud of our diversity. More than 100 languages are spoken in our schools--Native languages, other languages, foreign languages. We are diverse.
We are very patriotic. In fact, Alaska is home to more veterans per capita than any State in the country. White, Black, Asian American, Alaska Native, all different races make up that key part of Alaska's heritage, military service.
By the way, if you are watching the news, you know there is a lot going on over Alaska right now. But I just want to say a word about our military, Active-Duty, National Guard, and Reserve Forces. Think about what our guys and women have done the last 2 weeks: tracked and intercepted this big Russian spy balloon, tracked and intercepted at least two of these smaller unidentified objects and shot two of them down--the one over Alaska. The one in Canada, those were shot down by Alaskan forces in Canada. Then, in the last 4 nights, these same forces have gone and intercepted two different Russian ``Bear'' bombers and fighters--Russian fighters who were trying to get into our airspace. This is in 2 weeks. These are not easy missions. They are very difficult, challenging, missions.
Do you know what else wasn't an easy mission? Storming the beaches of Normandy. Storming the beaches of Normandy.
I have a little picture here. That is why I want to get to our Alaskan of the Week, a very special, very patriotic Alaskan, a World War II veteran, Mr. R.C. Roberts.
I can think of no better way to cap off Black History Month than to recognize Mr. Roberts, his service to our country, and help him and his family celebrate his 100th birthday.
How about a round of applause, America, for Mr. Roberts' 100th birthday, a Normandy, D-Day, Omaha Beach veteran. He celebrated that on Tuesday, Valentine's Day, 100 years old.
So who is Mr. Roberts?
Let's hear a little bit about the life that he has lived in full. Like I said, that is him. That is him, our Alaskan of the Week, on the poster board. He was a handsome young man, saving the world, literally.
He was originally born in Garrison, TX, in 1923. Imagine that, 100 years ago. According to letters written by friends, he worked on a family farm, left school early in life, and joined the Army when he was just 18, shortly at the start of World War II. He wanted to go fight for his country, and he did fight.
Many Americans have seen movies about D-Day. Again, here is a photo--our brave soldiers, hitting the beaches at Normandy, facing unbelievable heavy fire, having to navigate mined obstacles on the beach, mines on the bluffs, Germans dug in with machineguns.
You have seen in the beginning--I am sure many of you have—"Saving Private Ryan,” the seawalls to climb. That is what he did. That is what he did for America, for freedom. It was the largest, most complex combined airborne-amphibious military invasion in world history. Mr. Roberts, our Alaskan of the Week, was there on Omaha Beach in 1944.
He eventually marched all the way into Germany with the U.S. Army, all the way across Europe. He was part of the heroic mission that saved the world. That is not an exaggeration.
Mr. Roberts served 3 years. He was awarded the European Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars, representing three difficult battles across Europe that he fought in. And here is the thing, you have to remember this. It was 1944. Our military was fully segregated, and Black soldiers were discriminated against. In fact, it took until 1948 for President Harry Truman to order the Armed Forces to be integrated, 16 years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. But this patriot, despite the discrimination, was fighting for America.
How did Mr. Roberts make it through these ordeals--incredible ordeals--of fire?
Prayer, he said. He said:
Every day, I prayed, and [when I got home] I was so grateful to be back in the United States.
When he got out of the military and made his way back to Texas and then to California, he had a friend who was in Alaska who told him that his skills were needed up in the great State of Alaska.
It was 1964. Our State had just been devastated by the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America. It was the second-largest earthquake ever recorded in the history of the world--9.2 on the Richter scale--our Good Friday earthquake in 1964. Tsunamis crushed buildings, and of course it killed a lot of people. There was a lot of rebuilding being done. So Mr. Roberts, who at this point was a cement mason, made his way north--north to Alaska, north to the future.
He worked all across the State helping rebuild it: Fairbanks, Kenai, Valdez, the Aleutian Islands Chain. He literally helped lay pavement for the construction of what is now Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.
He bought a house in Chugiak, AK, outside of Anchorage. He met and married the love of his life, Joan, in 1970, in Anchorage. They joined the Eagle River Missionary Baptist Church, where they remained, and he remains an active member at the tender age of 100. Together for more than 40 years, before Joan passed, they raised four generations of children and had a wonderful life together.
Like I said, Tuesday, Valentine's Day, February 14, was Mr. Roberts' 100th birthday. I had the honor of calling him, wishing him a happy birthday, talking to him a little bit about his heroic service, thanking him for his heroic service.
The day after his birthday, he caught up with his friend Darrell Little. Mr. Roberts and Mr. Little have been friends--best friends--for more than 40 years. Darrell was visiting Mr. Roberts, making him his favorite meal for his birthday, a beef tongue sandwich. Sounds pretty good.
Darrell described Mr. Roberts as a loyal citizen who served his country bravely with honor and distinction. That is what being Alaskan of the Week is all about.
Darrell asked Mr. Roberts what he wanted to say about his extraordinary life, and here is what Mr. Roberts said just 2 days ago. He loves Alaska. He wouldn't trade his time in the State for anything else in the world, even with all the snow we are having this winter. He also said it was such a great honor to serve his country, and he thanked God for blessing him.
He sounds like an amazing guy. He is an amazing guy. I just spoke to him.
Mr. Roberts, thank you for your service. Thank you for helping rebuild Alaska. Thank you for living and leading such an exemplary life for 100 years. Thank you, as we move into Black History Month, for showing an example of a young man, patriotic, despite systemic discrimination against him, who fought the evil Nazi regime heroically and valiantly, part of the ``greatest generation'' that literally saved the world.
So, Mr. Roberts, happy birthday. I know you are also happy about one of the most prestigious awards you can ever get, Alaskan of the Week. We wish you well, sir.
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