John Roberts, a 2001 graduate of Westside High School was killed last October in an accident in the South Pacific while serving in the Peace Corps. His father recently went there, a trip he calls the most important one he's ever made.
“I didn't want them to feel guilty, it was an accident.” Looking back on his son's life, Doug Roberts is as proud as any father could be. "I doubt if I will ever have the impact that John had."
His 24-year-old son joined the Peace Corps out of college at UNL. His journey took him to Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific. John was doing communications in the village of South River. He was helping clear out an area for a garden last fall when a tree branch fell, killing him instantly.
Doug returned to where his son spent the last two years of his life. "I wanted to go back and ensure them that they really needed to have another volunteer there and sort of carry on John's work. John was there for two years and I didn't want his two years to be wasted there by not bringing in another volunteer."
Doug was given a hero's welcome. “I was so happy that I did because as I was saying, a village of 75 people, there was 300 people there to see me."
One of the nation’s most presitgious events, a 100-Day ceremony, a tribute to the life of his son. "On one sense it was just completely sad because the tears were there, on the next sense it was just such a happy occasion for me because I was able to share that with them."
Then Doug himself made history, given the Medal of Gallantry from the president of Vanuatu, an honor never before bestowed on a foreigner.
"It's shocking, it's stunning, John was killed and he was out of there in such a short period of time, the people never got a chance to say goodbye to him so when I went back for this 100-Day ceremony, it was a healing for me as well as for the people of Erramango.”
There is a memorial in South River where John and another worker were killed. Two rocks serve as reminders. Doug says the pain is still there, but knowing his son did so much good to so many people brings comfort.
"The loss is just horrendous, it's a hole that cannot be filled, but in the same sense with the work that he was doing and you see what he was doing it gives Rose and myself something to hang on to and it sustains us every day."
The village is bringing in another Peace Corps volunteer to help complete John's work. The Peace Corps also renamed their resource center on the island The John Roberts Resource Center.