Just about everyone at the New Bedford waterfront had a story about Bobby Rose.
“Everybody knew my father. He had a lot of friends,” Rae Roberta Rose said of her father, Robert John Rose, who worked for many years as a tanker captain with the New Bedford Sea Co-op.
Robert John Rose, a New Bedford native who fought with valor in the Korean War, died of COVID-19 on July 17, 2020. He was 87.
“Daddy made quite an impression when he walked in a room,” said Rae, who remembers her father as a no-nonsense disciplinarian who worked hard to support his family and made no apologies for how he lived his life.
“Nobody pushed Daddy around,” she said. “He would have no problem taking a swing at someone, and he did.”
Robert John Rose was born in New Bedford and raised in Harwich. He had deep family roots on Cape Cod. In the late 19th century, his grandfather and several of his siblings sailed from Cape Verde and settled on the Cape, each of them raising large families.
“So if your name is Rose or Fernandes, and you’re from Harwich, Pleasant Lakes or Brewster, you’re probably a cousin,” Rae said. “It’s a huge family.”
At 17, Robert joined the U.S. Air Force after getting his parents to sign off on the enlistment paperwork. During the Korean War, he was first stationed on an Air Force base in Japan, where he was part of a unit that repaired damaged aircraft. He soon grew restless.
“He wanted to see some real fighting, so he applied for a transfer to Korea,” Rae said. “He was afraid that he wouldn’t see any action.”
Robert got his wish as he was transferred to Korea during the fighting. Before being discharged from the military in 1954, he received the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation Medal that his unit received for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States.
“He was very proud of being a veteran,” said Rae, who added that her father rarely talked about his wartime service.
“He just did what he had to do,” she said.
Robert returned home to New Bedford, married his wife, Judith, and together they raised three daughters in the West End. He joined the New England Teamsters and had two deckhands working for him at the waterfront. He would get up at 3 a.m. and often work in freezing conditions during the winter.
Robert was tall, handsome and had a good singing voice that reminded people of Billy Eckstine, the famous jazz singer. Robert even recorded a couple of singles in his youth, and was invited to go on tour with a singer-friend, but that lifestyle didn’t appeal to him.
“Daddy was like a lot of men of his age who worked hard for their families,” Rae said, adding that her father was frugal and never owned a credit card. Having retired in the mid-1990s, Robert treasured the “peace and quiet” of his later years. He wouldn’t answer the phone if he was watching football.
“We would be panicking, thinking something had happened to him,” Rae said. “He’d just be sitting there at home with the phone ringing because he didn’t want to miss the game.”
As he got frail in his late 80s and after he fell in his house, Robert went to live at the CareOne nursing home in New Bedford. There, he and his roommate contracted COVID-19. Robert underwent treatment at St. Luke’s Hospital, and later returned to live out his final days in the hospice unit at CareOne.
“The COVID had done so much damage to his lungs. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t even drink,” Rae said. “It was horrible. He suffered greatly. He didn’t deserve that.”
Rae was able to visit her father and hold his hand in his final moment. Robert is buried in a Harwich cemetery that Rae said “is full of Roses.”
“Daddy lived his life the way he wanted to,” she said. “And if people criticized him, he just kept doing what he wanted. It was his life.”
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