Roger Hardy of Woodend Lane died last week at the age of 87 after a brief illness. He was not one to talk about himself unless pressed to do so in an interview but this humble and unassuming gentleman led a life of hard work, incredible adventure and bouts with hardships that usually ended in extremely good luck.
The Town of Medfield is indeed at a great loss with the passing of this community-minded public servant, who had a quick wit and a knack for telling great stories.
Roger’s beginnings in Medfield came when he was adopted into the Hardy Family on Nebo Street at the age of 11 months. The two-year old Hardy son, David, had died in the winter of 1925 of accidental poisoning, and Roger became the replacement son.
From the time he was a small child, Roger worked hard at his chores on the Nebo Street Farm; feeding the animals, cleaning the stalls, etc. When he was 14, he faced the disastrous year of 1938. First, times were really bad economically trying to survive the worst economic depression in American history, second, his mother, Ann, left with one of the hired farm hands and then on June 21, 1938 his father George died of Leukemia.
The now parent-less child, along with his younger brother George, were shipped off to an elderly aunt, who quickly realized she could not care for the two boys. Instead, with help from the Second Congregational Church in Medfield, the two boys were sent off to the Farm and Vocational School on Thompson Island in Boston Harbor, which had a reputation of handling only the toughest of boys.
Roger and his brother left Medfield and arrived in South Boston for the trip over to Thompson Island, unclear and a little apprehensive about what this new adventure would bring. Roger noticed how windy it had become and by the time he boarded the ferry to Thompson Island, wind gusts were topping 75 miles-per-hour. Roger didn’t realize he was crossing Boston Harbor in a small ferry in the mist of the Great Hurricane of 1938. Somehow the ferry made the crossing and Roger spent the next three years doing farm work, caring for animals, helping with kitchen choirs and helping out with the ferries that carried passengers and supplies back and worth from mainland Boston.
Then on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America was at war. The 17-year old Roger Hardy, with his buddies, went over to the Navy Recruiting Station in South Boston to do their patriotic duty and join the Navy. All of his buddies passed the physical and were accepted, but Roger was rejected because he had a heart murmur. Dejected and devastated that he was the only one who would not be serving in the military, he wandered back towards the ferry to Thompson Island.
There he noticed a recruiting sign from the United States Merchant Marines calling for all men to sign up and help save the country. He went inside and without having to take a physical; he was asked if he had any sea experience. Knowing he had worked on the ferries going back and forth from Boston to Thompson Island, he said “yes.” He was told that there was a ship leaving Boston for Halifax, Nova Scotia and to get on board; he was now in the Merchant Marines.
The ship was part of a convoy of ships traveling from Halifax over to Europe and crossing German submarine infested waters; German subs that were taking a toll on the American merchant supply ships. When they reached England all the other ships went into port, but Roger’s ship was denied permission to enter. What he didn’t know was the cargo his ship was carrying was 10,000 tons of highly explosive nitroglycerin. His ship was instead being sent up to Murmansk in the then Soviet Union.
At first they were under the heavy protection of US destroyers but once into the cold waters above Great Britain, all protection was pulled away. It was a decoy tactic used to try to pull large German war ships out of hiding. His ship was now an unprotected sitting duck traveling through some of the most dangerous waters in the North Atlantic. With Roger standing outside on the bridge, suddenly his nitroglycerin carrying ship was hit by a German torpedo. With the loudest explosion he had ever heard, he remembers being thrown high into the sky, somersaulting over and over again and going up higher and higher. He remembered seeing other objects, like in slow motion, flying past him. Then he was in the sea.
By luck a life raft was sitting next to him in the freezing waters; he managed to climb in. When he came to, he cried out louder and louder for other survivors; there were none. Roger Hardy was the only crew member to survive; the rest of the entire crew were killed. He alone now floated aimlessly in the rough Atlantic water.
After some time, a British ship came and pulled him out of the water. They instantly cut off all his clothes, wrapped him in a warm blanket and gave him some rum. Not knowing what to do with him, they transferred him over to a Russian fishing boat, which brought him into the nearby Russian port. As the Merchant Marines were not yet one of the branches of our military, he was technically a civilian and not a concern of our military. Roger, without the ability to speak Russian, tried to find help in the Russian village. With some luck he came across a Canadian ship going to England; on this he hitched a ride.
Once in England, he now had to try to find a way to get back to the United States. He was without money, wallet, identification or anything but his ability to tell the harrowing adventure he had just somehow lived through. A Canadian Air Force Bomber agreed to bring him back to Nova Scotia but there was literally no room for him on the plane. He had to agree to fly down where they carried the bombs, in the chamber now empty.
As this lower section of the plane was not heated and exposed to the freezing air temperatures, they would have to wrap him in blankets. Down into the empty bomb chamber he went, the plane took off and Roger prayed that it wouldn’t open accidentally, dropping him into the sea.
Again, somehow he made it to the Canadian shores where he was able to talk his way onto a train heading for Boston. Stopped at the U.S. border with no passport or identification, he was again in trouble; and again he was able to talk his way through the trouble and continue the ride to Boston. Once into North Station, he walked back to the Merchant Marine Recreating Station. Upon walking inside, the same recruiter yelled at him, “where have you been?” Roger tried to explain his story but was quickly ordered to board another vessel; this heading back to Europe.
Roger's adventures continued with his new ship taking him to North Africa and then onto the invasion of Sicily. Here, Roger's luck again came to his aid. Bending down to pick up an object on the deck at the exact second German planes began strafing the ship, he saw bullets fly over his now ducked head, killing the seaman standing behind him.
Roger’s ship continued in action after the Italian campaign, sailing up towards Great Britain where he took part in the Invasion of Normandy; D Day. Here, Roger took a piece of German shrapnel directly into the forehead, sticking slightly out from the skin. Without a doctor on board, Roger had to rely on another seaman, who took a pair of pliers, and with Roger enduring great pain, pulled the shrapnel out.
After the Invasion, his ship headed back to the US, arriving at Hogg Island, just outside Philadelphia. There aboard a trolley, by luck he met his wife to be Ruth. She had been married but her husband, a member of the Air Force, had been killed in action over Germany, leaving her pregnant with their child. Roger was not to see Ruth again until after he had graduated as a cadet. On this second visit he went to her home for dinner and to meet her parents. Here, for the first time, he held Ruth’s daughter, RuthAnn. The third time they met, he came with a ring and asked her to marry him.
They were married on Thanksgiving Day, 1945, only their forth time seeing each other.
After the war, Roger returned home to Medfield, only to find that family members had sold off most of the Nebo Street farm land, leaving him little. On what land was left, Roger and Ruth built their own house, actually building it themselves. Here, in 1947, Ruth gave birth to their son, Carl. Roger took on any job he could, becoming a contractor, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, and developer who began building houses. He became actively involved in his hometown, serving on both the Planning Board and as a member of the Board of Assessors.
By now, Roger had become a realtor and eventually, property assessor. Living in Medfield for so much of his life, he knew Medfield’s history inside out and could tell more stories about Medfield’s history than almost anyone else in town.
After retirement, he worked to correct the injustices received by those in the Merchant Marines, who were not given the benefits and bonuses of those in the other branches of the service. His research on the merchant Marines and TV show with Jack Peterson of Medfield.TV had his work become a nationwide program and one that was archived in the Library of Congress.
His son Carl lives in Medfield, still in the area of the old Hardy Homestead. Daughter RuthAnn married Dennis Lobo and their daughter Rebecca Lobo became an Olympic gold medalist and a University of Connecticut record-setter on the basketball team. RuthAnn died last year of breast cancer.
Roger Hardy leaves behind an incredible life of adventure, community service to his hometown and a positive impact on all those who knew him and those lives were touched by him. Medfield lost another important piece of its fabric with the death of Roger Hardy.