PORT ANGELES — A memorial service with military honors has been scheduled for next week for retired Army Col. Donald Lorne Roberts, who earned a rare Combat Infantryman Badge with two stars for fighting in three wars.
Roberts, 91, died of pancreatic cancer last Thursday at the Port Angeles-area home on Billy Smith Road that he built five decades ago, his daughter, Port Angeles resident Susan Waldroup, 70, said Sunday.
The service is at 1 p.m. Feb. 13 at Drennan-Ford Funeral Home, 260 Monroe Road, Port Angeles.
A passionate supporter of the Second Amendment, Roberts moved to Port Angeles in 1970 after serving 26 years in the Army, fighting in World War II at Okinawa, in the Korean War for two tours and the Vietnam War for three tours.
He stepped up again for seven months in 1979 during a tumultuous time for the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Bill Benedict said Monday.
Benedict said Roberts was a dispatcher and reserve deputy when Sheriff Harley Bishop died in 1978.
Bishop’s undersheriff, James Calloway, was forced to resign soon afterward — about two years after he was hired — when he lied about crashing his car while drinking alcohol, Benedict said.
The county commissioners appointed Roberts to be the interim sheriff for three months.
Their newly appointed Sheriff Steve Kernes then named Roberts undersheriff for four months.
“He was legendary in the department for just his calmness, his steady hand,” Benedict said. “Sometimes, you look at people and you just know they are a leader.”
Benedict said he spoke several times at events sponsored by the conservative North Olympic Phone Tree, which Roberts helped organize.
As board chairman of the Pacific Northwest Shooting Park Association, Roberts tried for several years to establish a new gun range in Clallam County.
He unsuccessfully pushed for the transfer of 320 acres of state Department of Natural Resources land at Sadie Creek to Clallam County for a park that would be managed by the association as a shooting range.
Roberts also was a gun shop owner for several years in Port Angeles around the 1980s and early 1990s with his son, Bill, Waldroup said.
“He believed in the Second Amendment,” Waldroup said.
“He would always say, you have to pick your battles and priorities, and to him, that was his battle and priority.”
Roberts was born Oct. 1, 1926, in Bend, Ore.
He grew up in Grays Harbor County, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Ruth Corier.
The two youngsters lived on the same road in Montesano, rode the same school bus and were married for 75 years, starting just after he turned 18.
He enlisted in the Army in 1944 — at age 18 — without a high school degree, participating in Okinawa and Philippines military operations, Waldroup said.
After the war, he remained with the 177th Infantry division on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, re-enlisting in 1945 and getting assigned to the 188th Parachute Infantry in Northern Honshu, Japan.
He was a noncommissioned officer when he was assigned to the 187th Parachute Infantry in 1949, then was activated for the Korean War, completing his Korean tour as a company commander in the 187th, then returning to Korea in 1952 with the 40th Infantry Division, where he was promoted to captain.
Between 1954 and 1964, he served at Fort Bragg, N.C., Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Campbell, Ky., Fort Leavenworth, Ka., and with the Army General Staff in Washington, D.C., where he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In 1964, Roberts was assigned as the senior advisor in Vinh Long Province in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam, the first of his three tours in that war.
He returned to the U.S. in 1968, where he was promoted to colonel and assigned as chief of staff, recruiting command, Hampton, Va., before his retirement in 1970.
Waldroup said Roberts’ father lived in Port Angeles.
She said her father often recalled his days in the military to his children, Waldroup said.
“He was good at telling stories, and he had a million of them, all the people he met and everything, all the close calls he had.”
Roberts made about 100 parachute jumps in the military, and flew gliders, Waldroup said.
“He tried a little bit of everything,” she said.
Roberts was interviewed by the Tacoma-based Weekly Volcano newspaper in June 2014 at the 64th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration at the state Capitol in Olympia.
He told the Volcano that 400 Combat Infantryman Badges with two stars were awarded, but that only 100 recipients were still alive.
Jerry Rettela, president of the Korean War Veterans Association, Chapter 310 Olympic Peninsula, said Roberts was among the first members of the group when it was formed more than 10 years ago.
Roberts was a frequent participant in group events, including a Christmas gathering several weeks ago.
“He walked in parades for as long as he could,” Rettela said.
“He visited veterans in the hospital.
“As old as he was, he was always active.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].