In 1942, three years before Walter Rougeux was killed in WWII, he joined the Clearfield Indians, local entry in the Jefferson County League, while also playing in the Twilight League with the Clearfield Moose nine.
On July 13, 1942, the 20-year-old third baseman was signed and made his debut with the Class D PONY League’s Bradford Bees. Rougeux played 14 games and batted a respectable .264 for skipper Jack Burns, a former big leaguer Jack Burns. However, the Bees were a farm club of the Boston Braves and the parent club insisted their young third baseman, Bob Garieppy, get more playing time. Rougeux was benched and decided to return to Clearfield in early August, rather than sit out the remainder of the season in Bradford. Nevertheless, Rougeux impressed Burns as he was asked to return to the club the following spring. As a side note, Garieppy hit just .154 in 25 games and was never seen again in pro ball.
Rougeux never made that spring appointment with the Bradford Bees as he enlisted in the Navy in September 1942, and trained at Great Lakes Naval Training Station, where he played some basketball. He then attended radio school at the University of Wisconsin, and was sent to the Naval Radio Transmitting Station, Bainbridge Island, Washington. From there, he went to the Skaggs Island Naval Communication Station, California. Rougeux was then sent to the Hawaiian Islands for an extensive study of the Japanese language.
Bill Holmes, secretary of the Clearfield Baseball Association, kept in touch with all the 1941-1942 ballplayers who were in military service. By 1944, 25 former players were in service and Holmes received a letter from Radioman 2nd Class Rougeux in the Pacific Theater. In part, Rougeux said, “Glad to hear that Clearfield was able to have a twilight league at least. I have done a little playing since I was in the service, but not enough to suit me. At radio school at the University of Wisconsin I played on the varsity team, from there I went to the west coast. I played a little pro ball while I was there, was playing for a ship yard team [probably at Bremerton Ship Yard). I had a home run with the bases loaded there to break up a deciding game. Over here I haven’t played much baseball. We play softball most of the time, as we don’t have enough time off to organize a baseball team. About two weeks ago we had a hard ball game, we played another Navy team. They had a kid pitching for them who was with the Detroit Tigers. He sure had a fastball. They beat us 3 to 2. Wish I could be there playing again but I guess will have to wait ‘til this thing is over.”
In March 1945, Rougeux, joined the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40), as part of the Fifth Fleet’s radio intelligence unit. Throughout March and April, the New Mexico supported troops ashore at Okinawa. While approaching her berth at Hagushi bay, Okinawa, just after sunset on May 12, 1945, the battleship was attacked by two Japanese kamikazes. One hit the ship while the other successfully dropped its bomb. Instantly set on fire, 54 members of New Mexico’s crew were killed, while a further 119 were wounded. RM1c Walter L. Rougeux was among the fatalities. He was buried at an Allied cemetery on an island in the Pacific.
In May 1946, Rougeux was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement. The citation read as follows: “For meritorious achievement while serving as a radioman, attached to the 5th Fleet radio intelligence unit, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific war area from March 9, to May 12, 1945. Working tirelessly and with superb technical skill in the performance of his exacting assignment, Rougeux rendered invaluable assistance to the Commander 5th Fleet during our amphibious assault at Okinawa and devastating carrier raids against Kyushu and hostile Fleet units in the Inland Sea. His outstanding ability and constant devotion to duty throughout this period of extensive operations to extend United States control westward reflect the highest credit upon Rougeux and the United States Naval Service.”
In August 1946, a copy of “Earth, Moon and Planets” by Fred L. Whipple was placed in the Clearfield Library in memory of Walt Rougeux. In October 1946, his name was unveiled on a bronze plaque alongside 26 other Clearfield High School graduates who gave their lives in World War II. The plaque was put on display in the high school’s east hall.
On March 14, 1949, following the return of his remains from the Pacific aboard the U.S. Army Transport Dalton Victory, Walt Rougeux was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, after military funeral services at the St. Francis Catholic Church.
Walter L. Rougeux, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Basil O. Rougeux, was born on May 9, 1922 in Clearfield, central Pennsylvania. Rougeux hit .426 his senior year at Clearfield High School in 1941, as the Bisons posted a 15-0 record, as well as quarterbacking the Western Conference championship football team. During the summer of 1941, he played sandlot baseball with the Lumbermen and the Dark Horses.
Walter Rougeux was killed just three days before his 23rd birthday.