Honoring our choice for Rancho Cordovan of the Year presents a special opportunity to all of us tonight. We get to pay respects to Al Rogel, a longtime Rancho Cordovan who has always worked to improve his community and continues to do so even at the age of 90.
But we are also taking this occasion to honor an entire generation that Al Rogel represents so well. We call them our Greatest Generation, and for good reason.
Newsman Tom Brokaw gave Al’s generation that title and you would be challenged to find anybody to disagree. The World War II generation’s perseverance through difficult times is a testament to their extraordinary character.
Their remarkable actions, during times of war and peace, ultimately made the United States a better place in which to live.
Born and raised in a tumultuous era marked by war and economic depression, these men and women developed values of personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith. These characteristics helped them to defeat Hitler, build the American economy, make advances in science and implement visionary programs like Medicare. At every stage of their lives they were part of historic challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed.
Albert Rogel was born in Alliance Ohio, one of eight children of parents who immigrated from Slovenia. He says he quit smoking after two years at the ripe old age of 7, helped his parents work the fields, and never missed a day of school in 10 straight years, leaving high school with major honors including an American Legion Award and a Bausch-Lomb National Scientific Award worth $2000 – a huge sum in 1945.
But war was raging and Al, a high school graduate of 18, found himself on the Queen Mary with 15,000 other fresh recruits, heading to the battle fields of France as an infantryman replacement soldier, sent in to replace others who had fallen in battle.
Al recalls the vivid moments of his first 24 hours in battle, where his 18 years of Ohio upbringing did not serve him particularly well. During that first day off the boat, he watched his fellow soldiers being taken prisoner and instinctively knew that was not a good way to go, losing himself in the fog of war, only to finally be reunited with US soldiers to fight another day.
His accounts are harrowing. His humble nature prevents him from bragging about how he came about being decorated with a Purple Heart and the rare and most prestigious Silver Star, awarded for gallantry in combat during his service in the bloody Seigfried Line Campaign.
But here’s what the citation reports:
During heavy fighting in the Seigfried Line, in the early morning of March 15 1945, Private First Class Rogel, number two light machine gunner, assisted in knocking out one enemy machine gun and temporarily silencing a second. Later we was wounded in three places by mortar shell fragments. Disregarding his wounds, he made six trips averaging 200 yards each into a minefield under enemy mortar fire that struck within 25 yards of him to reach and remove 12 casualties.
Subsequently, while extinguishing burning white phosphorus shells he sustained second degree burns in the hand. Despite this added injury, Private First Class Rogel carried a complete light machine gun four miles to the line of departure when his company resumed its attack at dawn.
That’s the description of a Great American.
When the war ended, Al put his scientific mind to work, graduating from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland with a degree in physics and eventually ending up at Aerojet in Rancho Cordova, where he worked on the Polaris Submarine Missile Project for 10 years.
He moved on as a non-destructive inspection manager at McClellan Air Force Base where he won accolades and a U.S. Patent for his invention of a machine called the Automatic Eddy Current Bolt-Hole Scanner, which advanced the safety of aircraft everywhere. He finally retired from Defense Microelectronics Activity in 2006 at the age of 81.
In addition to raising a family of five children, Al’s well-rounded life has always included volunteering. Long before computers were invented to do the job, Al spent long hours dissecting and analyzing voting precincts to help political candidates who shared his views, believing in the importance of being an active participant in the political process.
He was active in St. John Vianney Catholic Church and Knights of Columbus. Not one to sit on the sidelines, he jumped into local campaigns on topics ranging from aggregate mining in Rancho Cordova to flooding of the American River to incorporation of Rancho Cordova and more.
A feisty 90-year old, Al has kept meticulous graphs of his personal weight as a secret to his longevity. That allows him to continue to be an active volunteer with the Rancho Cordova VINS – Volunteers in Neighborhood Services where he is an active and hands-on contributor. He and wife Sue reside in the same modest home on Ellenbrook Drive that Al purchased upon moving to Rancho Cordova 59 years ago.
It would take many more pages of words to fully describe this rich American story. Suffice it to say that this war hero, scientist, inventor, father, husband, neighbor, man of faith and citizen volunteer represent not only a life well-lived, but the epitome of Americanism represented by the Greatest Generation.
The Greatest Generation has been credited with much of the freedom and affluence that Americans enjoy today. They have given the succeeding generations the opportunity to accumulate great economic wealth, political muscle, and the freedom from foreign oppression to make whatever choices they like.
Despite these achievements, Al and others of the Greatest Generation remain remarkably humble about what they've done.
It is a generation that, by and large, has made no demands of homage from those who followed and prospered economically, politically, and culturally because of its sacrifices. The same can be said of Al Rogel.
Al, as the sands of time continue to shift you are one of the last Rancho Cordovans we can look to for inspiration from your remarkable generation. Your military decoration and patent demonstrate the courage and ingenuity which built our great community and our great country.
Franklin Roosevelt once famously said your generation had a rendezvous with destiny. For whatever purpose, that brought you here to be with us tonight.
Congratulations to you and to all those you represent.
We can only hope that the generations that follow achieve even a small measure of your incredible accomplishments as we thank you for showing the way.