TopVet: Fred Rochlin, Author & Performance Artist

Fred Rochlin

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Fred Rochlin was about to flunk out of college when, at the age of 19, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned as a navigator on B-24s. Of the ten men in his crew, only two survived the war.

After the war, Fred studied architecture with the help of the GI Bill. He went on to an eminently successful career in his adoptive home, Los Angeles. He married and fathered four children. He retired. And at the age of 74, he became what a New York Times reporter called "maybe the oldest fledgling performance artist in the world."

Fred Rochlin’s performances, Old Man in a Baseball Cap, and the memoir that evolved from them, are a collection of vivid first-person vignettes penned when he was 70 after he took a storytelling workshop with the monologist Spalding Gray. The monologue, like the book, to quote the New York Times, is "about an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. [It] has the elements of an epic: love and death, honor and betrayal, vengefulness and martyrdom, and ultimately, the fortuitousness of survival." His stories, wrote Timesman Bruce Weber, "are ribald, adult, morally complex and occasionally starkly funny." Los Angeles Magazine called the book a "blunt, darkly humorous wartime diary."

In one story, Mr. Rochlin helps deliver a baby by Caesarian section just hours before helping to obliterate Hadju-Polgar, a small Hungarian village that he learns has been misidentified as a military target. But he never could forget that village, "a pile of Hungarian dust, wiped off the face of this earth," or the men who didn’t make it back. And so a writer, and a monologist, was born.

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