–By Bob Miller
I had a visitor last month. This in and of itself is nothing unusual because I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The fact is, people love to visit Hawaii especially when they have a friend who can put them up in a perfectly located Waikiki apartment. The pleasure, in this particular case, will be entirely mine. My guest is a very close friend and former Mineola High School student, Mike Roche.
Mike was a student of mine about 20 years ago. I first encountered him as a freshman performing in one of my annual charity variety shows. What a character; up on our stage with three senior football players in boxer shorts playing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by punching their heads and mouthing the echo into a microphone. Mike was off to the side playing the triangle. He actually thought he was the star of the show.
I found this behavior highly unusual for a freshman who should have known his place on the high school social ladder. Not a chance for my good friend.
When Mike was in ninth or 10th grade, both his parents died within months of each other. These were rough times for him, but he persevered, worked hard and with a little help from his friends, navigated through these sad circumstances. Without much thought or a plan I started to include him in my family activities, particularly around the holidays.
We became close. He graduated from MHS a star athlete in football and baseball and went on to play rugby at Virginia Tech. I attended his college graduation and I believe he may have changed his major from engineering to technology education due to some small influence from me.
He took a teaching position at a prestigious San Diego high school. As I suspected, he did great. Then 9/11 happened.
Concerned for his FDNY brother, Mike left his job, drove virtually non-stop to New York, made sure all was well and then volunteered at ground zero. He felt the need to do more and subsequently joined the Air Force, received a commission and was accepted into flight school.
Upon completing flight school, Mike, along with the rest of his class, eagerly awaited their plane assignments. When it came, he could not have been more pleased. What plane should this 5 year Virginia Tech rugby player fly but, none other than the A-10 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the Warthog. Shortly after graduating from A-10 school, Mike was off to his first deployment in Afghanistan.
Mike is now an Air Force Major and having recently completed his forth deployment to Afghanistan, I candidly refer to him now as my war hero friend. The A-10 is a marvel of a machine designed for close ground support of our troops often times flying 150 feet off the ground with an amazing weapon protruding from the nose of the plane. Knowing Mike as I do, I’m certain that he was the best of the best and, most importantly of all, saved countless American lives.
Mike is in so many ways representative of Mineola students that I’ve taught over the years; down to earth, a little rough around the edges, funny, physical, and bright as can be.
He stops by Mineola now and then and if you happen to run into him, tell him “thanks” and I’m sure he would not turn down a beer if you should rightly offer it. I am in possession of an American flag that Mike sent me with a plaque and a spent casing that was flown on one of his missions. I proudly fly that flag in my Honolulu classroom, but would give it up in a second to have it rightfully flown at Mineola High School with a simple inscription, “Mike Roche, Hometown Hero.”