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Remembering a hometown hero

WATSONVILLE—A chorus of toasts rang through the Pajaro Valley Clubhouse on Saturday in remembrance of a local hero.

The family of Wallace R. Roberts, known affectionately as “Wally,” invited the community to honor the man’s life and legacy at the memorial event. Roberts died on June 29 at the age of 95.

From his days as a bomber pilot in World War II to his involvement in various Watsonville organizations, Roberts’ impact on the community was apparent Saturday. One of his sons, Robin, thanked guests for attending and sharing memories of his father.

“Seeing all your faces here… I know he has not gone in vain,” he said. “We will forever remember him as long as we are here too.”

Roberts was born in Modesto in 1924 to A.L. (Bob) and Rose Roberts. His parents moved the family to the Pajaro Valley in 1929 and opened their business, Roberts Floor Coverings, in downtown Watsonville.

After graduating from Watsonville High Union School in 1942, Roberts enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He completed cadet school and advance training in flight school, eventually earning his wings. He made his way through the ranks and became 1st Lt. as a pilot.

Roberts’ B24 Bomber took part in 50 missions during World War II—flying out of Italy and targeting places in Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). The Czech Republic gave many honors to the 464th Bomb Group and to Roberts’ 777th Squadron in particular.

When Roberts returned to Watsonville in 1945, he was lauded as a hometown hero.

wally roberts 3

The family of Wallace R. “Wally” Roberts celebrated his life Saturday by hosting a special memorial service in Watsonville. (Johanna Miller/The Pajaronian)

Saturday’s memorial invited attendees to sign a guest book, as well as enjoy a display of photographs and other memorabilia—much of it from his time in the war. Family friend Jack Roberts (no relation) led a sing-along of “Off We Go,” the Air Force Fight Song.

But the focus of the memorial was Roberts, who was described as someone with a keen sense of humor and plenty of stories to tell.

“He loved to talk—anyone will tell you,” said Roberts’ grandson Ryan Roberts. “But he was also a great listener. What I had to tell him, he listened to me… he really cared.”

Ryan led the toast, pouring small glasses of whiskey and sharing how his grandfather kept a secret stash of his favorite brand hidden from his wife of 71 years, Marie Roberts, who was also present on Saturday.

“Well, I didn’t know [Wally] that well,” Marie joked, then passing on the mic, asking attendees to share their own fond memories of her husband.

One speaker was Christopher O’Grady, Roberts’ longtime doctor. O’Grady explained that to take an accurate blood pressure reading, a person had to stop speaking—something Roberts found difficult.

“It was pretty much impossible for him,” O’Grady said, laughing. “He just loved to tell his stories. He always had something to share.”

Roberts was involved in  the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as a number of other organizations in Watsonville.

Present on Saturday were representatives from the Pajaro Valley Historical Association. In 2017, Roberts was invited to speak at the organization’s annual Vintage Picnic about his time in World War II.

“Wally was incredible,” said Nancy Bilicich, friend and current Director of Watsonville/Aptos/Santa Cruz Adult Education. “He really brought it all to life.”

Roberts leaves wife Marie, children Robin, Marsha and Jim, four grandchildren Ami, Sam, Ryan and Ruby and three great-grandchildren, as well as daughter-in-law Carol Roberts.

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study English and Media. She covers the arts, business and agriculture.