The gift of friendship

By

Meghan Krein

Douglas Roe and U Kyaw Win met on a tennis court at Phoenix College in January 1952. They were both in a required physical education class. Win, who had just arrived in the United States from Burma, appeared to be lost. Roe, sensing this, introduced himself. “Doug was very friendly and kind,” Win says. The two went on to attend Arizona State University in Tempe together.  

Roe showed Win around Phoenix and the two became fast friends. “I went along with him on his Phoenix paper route a number of times, and was embraced by his whole family,” Win says. 

Roe would die 10 years later — never getting the chance to pursue his aspiration to teach. 

Roe met his wife, Joan Paulus, at ASU. He graduated with a psychology degree in 1954, while she earned a degree in sociology in 1957. After graduation, the two married and had a son, Christopher. 

Family photo

Mrs. Roe's mother, Riri, Christopher Roe and Zali Win (1963).

Roe then joined the Air Force, was stationed at Dover Air Force Base and became a captain. He also earned his master’s degree in psychology from Purdue while in the service. Win was a graduate student at The American University, two hours away in Washington, D.C., so the two would see each other on the weekends. 

Win married Riri, his wife of 61 years, and the foursome became close. The Roes attended Win’s small wedding at the First Methodist Church of Hollywood on September 5, 1958. “When Doug was stationed in Alaska, we began discussing driving from Europe to India in a VW bug. Doug was mechanically inclined and he said the bug was easy to fix and push if the four of us got stuck on the way,” remembers Win.  

That trip never happened. Roe was attempting to complete a training exercise when his plane went down. “It was such a shock to have Joan's letter telling us of Doug's crash,” says Win. In it, she writes, “This is such a hard note for me to write. On the 14th of November, Doug was killed in a plane crash in Maine. Chris and I had just been there for six weeks. Chris and I will be staying at Mother’s so do let us hear from you. We have always treasured your friendship a great deal.” 

It was the Cold War era and the military was operating at a combat status. “Doug had only been in that squadron for a couple or three weeks. And we needed to finish his training so that’s the reason we got sent off even though the weather was bad,” says Retired Air Force Major Chuck McClead, who was on the plane with Roe that day. (McClead was able to eject from the plane after it began spinning out of control.) Roe had recently been transferred to the 75th Fighter Interceptor Squadron and had completed his transition training to fly the F-101B interceptor. This interceptor was the last of his "qualification" flights needed to become alert-ready.

Roe was 29 years old. 

“The last letter Doug wrote to anybody was to me, the night before he crashed,” Win says. In that letter, Roe writes, “Am flying the F-101B here at Dov. It is a real goer. Really enjoying the flying. Thought I had seen the last of pulling alert when we left Alaska. This is the part of the job we enjoy the least. The work weeks are very long but we don’t mind as long as we are rewarded with the opportunity to fly.” 

Win thinks of his friend daily and tries to keep his memory alive in any way he can: “It happened so long ago, but at the going down of the sun and in the morning, I remember Doug,” he says. Win had a boulder inscribed, “Farewell, Doug. You have outsoared the shadow of our night. Win & Riri.” He placed the boulder at the site of the plane crash. 

Boulder

Inscribed boulder at the crash site.

Coming from a family of teachers, education is important to Win. He taught English and math in Burma, Burmese at the U.S. Army Language School in California and in the Psychology department at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. The friends shared this appreciation for education.  “I remember Doug and Joan telling me that they hoped to teach after Doug retired from the Air Force,” says Win. Joan passed away suddenly in 2005.

Win, now a retired counselor, has endowed a $25,000 scholarship in the name of Doug and Joan Roe to provide financial support to undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Win hopes the Doug and Joan Roe Memorial Scholarship will help education students fulfill the dream Doug didn’t get the chance to achieve.

Letter from JFK

Letter to Mrs. Roe from former President John F. Kennedy.