Jack Rocchio, BS ‘55 Ph-–Decorated Aviator, Sailor, Linguist, and Adventurer–-Dies in Mallorca at 89
Jack Wilbur Rocchio, a retired captain at Pan American World Airways and then at Delta Air Lines, died of cancer on December 16 at his winter home on the Spanish island of Mallorca, said his wife and only survivor, Francoise Manni-Rocchio.
A member of Ricketts House, its irreverent offshoot the Macaroni Club, and the R.O.T.C., Jack held typical summer jobs--in electronics at RCA and as a geologist camping on a Canadian glacier--but upon graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force, entering a life much different from that of most Caltech graduates.
He received basic flight training in Georgia under Bevo Howard, a famous civilian stunt pilot, and multi-engine training at Goodfellow A.F.B. in Texas. Stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, among other aircraft he piloted a Grumman SA-16 Albatross on search-and-rescue missions. His plane was often the first seen at tiny islands in the north Pacific region.
After Air Force duty, he considered a career in medicine, being admitted to study at the Cleveland Clinic, while flying a year for Hawaiian Airlines. But he returned to Asia, settling in Tokyo, studying Japanese and, on the weekends for the C.I.A.’s Air America, flying dangerous missions dropping rice and “hard rice” (ammunition) over Laos and Cambodia.
Then from Asia to Europe, but still flying over enemy territory, in 1964 Jack was recruited by Pan Am. Based in Berlin, still an "occupied city," for Pan Am's Internal German Service Jack flew the corridors above East Germany, under Soviet control and occasional radar targeting.
1976 found him posted to Hong Kong, another island in a sea of Communism. After two years, Pan Am closed the base, returning Jack to Berlin and the IGS. After rising to captain, following the reunification of Germany in 1990 and dissolution of Pan Am in 1991, he flew for Delta in eastern Europe and retired in 1994. Recognizing his IGS service as vital to the city, the Senate of Berlin awarded Jack its Order of Merit (German: Verdienstorden des Landes Berlin), its highest honor.
In addition to English and having been a full-time student of Japanese, Jack became fluent in German, French, and Spanish and acquainted with Turkish, Tahitian, Tagalog, and Cantonese.
Jack was born on November 30, 1933, in Los Angeles and raised in Ontario, California. His father, Frank Rocchio, who managed a vineyard and winery, was originally from Colorado; his parents had emigrated from Italy. Jack’s mother, Pearl (Bartholomae) Rocchio, a homemaker of Alsatian descent, and whose father spoke only German, was originally from Texas.
An airline career provided Jack with time and opportunities for travel. He picked up sailing in northern Europe with a 35-foot steel sloop, Takara, taking her all the way to the Mediterranean. Later, after having met his French wife-to-be, Francoise, at the Philharmonie in Berlin, they purchased the larger Sauvage, a 48-foot, aluminum, flush-deck, staysail schooner, and the two of them sailed her twice around the world, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Cape Horn.
Mountain climbing was another passion, including trekking in Nepal, climbing in the South Island of New Zealand and in the European Alps. Later expeditions took them to Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Chimborazo, Toubkal, Ararat, Kala Pattar, McKinley-Denali and others.
Years later, Jack recounted vivid memories of his early flying days in Georgia. To inspire the cadets, Mr. Howard would order them to raise two fishing poles with a line stretched between the tips; he would then snag the line with the landing gear of his Buecher Jungmeister, upside down!