Roberts, 84, Beth Steel manager and highly decorated World War II flier

J. G.

April 15, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John G. Roberts, a retired Bethlehem Steel Corp. executive and highly decorated World War II Army Air Forces veteran, died Wednesday of leukemia at the Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson. He was 84.

Mr. Roberts, a former Charles Street Avenue resident, had lived in the Edenwald Retirement Community since 1994. He retired in 1978 from Bethlehem Steel Corp's Sparrows Point plant, where he was superintendent of the Industrial Engineering Department and was plant industrial engineer.

He began working in the Industrial Relations Department in 1934 while studying industrial engineering and business administration at night at the Johns Hopkins University. He later was promoted to the industrial engineering department.

In 1942, Mr. Roberts enlisted in the Army Air Forces and served in Europe as a radio operator and gunner aboard B-24 Liberator heavy bombers.

He was assigned to the 460th Bombardment Group of the 15th Air Force -- known as the Black Panthers -- based in Italy.

As a crewman aboard the B-24s, Mr. Roberts participated in strategic bombing missions, including the famous 1943 raid on the Ploesti oil fields.

Code named Operation Tidal Wave, the mission, which included 177 Liberators, was to attack the vital Romanian oilfields that supplied Nazi Germany with about 7 million tons of oil a year.

It wasn't until 1944, after repeated bombings, that the Ploesti refineries were finally put out of commission -- after the loss of 350 Allied bombers.

"Because it was strategic bombing, they bombed factories, steel mills, railroad yards and shipyards. In addition to Romania, he flew missions to Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungry," said his wife of 55 years, the former Gloria Beiswanger.

Mr. Roberts' war record included 55 missions. His decorations included five Bronze Stars, four Air Medals, a Presidential Citation and Certificate of Merit. He was discharged at war's end with the rank of sergeant.

"He never bragged about his experiences during the war. He was a very humble man who always said the real heroes didn't come back," said Mrs. Roberts.

Returning to Bethlehem Steel in 1945, he resumed his career in the Industrial Engineering Department until retiring after suffering a stroke.

His professional memberships included the American Institute of Industrial Engineers, American Management Association, Association of Iron and Steel Engineers and the Engineers Club of Sparrows Point.

He was also a member of the board and secretary of the Sparrows Point Country Club, the Grachur Club of Baltimore and the Stachur Club. He also was a life member of the Disabled American Veterans.

He was born and raised in East Baltimore and was a 1934 graduate of City College.

He was an avid reader and enjoyed spending time with his family.

Mr. Roberts was a member for many years of Towson Presbyterian Church, where a memorial service was held yesterday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Roberts is survived by two daughters, the Rev. Janet Roberts Jones of Towson and Elizabeth Roberts Martin of Timonium; a sister, Carrie R. Tarleton of San Jose, Calif.; and four grandchildren.

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