Jimmy Roberts

James Roberts in uniform

Meet Jimmy Roberts one of Cranford’s 86
By Don Sweeney, Cranford 86 Adopt A Vet Committee

James Roberts High School Portrait

It was the morning of September 11, 2016. As a member of the Cranford 86 Adopt A Vet committee, I was scheduled to meet a family of one of our Cranford 86 to hear their story of their loved one who perished in World War II. When we arranged the meeting it hadn’t occurred that this Saturday was 911. I spent my morning as many do on that sad day, watching the families of the 911 families read the endless list of names that we have all become so familiar with. Although fifteen years have gone by, it still has a way of feeling like yesterday, I wiped some tears from my eye as the names past the letter G and went off to the home of Mary Roberts where she had gathered six Roberts/ Benoit family members. They lined the dining room table, stacked on the table were articles and scrap books from their family archives that told the story of this brave young Cranford boy, James D. Roberts that went to war shortly after his last day as a Cranford High School senior in 1943. Donna Roberts, Jimmy’s cousin, took the lead as the coordinator of the articles into the family scrap book. They started telling me the stories and showing me their picture collection that would soon have everyone in attendance wiping tears from their eyes. For them 1944 was like yesterday. The Roberts family already had 2 sons in the war by 1943, Alan and Edgar. Jimmy would be the third, he joined the Army at age 19 with his two school buddies Joe Griffin and Bob Greco. They reported before the actual commencement ceremony at Cranford High School. All three were assigned to the heavy cruiser Canberra. Bob Greco and Joe Griffin later told of a pact that was made between the three of them. If anything happened to any of them, they would visit the other families regularly upon their return. As a part of the Aircraft Carrier Task Force they were positioned 70 miles off the China coast, making air strikes on the island of Formosa. On the evening of Friday, October the 13th, 1944 a Japanese attack squadron of 30 planes set out to take out this formation of destroyers, cruisers and four aircraft carriers. After a lengthy battle the guns went silent, the black smoke was clearing, many enemy and American fighters were downed and it seemed that this battle was over. Then a stream of bubbles were spotted heading toward the Canberra. A torpedo had been dropped and was heading toward the center of the ship. It exploded a 55 by 140-foot hole in the boiler room, killing 23 of the nearly 3,000 men on board. Jimmy was on duty that night in the boiler room. On November 7th ,1944 a Western Union car pulled up in front of the Roberts home on 163 N. Union Ave. Jimmy’s younger brother Walter was on a ladder repairing a window. It is told that he put the hammer through the window as the courier walked up the drive. He didn’t know which one it was, but he knew one of his brothers were gone. Formosa was a crucial naval base for the Japanese; it housed a large number of the naval war ships and was the primary source of air attacks for the region. The battles at Formosa were carried out from October 10th – 20th, more than 300 Japanese attack planes were downed during the 10-day encounter. The first report of a Kamikaze strike happened here. More details of the battle of Formosa and the strategies that followed can be found online by simply googling the words Formosa battles or www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_formosa.html After nine years a letter reached the Roberts family, they were informed that the remains of nine sailors from the Canberra would be relocated back to American soil. The family, along with Bob Greco and Joe Griffin, would travel to Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Kentucky. They weren’t given the opportunity to select the burial spot. It seemed that this spot was a central point for all the nine families. Interestingly the remains of 9 sailors were put in 3 pine coffins. None of them were identified individually.

James Roberts grave at Zachary Taylor National Cemetary with Bob Greco

I asked the family if they could describe what kind of guy Jimmy was. They said he was a happy go lucky guy that loved to drive his mother crazy with wacky antics. He was a real fun character. For many years the Roberts family members along with Bob Greco and Joe griffin make their way to Canberra reunions around the country. Bob and Joe are gone now as well, but always remembered their pact, each year on October 13th they would always gather for a drink and a toast to their lost buddy and brother James D. Roberts. We would like to thank the Roberts family for sharing the stories of their beloved Jimmy with all of us. If you have a story and a picture of one of our Cranford 86, please reach out to us. We are trying to put faces and identity to the names on the monuments. It was only through their bravery and sacrifice that we live in freedom here in Cranford, NJ in the greatest country in the world. If you’d like to sponsor a veteran we are accepting $25 donations to personalize the flags that represent these 86 men in our Memorial Day parade each year. Donation forms are available at the community center. We’re on Facebook at Cranford86 or email djsween@aol.com.

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