VIDEO | Vindicator’s stashed WWII files lay to rest man’s questions


Thousands of Valley residents are buried in Lake Park Cemetery.

When U.S. flags come out for various veterans’ remembrances, about 10,000 of the graves are honored.

For Dale Rhinehart, three veterans’ graves in the East Midlothian Boulevard cemetery are special.

One is that of his dad, Jay, who served in World War II.

Another holds a friend, John Pape, also a WWII vet.

The third grave?

Well, that has been of interest to Dale for 45 years, mainly because it’s been a mystery for all that time too.

It’s the grave of William C. Roble.

SEE VINDY SPECIAL VIDEO of Dale Rhinehart at cemetery.

Based on what Roble’s gravestone says — Co. A, 501st. paratrooper, Infantry 101st Air Div. — he may have been among the first casualties of D-Day. The stone puts his death at June 6, 1944. But his highly specialized paratrooper group landed five hours before the historic D-Day beach invasions — technically June 5.

Roble’s enlistment, his date of death and his stone all resonate with Dale, a Mahoning County deputy sheriff who has a deep passion for military service, but especially World War II. His family members are buried nearby, so when he visits them, he visits Roble.

“If you look around this cemetery at the markers, there are many guys who died during the war,” says Dale, who then points to Roble’s grave.

“But this guy was a paratrooper in the 101st that went in the night before behind the enemy lines. They went in June 5. They were to try to secure the bridges so the Germans could not bring in reinforcements. He jumped behind Utah [Beach]. They got slaughtered.”

Dale knew that from Roble’s assignment, which is etched in his stone. But he had questions: Why was Roble at Lake Park? Who were his parents? Were there any other family members? What school did he go to? He had a certain awe for Roble that caused a yearning.

The first thing Dale shows me is a worn and torn piece of yellow legal-pad paper slightly larger than a business card.

Crinkled folds are proof it’s been opened and closed many, many times.

Amid the scribbling, you can make out “William Roble.”

“This is the note I must have carried around in my wallet for 30 years. It has all his info on it. Anytime I met someone from the 101st, I’d pull this out. ‘Hey — you know anything about Roble?’”

He got various pledges of help, but nothing ever came. Roble remained a mystery and a bucket-list item for Dale.

Buried away in a back closet of The Vindicator was an answer 70 years in the waiting for Dale and others.

The Vindicator is in the process of moving from two offices into one — vacating an office we’ve called home since 1929.

If you think moving out of a house is unique, try moving out of a business that is as rich in history as ours.

Many cool treasures have been unearthed. I found two Isaly’s glass milk bottles from the 1940s and some orange Vindicator belt buckles that were likely cool newspaper carrier gifts in the 1960s and ’70s.

And there have been some treasures to cherish.

Two boxes, roughly the size of pizza boxes but deep enough to hold index cards, were plucked from a back closet.

The boxes were covered in gritty, hand-staining dust that made them feel like sandpaper. They were not tightly sealed, thus the dust covered the tops of these index cards.

The cards were in otherwise perfect condition — all in alphabetical order, one box labeled A-M, the other N-Z; and all cards perfectly legible.

Typed on each index card is a personal account of every soldier who was injured or killed during World War II as it was reported in The Vindicator.

One card for one soldier — approximately 3,000 in all.

The Vindicator staff’s care and interest was special. Their scope of coverage for this was large — west to Akron, north to Lake Erie and east to Oil City, Pa. The notes are meticulous, including many updates about how wounded soldiers made their way back. What day articles were in the paper, which page and which column.

It is a treasure.

When I’d show the cards to guests, they’d hold a card like a fragile piece of Butler art.

We will do something special with them in time, as they are such a snapshot of our lives at a very pivotal moment in U.S. and Valley history.

I did a test drive by posting a handful onto Facebook in September to see if people would respond to the names.

Nine people responded — not to the names I posted but of other loved ones.

Of the nine, one was Dale.

Of the seven we found, one was Roble.

He was born in Youngstown and graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School. He was living on Tod Avenue in Boardman when he died, but also shows Belden Avenue and Loveland Road as residences. He spent time at Youngstown Sheet and Tube before enlisting.

Ann and Joseph were his parents, and of his five brothers, Robert was wounded in 1945 in Belgium and another brother, Richard, served in the Navy.

Common for some of the men killed over there, Roble spent four years interred in Europe before he was able to be brought home for burial in Lake Park.

He was 18 when he enlisted, was overseas by age 19, and died at 21.

This was all culled from Vindicator clippings Dale was able to find — and chalk something off his bucket list.

Last week, a grateful Dale and I met for the first time at Roble’s grave.

Talking to Dale about his dad, Pape and Roble is a rewarding experience. His words are worth anyone taking with them as we approach Veterans Day 2014.

“He loaded up on a plane, flew off into the night, and that was it. The guys who made it home — they fought their asses off, came home and went back to work and didn’t say a thing,” says Dale.

“People think that the guys who throw footballs and baseballs are the heroes. They’re just entertainment. These guys are the heroes.”

Keep that in mind when you wander past a flag at the cemetery.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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