LEO S. ROLEK, JR., LT, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Leo Rolek, Jr. '70

Date of birth: October 22, 1948

Date of death: June 28, 1975

Age: 26

Lucky Bag

From the 1970 Lucky Bag:

Obituary

From the Class of 1970 40th Reunion Book:

As a stellar student in high school, the discipline, quality education, and life opportunities of the Navy drew Lee to USNA from Chicago. At the Academy, Lee excelled as a student and as an athlete and relished the close friendships he made. He loved fieldball and lacrosse. His roommates fondly remember Lee noisily and incessantly searching for the perfect Aero pencil in his desk drawer – but all was forgiven as he pulled them through Wires and Thermo. As a roommate and a friend he was a special person, never to be forgotten.

Lee and his high school sweetheart, Marilyn, were married in Chicago and went directly to the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, where Lee earned a Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering in June, 1971. It was then off to Pensacola where Lee earned his wings as a helicopter pilot in 1972. They returned to California and HS-10 for more training and to welcome their daughter Elizabeth, born in March, 1973. After the RAG, Lee joined HS-4 as an anti-submarine warfare pilot deploying to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.

In June 1975, Lee was conducting training in Helo 66, the aircraft used to recover Astronauts of five Apollo missions, when it was involved in an accident off the coast of San Diego. Lee was able to control the Helo so that all four crew members survived, but he suffered injuries that ended his life. Lee truly appreciated the opportunities the Naval Academy afforded him and with a humorous good spirit enjoyed the challenges of his career choice. He relished the friendships he made and spent his short life doing exactly what he loved.

Leeʼs greatest joy was his family. Nothing made him happier than a day at Disneyland with two-year-old Beth. Beth is now an Assistant Professor of cardiovascular sonography at the Kettering College of Medical Arts in Kettering, Ohio. Marilyn married Lee's squadron mate and classmate, Tom Fowler, and they had two more children, Carol and Rob. Tom and Marilyn have four grandchildren.

Loss

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Leo died of injuries sustained from the June 4th, 1975 crash of the SH-3D SeaKing he was piloting. It crashed into the Pacific Ocean during a training flight; he and the rest of the crew was rescued, but he died several weeks later. The helicopter was the same that had been used to recover the Apollo capsules.

Remembrances

From Mike Charley '70 (via Mike Novak ‘70):

One of my clearest memories of Lee at school had to do with his academics: while most of us, following exams, were always worried if we had passed, Lee always seemed to be worried that he had missed one or two questions - which seldom proved to be the case. Of course we took great pride in giving him a tough time over all of his “wasted” concern.

I believe following graduation Lee went directly to the Naval Post Graduate School (NPGS) in Monterrey, CA to pursue a Master's degree in Aeronautical Engineering. I was stationed on the west coast at the time and had an occasion to be traveling through Monterrey and stopped to see Lee and Marilyn. We were both avid scuba divers at the time and went for a dive in Monterrey Bay, not realizing two important facts:

  • the level of tidal surge in the bay was significant
  • it was mating season for the local sea lion population

Needless to say, it was an interesting dive. After about an hour we were both exhausted from fighting the surge and extracting ourselves from the large patches of seaweed that were prevalent everywhere and about the time we decided we were done for the day a very large sea lion arrived on scene and took a distinct interest in Lee. We of course, oblivious to the earlier stated fact thought this was just great and played around for several minutes before the sea lion decided we were of no further interest and departed. Once ashore as we were gathering our equipment to head back to Lee's apartment a Game Warden came by to warn us not to go in the water as the sea lions were dangerous this time of year and particularly so if they thought we were infringing on their territory. Lee stepped right up, thanked the warden and said we would find another location as we certainly did not want to take any unnecessary chances.

After finishing at NPGS Lee went to flight school and then on to a fleet squadron in San Diego and was later lost at sea in an aircraft accident.

From Jim Judson, Leo's high school classmate (via Mike Novak '70):

Lee was a solid athletic and academic competitor in high school - digging through some of our old award listings I saw that he was recognized for Advanced Chemistry achievement and "First Honors" for overall academic achievement. He also won an NROTC scholarship to Purdue - but instead chose the Naval Academy. And he was a member of the football team. All around good guy.

Other

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From The Chigago Tribune on August 04, 1985, By Bob Greene:

Has Anyone Seen Esther Rolek`s Ring?

Maybe one of you can help out with this. It`s a long shot, but it`s worth trying.

Esther Rolek, 58, is a widow who lives by herself. The pride and sustenance of her life is the memory of her late son, Lee, who died at the age of 26 in 1975.

Lee Rolek was a 1970 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He had been a good student at Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago; his dream had always been to go into the Navy, and both he and his family were thrilled when he was accepted at the Academy.

Lee and his mother would write and call each other regularly during his years at the Naval Academy. She was so pleased that her son seemed to be doing well. When he came home for Christmas vacation in 1969, he told her that he had a surprise for her.

He brought a box out of a drawer. He handed it to her. When she opened it, she found a ring--a miniaturized version of Lee`s own Naval Academy class ring. The ring was made of yellow gold, with a star sapphire; it said "United States Naval Academy" and "1970." Inside the band was inscribed: "Mom --Love, Lee."

Mrs. Rolek put the ring on her finger that day and virtually never took it off. She was wearing it when, in 1975, she learned that a helicopter Lee had been flying had gone down while on routine patrol in the Pacific. Her son suffered internal injuries and died later in the hospital.

She never quite got over the loss of her son. She kept wearing the ring. In 1981 her husband, Leo, died. He had been a mill inspector for Republic Steel. She was alone.

She got by, living on the memories of her late son and her late husband. In June of this year, she noticed that the stone in the ring her son had given her had started to chip, crack and fall out. She wanted to have the stone replaced.

On June 25, she gave the ring to a family friend to take downtown and have repaired. They had known each other for 40 years; the friend said she would be glad to do the errand.

The friend put the ring in a sack, along with a watch that she had to have repaired. She went to the Mallers Building in the Loop and dropped the watch off. She took the ring and put it on one of her fingers until she got to the next shop, where she was going to leave it to be repaired.

When she got to the shop the ring was gone from her finger. She retraced her steps, but to no avail. She had lost the ring.

Mrs. Rolek was devastated when she found out. She contacted the Mallers Building and the different stores in the building; she started writing to pawn shops around the city. She took out classified ads in both The Tribune and the Sun-Times. The ads read: "Ring Lost--Yellow Gold Naval Academy Ring--Keepsake of Son Lost in Service--Reward." She listed her phone number.

The same day the first ads ran, her phone rang. "I found your ring," a man`s voice said. She could hardly conceal her gratitude. "My prayers have been answered," she told the man.

He went on to try to arrange a meeting with her; as he talked more and more, it became evident that he had not found her ring at all. He was engaged in a con, and maybe worse.

Subsequent calls were just as bad. Callers would say, "I found your ring," and then laugh. They would raise her hopes and then make it clear that they were lying. The calls reduced her to tears. "I had no idea people could be so mean, just for the fun of it," she said.

She has been praying to St. Anthony every night that the ring will be returned. "The one thing I have left in my life is my memory of my son, and how proud I was of him," she said. "I don`t want to get a new ring--this is the ring that he picked out for me and gave to me, and I don`t know what I`ll do without it."

She is getting desperate. It has been more than a month since the ring was lost; all of her inquiries at pawn shops have been futile. She thinks that the ring may have been swept up by a vacuum cleaner at the Mallers Building and lost forever. She thinks there may be a chance, though, that someone picked it up and has no idea of what it means to her.

"Lee was our only child," she said. "I remember him as a little boy collecting coins and playing in the Little League. I remember going to his Naval Academy graduation and watching him march by with his class. I know it sounds foolish to place so much meaning in a ring--but the ring is all of him that I have left."

If anyone out there knows anything about the ring, let us know. We`ll make sure it gets back to Mrs. Rolek.

Related Articles

Patrick O'Neal '70 was also in 22nd Company.


Class of 1970

Leo is one of 20 members of the Class of 1970 in Memorial Hall.