Hugh M. Roper, 82, pilot of bombers and survivor of Pearl Harbor attack

July 11, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Hugh M. Roper, a Baltimore native who piloted 50 missions bombing bridges in Asia during World War II and later became the hometown face of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, died July 4 of an aortic aneurysm at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring.

Mr. Roper was 82 and had recently moved from Columbia to the Riderwood Village Retirement Community, between Columbia and Silver Spring.

Mr. Roper was a 1938 graduate of Forest Park High School and enlisted in 1940 in the Army Air Corps, which sent him to Hawaii -- where he attended college classes and was active in a local theater group as a young private.

He was at the mess hall at Hickam Field when he saw planes overhead as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. After the attack, he trained as a bomber pilot at Williams Field in California. He spent two years as a captain flying a B-25 in China, Burma and India theater, and participated in 50 missions before he came down with malaria and dengue fever and was sent to recuperate in Atlantic City, N.J.

"It's a day you'll never, ever forget, nor should you," Mr. Roper told a crowd at a memorial ceremony last year aboard the Coast Guard cutter Roger B. Taney. The ship is part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum, berthed at Pier 5 in the Inner Harbor.

As a member of the Maryland chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Mr. Roper played a key role in raising money for the pre-World War II cutter, which was acquired by the museum in 1986 after it was decommissioned. The museum bills it as the last warship present at the Pearl Harbor attack still afloat.

"Hugh was very well-known to us as an active member of the local chapter, and through his contributions, the chapter became involved with the ship," said Paul B. Cora, curator of the museum. "He was a bright, witty gentleman with a genuine desire to communicate whenever the opportunity arose."

Aboard the Taney, he said, visitors can hear Mr. Roper and nine other Pearl Harbor survivors reminisce on a 2001 documentary Pearl Harbor Remembered, produced by the museum and broadcast on Maryland Public Television for the 60th anniversary.

"I keep thinking how fortunate we were, when we did it in 2001," Mr. Cora said. "It's a very poignant sort of thing that we have to come to grips with: that we are losing members of this generation."

Mr. Roper spoke often to groups, including high schools throughout the area, often quoting his organization's motto: "Remember Pearl Harbor. Keep America Alert."

"Every December 7, he got a lot of calls to make speeches, beginning about 10 years ago," said his wife, the former June Cameron.

But it wasn't always so, she said. He faced challenges upon returning home, and then he re-enlisted as a lieutenant in the Air Force, spending 22 years in the military, including time in Moscow. He learned Russian at Syracuse University and was stationed in Alaska during the Cold War, she said.

He retired as a captain in the Air Force and embarked upon a civilian government career that included service in London and Berlin.

While in England, he married and had two sons, but later was divorced. After retiring from government service in 1986, he moved back to Maryland and met his wife when both were members of the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Roper visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, she said. "He was great that day. All these people kept coming up and thanking him."

Funeral services were Thursday at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Dean Roper of Orlando, Fla., and Major Glenn Roper of Fort Sill, Okla.; three stepdaughters, Stephanie Duncan and Carol Carmen of Columbia, and Sarah London of Ellicott City; two brothers, Keith Roper of Fort Myers, Fla., and Lee Roper of Arbutus; and eight grandchildren.

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