World War II veteran Thomas “Andy” Roach, 93, of Canton relives his 165 consecutive days of combat during the Battle of Lupao in 1945 with ink and paper in a new book written by a dear friend.
The author of the book and son of Roach’s friend from World War II, Perry Ball, decided the world needed to hear the stories Roach and other soldiers he served with had to tell.
Roach served as a sergeant in the 25th Infantry Division, G Company, 35th Regiment.
“Sgt. Roach’s Story: a U.S. WWII Mortarman’s War in the South Pacific” embodies the hardships and endeavors G Company went through to protect the U.S. during World War II, Perry Ball said.
Perry Ball’s father, Sgt. Wilbur Ball, met Roach in 1950 and the two became close after being in the same company — so close that Perry Ball decided to write a book about Roach and G Company.
Roach was the last remaining member from G Company alive and Perry Ball felt the need to share the company’s incredible stories before it was too late, he said.
“I knew enough about the campaign where I could talk to (G Company) and they didn’t think of me as outsider so I kind of became an honorary member of the group,” he said. “I corresponded with these guys over the years and had a couple of boxes worth of notes and it occurred to me that Andy had such a great story and he was the last one. The rest had all died on me.”
The stories recorded what Sgt. Roach and the mostly young soldiers from G Company experienced during World War II in the South Pacific, Perry Ball said.
“The vast majority served bravely, as evidenced by the fact that together they earned one Medal of Honor, five Silver Stars, numerous Bronze Stars for valor and at least 76 Purple Hearts from January 1943 until June 1945,” he said.
Roach is a native of Holly Springs, and after the war he founded a law firm, Roach, Caudill and Gunn LLP, the oldest attorney’s office in Cherokee County.
Roach is also a former Georgia state legislator, having served as both a state senator from 1959 to 1961 and a state representative from 1966 to 1974.
Roach participated in the Luzon Campaign, leading to liberation of the Philippines, and the occupation of Japan after the Japanese surrender in August 1945.
Roach was a mortar gunner and said he remembered one day in particular when fighting against the Japanese.
“We were in the jungle and we had been attacked. I was trying to find the place that I could set the mortar up and I finally found an open spot,” he said. “I was setting it up and suddenly a Japanese soldier stuck his head up and threw a hand grenade at me.”
Roach said his first instinct was to jump in a foxhole he had noticed while entering the jungle, barely escaping the explosion.
“I sat there for 15 minutes or so thinking he might stick his head up again, but then I decided I would try to drop a mortar shell close to him or where he was,” he said, adding that his mortars hit the target and he and his company returned back to base.
Roach said his most memorable time during the war was when he first heard the war was ending.
“I was at the picture show. It was raining and I had a canteen of water and a box of vanilla wafers. I saw lights coming from the distance from an automobile,” he said. “It drove up in front of the stage where the movie was. This guy got out of the jeep, got up on the stage and said, ‘Col. Larson just called and said the war was over.’”
As a little boy, the campaign was something that Perry Ball grew up with, the author said.
“My father was injured in the war and as a veteran he got the choice of where he would like to work and he picked the campus that was 10 miles from the where (G Company) fought, so from the age of 3 my father would take me to those sites,” he said. “My father would say, ‘Andy was here and the tanks were over there.’”
Perry Ball told the Tribune that this endeavor was just one of many Roach and his company had to overcome during the war and all of the stories are detailed throughout the book.
“I realized Andy was unique because he joined the unit in New Zealand, he was with them through new Caledonia and the Philippians, and was actually one of the very few that made it all the way to Japan,” he said. “His story became the story of the company because his voice could be a voice for the whole unit, and he was the last voice.”
Perry Ball said the “Greatest Generation” had to endure so much in their lifetimes and he felt it was his calling to share the struggles and hardships the veterans went through growing up.
“These guys were born right before the Depression, so they lived a life of hardship as boys. Just as they got out of high school they were drafted. Andy and my dad were the first age group that was drafted,” he said. “Their entire life was full of sacrifices.”
A copy of the book can be found at the Cherokee County Historical Society in Canton and Perry Ball said he has already written 60 additional pages to include in his next series on Roach and G Company.