Reserve chaplain killed himself, police say

(MILITARY TIMES)   A decorated reserve Navy chaplain who served with Marines and soldiers in Iraq in 2007 died of an apparent suicide Sept. 10, according to police.

Cmdr. Dennis J. Rocheford, 60, a Catholic priest and former enlisted Marine, jumped to his death from the Newport Bridge in Rhode Island, according to Capt. James Swanberg, with the Rhode Island State Police.

Swanberg said the police were called at 8 a.m. with the report of a parked car in the bridge’s center lane.

“When the officer arrived on the scene, he went to the side of the bridge, looked over and saw a body face down in the water,” Swanberg said.

Coast Guard and fire units pulled the body from the water and unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him. Rocheford was later pronounced dead at Newport Hospital, Swanberg said, adding that he had not received results of the autopsy as of Tuesday.

He said a witness saw Rocheford walk from his car to the edge of the bridge and look over, but did not see him jump.

At the time of his death, Rocheford was on medical leave from St. Anne’s parish in North Oxford, Mass. He was also serving as a Catholic chaplain at Naval Station Newport, said Ray Deslile, spokesman for the Diocese of Worchester where Rocheford was assigned.

“I do not know the nature of his medical leave and can’t comment on that,” he said. “I do know he was under a lot of stress, but I don’t know the details.”

Rocheford’s presence will be missed at the base, said Lisa Rama, spokeswoman for Naval Station Newport. Not only was he active at the chapel, she said, but he also spent time ministering at the Naval Academy Preparatory School.

“We’ve had a shortage of Catholic chaplains here, and he served at the chapel in January 2008 until August 2009,” she said. “He did so well that we had to add a second service last year, as his Masses became standing room only.”

Rocheford served as an enlisted Marine from 1966 until 1969, when he got out as a lance corporal. A Vietnam veteran, he deployed to Quang Tri Province.

Personnel records show he earned a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. He was also twice awarded the Combat Action Ribbon along with the Navy and Marine Corps and Army Commendation Medals.

He earned his Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medals during his most recent deployment to Iraq. Though initially assigned to I Marine Expeditionary Force, he was sent on temporary duty to the Army, serving with the 1st Brigade of the 1st Armored Division in Ramadi.

After receiving his Navy commission in 1987, Rocheford was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.; and Quantico, Va. He also served aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp and did a tour at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn.

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