Elizabeth Roche – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force

Courtesy of Wellesley College:

Elizabeth Roche

Decorated World War II veteran and Wellesley Person of the Week, Elizabeth “Betty” Roche, was a native of Michigan's upper peninsula's “Copper Country”. Roche, whose family was heavily invested in the Wolverine Mining Company, entered Wellesley College in 1929.

Betty Roche's maternal grandmother was born in East Machias, Massachusetts (now Maine). And according to Copper Country regional historian Kevin E. Musser, the upper peninsula mining industry and the Boston area had a strong, long term economic connection. “Almost all the money to develop this region came from Boston. One of the early books written about this region is aptly titled “Michigan Copper and Boston Dollars” (Gates, William B., Jr., Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1951).” Musser continued, “The influence of Boston extends to town and street names like Beacon Hill, Concord City, Boston Location, Painesdale (named after William Paine, of Paine Webber of Boston, owner of the Copper Range Consolidated). The stamp mill for the Champion Copper mines in Painesdale were located in Freda, which was named after Paine's daughter.”

Roche's family suffered financially during the Depression, and Betty Roche was forced
to leave Wellesley College in 1931, after completing only 2 years of study. She is
considered a member of the class of 1933. While at Wellesley, she became the first
“First Year” to be a member of a Wellesley College varsity athletic team. She earned
letters in basketball and lacrosse.

Always lamenting her premature withdrawal from Wellesley College, her schooling
eventually resumed, and she earned both a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of
Michigan, where she was a history scholar.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, Betty Roche became part
of the first group of females to train to be officers in the US Army. She earned her
commission in August, 1942, and took charge of a 6 company female training batallion.

At the Army Command and General Staff College she took the accelerated wartime
course. At the Pentagon, she oversaw all female soldiers in the Army's Combat Service Support “Ordinance Corps.”

As a volunteer under General Douglas MacArthur, Roche served in battle areas in New Guinea and the Philippines. In the words of her nephew, Terence Roche  Murphy, “New Guinea and the Philipines were no places for a Wellesley lady. Which was exactly why a Wellesley lady like Betty Roche volunteered to serve there.” One of 656 female soldiers to receive awards for New Guinea combat actions, Betty Roche received a second combat award for her role in the liberation of the Philippines, and many additional awards in later years. These include the Air Force Commendation Medal and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal.

Following the war, and after a stint as an English professor at Michigan Technological
University, in Houghton Michigan, Betty Roche returned to the military, and joined the Air Force as an officer, serving in Washington, D.C., Germany and Turkey on military and political assignments. She retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, in 1965.

Elizabeth Roche died of cancer at her Atlantic Beach, Florida, home on January 21,1999, at the age of 88. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.


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