Died of Wounds

November 2010


Saint Michael the Archangel, Defend us in battle; Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, By the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits Who wander though the world for the ruin of souls, Amen.

There is a war casualty that will not make its way into any DoD announcement of US service personnel. The death occurred fourteen months ago, and I will admit that I didn’t hear about it for several months. And when I did, I was deeply saddened but cannot truthfully say I was surprised.

I first met CDR Dennis Rocheford in 1990, not long after he had joined the Navy. He arrived to be the new Recruit Depot Chaplain at Parris Island, where I was stationed as a Series Commander training recruits. Tall and lanky, he looked born to wear the Marine Alphas I first saw him in. And indeed he was. At a time and place where almost nobody wore more than one or two ribbons, Father Rocheford had a chest full. And those he wore had gravitas. Two Purple Hearts, from a VC bullet through his side, and mortar fragments to his chin and face. A Bronze Star. Combat Action Ribbon. The story of this handsome, friendly, fiercely faithful new Chaplain spread quickly. He had been Ray “E-tool” Smith’s radio operator as a Lance Corporal on Hill 881 at Khe Sanh with Alpha Company, 1st Marines, and had survived the fierce fighting in Hue City. When he was asked how he came to join the Navy as a Chaplain, he told us that, after surviving Vietnam, he promised God he would not waste his life.

Father was from Worcester, MA, not far from where I grew up, the city where I attended college. I immediately struck up a friendship with this gentle man of immense strength. I admired the way he ministered to recruits who sought his counsel. He would not hesitate to tell those whom he knew to be “skylarking” to quit bellyaching and get back to their platoons, while providing spiritual guidance to those whom truly were in need. Father Rocheford would show up at any and all PT events, and at 40 (which seemed OLD then, but somehow not so much now that I am 46) displayed his remarkable physical condition by always leading the events from the front.

When we had a chance to chat, he would talk with me about home, and mutual places and acquaintances, of which there were surprisingly many. We also discussed faith, and why I was no longer attending Mass (I am Catholic). To my surprise and relief, instead of reading from the “script”, he listened. (My hometown was the site of very serious abuses by a number of Priests in the 1970s. Some of my friends and people I knew were victims who’d had their lives destroyed.) I was thrilled to have Father Rocheford preside over my wedding in 1992. He made a very good impression on my parents, who talked of him in the years that followed quite often, and always in glowing terms.

Following Parris Island, I saw Father Rocheford on occasion at Camp Lejeune, where he was the Chaplain of 3rd Bn 8th Marines, and then 26th MEU. Even after months or years, he was able to make me feel as if we were picking up a conversation from hours or minutes before, and always had time for a smile, a handshake, and inquiry about myself, my life, my parents, and my Marines.

When I left active duty and joined the 25th Marines headquartered in Worcester, MA., whom do I see on my first Sunday drill but Father Dennis Rocheford. He had transitioned to the Reserves as well, and was our Regimental Chaplain. I found that he was very popular with the unit of tough, largely Catholic Officers and Marines of the Regiment. There were, it seemed, legion Marines who had served with Fr. Rocheford at 3/8, on 26th MEU, and even at Parris Island. His services in the end-hallway classroom were always packed, but I still found standing room in the back. After three years I transferred to 3rd Bn 14th Marines in Philadelphia, but on occasion would attend planning conferences at 25th Marines, where Father Rocheford always greeted me with a smile and a hearty handshake.

When I deployed to Iraq’s volatile Anbar Province in 2004, the 1st Marine Division Chaplain was Father Bill Devine, another Northeast boy, who knew Dennis Rocheford well. Father Devine spoke often of Dennis, and unsurprisingly professed the utmost of respect and admiration for him.

I had heard in 2007 that Father Rocheford had gone to Iraq as the Chaplain of II MEF, to Al Anbar and Ramadi. As was the case with the superb Father Devine, I knew the spiritual welfare of the Marines was in the best of hands. And it was. Nevertheless, Father Rocheford was remembered on prayer lists for both his personal safety and the incredibly demanding responsibility he bore.

The last time I saw Father Rocheford was a chance meeting in a pub in Worcester. It was about a year after the death of my father, July of 2009. He greeted me warmly, and told me he had seen my Dad’s obituary, and offered his deep condolences. We talked of my time in Iraq, and his time as well. Of Ramadi, and Fallujah, and Qa’im, Hadithah, and the names of places that mean nothing to anyone who was not there. But Dennis’s eyes, once so shining with his faith and his strength, were sad. Almost as if he were mourning as he recalled a fond memory. He was troubled. I remember thinking as we said our goodbyes, who would minister to him? This brave and stalwart soul who knows both the killing and healing side of combat, who daily, must steady the souls of young men whose faith has been shaken? What answers has he for the Lance Corporal whose best friend disappears in an instant of fire and smoke, or lies bleeding and praying on a filthy street while his comrades look on helplessly? If anything, I departed his company with a deeper admiration than ever before, and a profound sadness at what I suspected was a tortured soul.

When I heard of Father Rocheford’s passing, and finding that he’d taken his own life, my sadness could not prevent me from thinking of the character of Father Karras in the final scenes of The Exorcist, who takes the Devil into his own body in order to save the young girl. It seemed to me that Father Rocheford had performed small exorcisms on hundreds, perhaps thousands of young Marines and Sailors, releasing the demons that months and years of combat had placed in their souls. Some small part of each of those demons Father Rocheford took inside himself. There, with his own demons of death and fear and pain from combat with the enemy, they pressed a mighty weight on his soul. Unlike Hollywood, real life teaches us time and again that there are limits to what even the strongest of us can endure. On that bright Wednesday morning, September 9th, 2009, Father Rocheford reached his.

“Greater love hath no man, that he should give up his life for his friend.”

The Department of Defense announced the death of a Sailor and a Vietnam Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Commander Dennis Rocheford, USNR, 60, of Worcester, Massachusetts, died September 9th, 2009 of wounds, visible and invisible, received in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam, and in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, while supporting Marines and Sailors from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

My apologies to the reader, as the first person pronoun is used in this post perhaps too often. Rest assured, however, that there are hundreds of Marines and Sailors who would have similar stories about this remarkable and courageous man.

Semper Fidelis. In Pace Requiesca. Father, yours was a life not wasted.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Thank you for sharing this. I have immense sadness that someone who helped so many did not find help for his own. It’s very true: those who give spiritual, emotional, and physical care to our warriors are often in the greatest need of help themselves. It is taxing, and when faced with such an unending list of needs and demands, coupled with their own experiences in combat, one feels overwhelmed, almost helpless dealing with so much. Yes, as the wife of a surgeon –I know this well.
    What a great man. I’m sorry I never knew him. May he rest in the paradise of God.

  • Dael Sumner

    Words seem to fail me for adequate expression. I am deeply moved by this article and truly to the point of tears.
    Thank you and bless you Father. Semper Fi

  • Byron

    Thanks for sharing, URR. Sounds like a hell of a padre. God rest his soul, he’s in good Hands now.

  • DefendUSA

    An amazing man has left us to soldier on with the other sky angels.
    Be glad that you have known such a man, and know that he is at rest.
    RIP, Father.

  • Ron Snyder

    He does sound like a good man, sorry to hear the news.

    Read an article recently that his profession has a high suicide rate. Didn’t understand it at first, but upon reflection, they carry a heavy burden and it seldom that people go to see them about how good they are doing.

    Fair winds and following seas Padre.

  • Coldwarrior57


    Day is done, gone the sun,
    From the lake, from the hill,
    From the sky.
    All is well, safely rest,
    God is nigh.

    Thanks and praise, For our days,
    ’Neath the sun, ’Neath the stars,
    ’Neath the sky,
    As we go, This we know,
    God is nigh.

    Fades the light; And afar
    Goeth day, And the stars
    Shineth bright,
    Fare thee well; Day has gone,
    Night is on.

    Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
    May the soldier or sailor,
    God keep.
    On the land or the deep,
    Safe in sleep.

    Love, good night, Must thou go,
    When the day, And the night
    Need thee so?
    All is well. Speedeth all
    To their rest

    Thank you Sir and Gods speed.

  • Again, my condolences. Please do not apologize for any part of this beautifully written post.

  • John

    Excellent post, thank you for sharing.

  • Chaplains hold a special place in my heart and at God’s side.

    As I have often wondered: WHO counsels the counsellors?

    Rest in Peace, Father…

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute. Will be sharing it..

  • I finished reading this over 20 minutes ago and still have tears running down my face. Like you, I had not heard of his passing.

    Thank you for painting an enduring and unforgettable portrait of this fine man.

  • dwas

    Thank you ofr the article..my prayers for the Dear Father..Hero to us all..

  • Thank you, sir, for sharing this story with us. I wanted to say something worthwhile, but nothing I can think of is worthy of the lifes-work of this good man.

    May God Bless him and his family, because through his work, God has blessed all those around him.

  • CDR B

    Excellent post.

    “It seemed to me that Father Rocheford had performed small exorcisms on hundreds or thousands of young Marines and Sailors, releasing the demons that months and years of combat had placed in their souls.”

    Very insightful: given the Church’s recent announcement that they need more exorcists, are people truly aware of the exorcisms being performed everyday?

    In my first weeks as a 4th Class at NROTCU Holy Cross I immediately gained a strong sense for the connection between the Corps, The Church, the school and the Worcester area. When I was invited back 19 years later it felt the same. Though I am long disenfranchised as a religious man, I still say there is much goodness in the relationship. Thanks for bringing that sense back to me yet again.

    I never knew him, but now I know what a great man and priest he was; I think I would have been proud calling on him to help my Sailors. Thank you for posting and my sincerest condolences on your loss.

  • That was a wonderful tribute to a man who deserved a much better ending. May your prayers for him be answered swiftly.

  • Chris

    My wife and I met Fr Rocheford a few short months before his tragic death. His complete love of his faith and the concern that he displayed for all his shipmates and friends impressed us from the first moment we attended his masses.

    We were shocked when we heard the news of his passing, but were lucky enough to attend his memorial services. Only then did we even hear about his bravery in battle, and some of the stories that were shared brought tears to even the most battle-tested Marines in the audience.

    He will be missed, but definitely not forgotten!

  • Fouled Anchor

    A wonderfully written and most fitting tribute. By far the most moving blog on this site to date, and one filled with many lessons.

    BZ URR, and RIP Father Rocheford.

  • Krissy

    As my husband already commented, we met Father Dennis in February of 2009 and were immediately impressed. His eyes lit up as he said mass and I have never seen a priest who seemed to enjoy mass more than he did. Even though I knew him for such a short time, I think of him every time I attend mass and smile. He had a great sense of humor and once called my husband out during mass for not shaving. It may make us late, but he will not attend mass without shaving again. 🙂 We miss him dearly and are thankful for his service and the short time we were able to spend with him. Thank you for sharing more about him with those of us who knew him, and those who were not so lucky.

  • Jerry

    Always Faithful
    Never Forget

  • Tom

    “He ain’t heavy Father; he’s my brother”. Thank you Padre. Requiescat in Pace. Semper Fi.


    He will be remembered in the mass Sunday.

  • Rest in Peace.

  • Thank you for sharing this, and God Bless him. Who knows how many demons he took on for all of us.

  • leesea

    This was an excellent soliloquy to a fine man. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mariann in Massachusetts

    Truly a Massachusetts Minuteman

  • LtCol USMC

    Thank you for writing this essay. I am one of the hundreds you mention – I have the same story. You need only change the dates of the earlier years and the units. I deployed with him to Haiti in Aug 1994, and later to Norway in Feb 1995. I have the same observation of our first meeting – those medals! I had the same conversation with Father Devine in Iraq in 2004. I felt the same sense of comfort when I heard he was in Iraq in 2007. I have the same observation of his impact and ministry to which I’ve only one substantive thing to add; 2nd Platoon Fox Co 2/2 started our 1994 deployment with 11 Catholics out of possible 23, and ended with 18. Thank you for elimanting any confusion I may of had – Father Rocheford was a causality of war, and as you stated so well – “Father, yours was a life not wasted”.

    • Dan Antonucci

      I am reading about the death and testimonials of Fr Rocheford for the first time its june 16 2014 n i havent heard from or about Fr in 20 years. I met him on USS WASP in 94. I have thought of him countless times over the years and am going through a tough time now and finding comfort in words he spoke to me two decades ago. As the Lt Col stated we all have the same stories and memories. I am deeply saddened, having only found out an hour ago, as i wipe a tear of my cheek i realize that its not for Fr that im sad its for all of us he touched so deeply. I am certain that he is with god and finally at peace. He was with out a doubt hands down one of the finest men ive ever met. I was lucky enough to be with him on liberty in Israel and he brought a makeshift alter and when we got to the room of the last supper he gave mass. It was a sight to see! I think of it like being a baseball player and hitting a homerun in game 7 of the series. He was GLOWING, actually radiating. It was a beautiful mass/sermon and i dont think their was a dry eye in the room and we were packed in like sardines. It was something i will never forget.
      Thank you Fr Rocheford R.I.P

  • Ed Ferras

    Father Rocheford had (and still does have) the “heart and soul of a lion of gold” as far as I’m concerned. He was chaplain at my OCS class and a beacon of light and inspiration. I’d speak (and always will) of him as a man beyond this realm. VERY FEW people can make such an impression on so many, and especially on someone as cynical as myself. Sufficed to say I was speaking with a fellow Marine officer not long ago of this rarity of a soul only to be left in sudden shock and heart-broken. “Hey, there was this chaplain Catholic priest he was one of the best people I’ve ever known, you probably know him, Father Rocheford” I said. The other officer answered back “he passed away” to which I replied “Excuse me?” I held myself fine but it was like I was hit by a freight train. Like all men of God, he may have gone elsewhere, but he is still here in our hearts.

    God bless you Father Dennis Rocheford. Warrior, patriot, scholar, gentlemen, and a true disciple and servant of Christ.


  • CarlosDiaz

    Father Richford was our Chaplain in P.I. and later in Haiti, Norway, and the 26th MEU. I will remember him as a great man that guide me in hard times and someone that I will look up to!
    Semper Fidelis
    Noli umquam oblivisci

  • Gaylord Garrant

    I met Fr Dennis whilst serving with 3/8th Marines. Words cannot adequately express how I felt about this man. I searched his name out on the internet to find some kind of comfort, but was terribly saddened coming across this news instead. Over the years I have thought about this great man quite frequently. RIP FR., you will never be forgotten.
    Semper Fi

  • Fr. Arturo M. Ocampo, O.F.M.

    We were in chaplain school in 1987 in Newport, R.I. He was a good friend, fun to be with and most generous. We stayed in touch until a few months before his death. He promised to return my call, but never did… I was deeply saddened over the loss of a great brother priest. I will never forget this great friend and priest. Thanks for the “Jolly Ranchers”…

  • Tom Gribble

    I was a lost soul! With Father Rocheford and his easy going manner and his willingness to bring light to any dark moment. I was shown there is good in everything. I was baptised by him in Liberia, Africa. He is/was a Marines Marine, and I remember always the Jolly Ranchers he passed out as if he had a factory in his pocket! I’m going to try and attach a photo of him. I hope the link works!


  • Carla Hitchcock

    He introduced my husband to the Catholic faith during TBS in 1997 after we lost our newborn a year before. We will be for ever grateful to him for giving our family faith.

  • John McAllister

    I don’t think it was hundreds of Marines and Sailors, I am sure he touched the lives of thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of our Brothers and Sisters. I know he had a deep impact on my soul when I was on active duty. I still think about his wisdom and only found out about his passing today. I wish there was some way that he could have known how much he meant to so many people.