John Roscoe

COL John Roscoe, USMCR (Ret), died on 23 February 2007, in Riverside CA. John was a geographer. He compiled and edited the USN Antarctica Bibliography (1951). He served with Highjump and Windmill. Roscoe Glacier and Roscoe Promontory are named in his honor. John was also a member of the American Polar Society

Pioneer in Air Photo Interpretation

Alumnus Col. John H. Roscoe, USMC (Ret.), received his Ph.D. in 1952, in the department’s fourth graduating class. His dissertation was entitled, Contributions to the Study of Antarctic Surface Features by Photogeographical Methods. Dr. Roscoe was a pioneer in the field of air photo interpretation, a skill that he used in his long and colorful career.

After receiving his masters degree from Syracuse University, Dr. Roscoe went to UCLA as a teaching assistant while pursing a PhD there, but his stay was short due to the persistent efforts of the military to get to him to accept a position in the War Department. There he was assigned to Army Air Corps Intelligence, where his first job was to write initial air photo intelligence courses for the Army and Navy schools. He also gave lectures at the Naval Photo Interpretation School, at the time headed by CDR (later RADM) Quackenbush. After more than two years with the War Department, he was required to become a commissioned office, and so he joined the Marines.

After World War II broke out, Dr. Roscoe was given the task of air photo interpretation, which included analyzing Japanese air photos of Pearl Harbor to assess the extent of the damage to the fleet to determine how much the Japanese knew. In Europe, he operated under verbal and secret orders. With a small group, he worked with scheduling targets and then went to the frontlines to assess the results. He writes, “We were frequently in no-man’s land as the Germans retreated and the allies advanced. We operated on different fronts, … gathering damage assessment information and intelligence documents before the allied troops could arrive.”

After the war, Dr. Roscoe took a teaching assignment at the University of Georgia, but was soon called back to active duty. He joined the Navy’s Operation Highjump, which was a major air photo mapping expedition of the Antarctic, but had no photo interpreter or photogrammatist. There he shared quarters with Admiral Byrd, where he prepared maps and kept the Admiral up to date on the air photo discoveries of the various task groups. Dr. Roscoe also participated in the next expedition, Operation Windmill, where he worked with scientists to establish ground positions for mapping and gathered data on glacial ice forms. After these two expeditions, he was then assigned to Byrd’s Antarctic Polar Projects Office. At this time Dr. Roscoe completed his Ph. D. program at the University of Maryland, using these expeditions to form the basis of his dissertation, which included the discovery of a new coastline under the thick ice using photo analysis. It was published in a 2- and 6-volume edition!

In 1957, Dr. Roscoe joined Lockheed Corp., which was developing the first major satellite. There, he managed the development of the 1000-pound air photo intelligence satellite payload, and later the ground equipment to receive, process, and interpret the photos. After this, he was involved in using reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam, where he served four tours of duty and was wounded in the Tet Offensive.

Since retirement, Dr. Roscoe has spent 20 years researching and writing about the Crusades, for which he has received knighthoods in three chivalric organizations that had been active during the crusades. The most valuable was the Polania Restituta, Poland’s second highest order commemorating the previous freedom of Poland from the Czars after WWI. It was awarded to him by the President of Poland in England during WWII. He is Vice President of the American Polar Society and a member of the Northern California Chapter of the Explorer’s Club, among many other organizations. His name has been placed on a glacier and a large coastal promontory in Antarctica.

Dr. Roscoe surprised the department with his recent, fascinating letter, telling us much about the department in the 1950s. For such a long, interesting, and productive life, the department salutes you Dr. Roscoe!

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