Michael Di Rocco
On July 8 and 9, family, friends, members of the community, and military comrades gathered to pay respects to Michael “Mike” Di Rocco of Brevard, NC. Husband, father, friend, parishioner, Marine, Green Beret, adventurer, restaurateur, and volunteer all describe this extraordinary man. As I attended the services held in his honor, I wondered how to say goodbye to a hero and friend.
Served as a Marine and as Special Forces Green Beret
Mike served his country as a Marine in the 1950’s and again in the 1960’s as a Special Forces Green Beret in Vietnam, embedded in the villages of the Central Highlands’ indigenous tribes. His Special Forces team recruited the mountain people and trained them to defend their hamlets against the Viet Cong. Mike served with courage and distinction. His many decorations include the Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm.
Final Roll Call
At his burial service at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, NC on Friday, July 8, Di Rocco was honored by members of Special Forces Association, Chapter 17, who performed the poignant “Final Roll Call” – a tribute paid by soldiers to their deceased comrade.
On Saturday, members of the community joined Mike’s beloved wife, Maggie, and his family at a Memorial Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, celebrated by Father Shawn O’Neal and assisted at the altar by Deacon Pat Crosby and Father Leo Gariazzo, special friends of the deceased.
Mike’s son, Frank, regaled the congregation with stories of Mike’s adventures. In the late 60’s, Mike first heard of parasailing. “My dad thought, ‘Yeah, I have a parachute. I could do that,’’’ Frank said. “He modified his parachute. Then he threw it and a section of mountain rope into the family station wagon.” At that time, I-95 was under construction near their home in Pompano Beach, Florida. “We drove out to the unfinished highway, hooked Dad up, attached the rope to the station wagon, and drove. And lo and behold, there we were on I-95 with Dad parasailing behind us!”
The Transylvania County Honor Guard, led by Ray McCall NCOIC and Chaplain James Boatwright, Capt. and three active duty Senior Master Sergeants from the Fort Bragg Green Berets, performed an honor ceremony which included a three-round volley, the playing of taps, and the folding and presentation of the flag to Maggie Di Rocco.
The service concluded as the congregation sang “God Bless America.”
A Gentleman and a Mentor
Throughout the weekend, I thought of Mike and Maggie Di Rocco, inseparable as together they lived life to the fullest while facing its challenges. Mike was the first veteran I interviewed for my book, “Welcome Home, Brother.” He served on the Board at the Veterans History Museum where he spent hours visiting and sharing stories with veterans from across the nation. Despite living through the brutality of combat in Vietnam, Mike remained a gentleman and a mentor to many. We will never forget him.
Farewell to a Hero
How do we say “farewell” to a hero? There’s no need to do so. Memories of Mike’s courage, patriotism, loyalty, service, love of adventure, kindness, sense of humor, and devotion to church and family live within us. And perhaps, through his example, we might live better lives. Instead of “farewell,” let us say “thank you!”
Maggie and Mike Di Rocco at a patriotic concert, Brevard College circa 2018.
Article By Michel Roberts
Above photo:: Members of Special Forces Association, Smoky Mountains Chapter. L-R: Bill Gunn, William Knowlton, John Funderburk, Robert Terry Smith, and Phill Hanson
Mike Di Rocco in his Special Forces green jacket, having a good time at the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.
Team leader Phill Hanson holds his salute during the “Final Roll Call.”
Beautiful rolling hills and mountains overlook the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain.
Presentation of the flag to Maggie Di Rocco by a Senior Master Sergeant from the Fort Bragg Green Berets during memorial service at Sacred Heart Catholic CHurch, Brevard.
Green Beret Robert Terry Smith with Maggie Di Rocco
A painting of Green Beret Mike on patrol in the Van Cahn Valley, VIetnam 1965, by military illustrator and painter Max Grace.
It was an honor and privilege for me to get to know Mike the last few years. We met at the museum during one of his talks about experience in Special Forces. We enjoyed talking about our times in the Special Forces Brotherhood as we had had the same job (MOS) for a period of time.
Many don’t understand Special Forces and our service in Special Forces. I believe this Quote (warning) to young men may help explain.
“Men, Special Forces is a mistress. Your wives will envy her because she will have your hearts. Your wives will be jealous of her because of the power to pull you away. This mistress will show you things never before seen and experience things never before felt. She will love you, but only a little, seducing you to want more, give more, die for her. She will take you away from the ones you love, and you will hate her for it, but leave her you never will, but if you must, you will miss her, for she has a part of you that will never be returned intact. And in the end, she will leave you for a younger man.” James R. Ward, OSS
De Oppresso Liber
Thank you, Phill. All in attendance at the burial were moved and in admiration of your Special Forces team and ceremony. I love the quotation by James R. Ward! Hope to see you again at the Veterans History Museum. Welcome Home, Brother!
You know, they say World War II veterans were the greatest generation.” Mike was definitely one of those soldiers “”. He had a heart as big as life. Never had a negative thing to talk, even though he went through a lot, when he was in the Military. He loved his fellow Veterans. To me, he’s not gone, he inspires me every time I think of him. We would joke and tell each other stories of the 101st. Airborne. And he sure loved his beautiful wife, Maggie. Together, they lit a room up. ( well you know what I mean) he will be missed, but NEVER, forgotten.
Thank you, Johnny. I know how much Mike admired, respected, and enjoyed you and your 101st Airborne stories! I believe you, Mike, and all other Vietnam veterans are the next “greatest generation.”
Michel J. Robertson, author of “Welcome Home, Brother.”
Phil, Thank you for all you did for me and Mike. I miss him so much. Love Maggie
Maggie, we all miss him so much. He was such a pleasure to be around. I’m still not past the stage where I expect him to walk through the door or to hear his special laugh. Actually, I hope that I never am past that stage because he lives on in my memory.
Salute to Mike Di Ricco.
Thank you for serving our country, thank you for your friendship, stories & laughter.
You are missed immensely by us here on earth. But as you left us, you were greeted by our many veterans who came to pick you up in their beautiful
Soldiers’ Hero Bus.
Maggie, I just recently learned that Mike had passed away. I’m so sorry to hear that, He was a good friend and a very interesting guy. That parachute story was not accurate as I was there along with Ron Battaglia, and Mike was dragged behind the station wagon, and we had to take him to the hospital to patch him up.
Interesting as to how you moved to Brevard. as that is where I went to College. Great town, beautiful area.
If you get this email please get in touch, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.