Sky Scene 06

Harry W. Roberts, Jr.

April 11, 1943 ~ September 12, 2023 (age 80) 80 Years Old


Harry W. Roberts, Jr., of Burt, New York, lately of Worcester, Massachusetts, passed away peacefully on September 12, 2023, after a long illness.

Harry was born on April 11, 1943, in Buffalo, New York, to Harry W. and Marie (Boehringer) Roberts. After moving to Grand Island, New York as a child, he graduated from Riverside High School, and then earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy at Canisius College in 1965. Anticipating that he would be drafted to serve in the Vietnam War upon graduation, Harry opted to enlist with the 136th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) of the New York Air National Guard (NYANG), hoping to become a pilot. He was ordered to Officer Training School (OTS) at Lackland AFB in July 1965. Upon graduation from OTS, Harry was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. On July 16, 1966, he married the former Elaine P. Zielinski in North Tonawanda, New York, and the newlyweds relocated to Selma, Alabama, where Harry began a year of pilot training at Craig AFB.

Following graduation from pilot training, Harry was temporarily assigned to the 27th Tactical Fighter Wing at Cannon AFB in Clovis, New Mexico, for six months of training on the F-100C Super Sabre aircraft. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in February 1968, and returned home to Grand Island, New York, until the 136th TFS was mobilized to Tuy Hoa AFB, South Vietnam, in June 1968. Harry flew 256 combat missions in Southeast Asia and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 13 Air Medals for his service. In December 1968, Harry survived his first plane crash when he was forced to eject from his F-100 aircraft after it lost oil pressure following small gunfire upon takeoff. Harry was rescued from the South China Sea within 15 minutes of his ejection, and he became a grateful member of the Caterpillar Club, whose membership is limited to those who had to use a parachute to escape from a disabled aircraft.

Harry returned home to Grand Island in June 1969. He was promoted to the rank of Captain, and he continued to serve with the NYANG while working first at General Motors’ Chevrolet Division, then at Honeywell, until February 1971, when he accepted a position as Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Harry served with the Bureau for 27 years.

Ever an aviator, Harry earned his commercial pilot’s license and flew over 4,000 hours during his career, divided between military jet and general aviation aircraft. As part of his duties with the Bureau, Harry worked as Aircraft Coordinator, providing air surveillance in support of investigations conducted by the Buffalo office. Consequential to this work with the Bureau’s aviation program, Harry survived his second plane crash in May 1986. After Harry had conducted a test flight of a privately owned seaplane which he was evaluating for possible use on an official mission of the FBI, the owner of the plane attempted another landing on the Niagara River, with Harry as passenger. The landing was unsuccessful, and the aircraft crashed into the river, where the water temperature was about 40 degrees. With hypothermia setting in, Harry rescued the dazed, 74-year-old pilot from the sinking aircraft and kept him alive and afloat for 20 minutes before they could be retrieved from the water. For this, Harry was honored with a Hero’s Award, presented by the 100 Club of Buffalo.

Following his retirement from the Bureau in 1998, Harry worked as a licensed private investigator until 2010.

Harry is survived by two daughters, Anne Michele (Alan) Wight, and Julie (Bruce) Szczepankiewicz, of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and six grandchildren, Matthew, Daniel, Jeremy, and Catherine Szczepankiewicz, and James and Jennifer Wight. Survivors also include a sister, Carol Fischer, of Hamburg, New York, and a sister-in-law, Marian Edwards, of Vero Beach, Florida, as well as nieces, nephews, and cousins. He was predeceased by his loving wife of 54 years, Elaine; by his brother, Peter, and his brother-in-law, Duane Fischer. Harry will be remembered for his sharp wit, irreverent sense of humor, and his love for animals, especially his Labrador retrievers, Heidi and Toby.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 am on Saturday, September 23, 2023, at St. Gregory the Great Church, 200 St. Gregory Ct., Williamsville, New York, followed by a procession to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Kenmore, New York, for inurnment. Visitation will take place prior to the funeral on Friday, September 22, from 3:00 –7:00 pm at the Amigone Funeral Home, located at 5200 Sheridan Dr, Williamsville, New York.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition or the SPCA.

Local arrangements were handled by the Pickering & Son Westborough Funeral Home.

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