Bidding farewell to a decorated war hero

Roncevich’s two sisters, Reifers and Olga Spaulding, released a dove during the ceremony. - Leslie Brown/Staff Photo
Roncevich’s two sisters, Reifers and Olga Spaulding, released a dove during the ceremony.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/Staff Photo

Several friends and family members gathered at the Vashon cemetery last Wednesday to pay final respects to John Roncevich, a beloved Islander who garnered three Purple Hearts and several other medals over the course of his two decades in the U.S. Army.

The somber ceremony included an Army Color Guard — seven soldiers who carried Roncevich’s flag-draped casket to his gravesite — as well as a 21-gun salute. His sister, Katie Reifers of Bellevue, recalled her brother in a heartfelt speech, noting his humor and playfulness and, towards the end of his life, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he experienced from his many years of combat.

“He was a great man,” she said.

The ceremony also included the release of 25 white doves, brought to the ceremony by Michael McAndrews of Des Moines, who owns White Dove Release. The first dove — or homing pigeon — to take to the air was called a spirit dove, representing Roncevich’s final flight, McAndrews said. Roncevich’s two sisters, Reifers and Olga Spaulding kissed the bird before letting it go. The 24 other doves, McAndrews said, were the “angel birds,” escorting Roncevich’s spirit to heaven.

Roncevich, the son of Croatian immigrants, was born in Dockton on Feb. 25, 1926. He passed away Feb. 7 in Bellevue, where his sister was helping to care for him. His military experience was considerable, friends and family members said. In 1944, at the Battle of the Bulge, he was decorated by Gen. George Patten, who called him “a damn fine soldier.”

Sue Nebeker of American Hero Quilts gave Roncevich a quilt two years ago. She said she was deeply moved by the telephone conversations they had. “When he would call to talk about his PTSD and his flashbacks, I sometimes felt I was listening to a book on tape,” she said.


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