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John Rogers Gronachan, decorated Navy pilot; July 11, 1919 -- Sept. 26, 2011

John Rogers Gronachan, a retired investment manager and decorated U.S. Navy fighter pilot who flew directly into enemy fire to bomb a Japanese ship during World War II, died Monday at Sisters Hospital St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga, days after being stricken by a medical condition while shopping at the Walden Galleria. He was 92.

Mr. Gronachan, a Buffalo native, grew up during the Great Depression and hawked newspapers under the big clock at the Central Terminal at the age of 12. He went on to graduate from Lafayette High School in 1937.

After high school, Mr. Gronachan enlisted in the Navy Aviation Maintenance Officers School and became a pilot.

The aerial fight against the Japanese fleet over the Philippine Sea earned Mr. Gronachan the National Defense Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He went on to become a lieutenant commander in the Navy.

He participated in shore support for carrier-based squadrons during the Korean War and then served as manager of the production division of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C.

Following his military service, Mr. Gronachan received a corporate finance degree from Millard Fillmore College at the University of Buffalo in 1954.

He began his investment business career with S.C. Parker & Co., then joined Seymour H. Knox III at Dominick & Dominick and later worked with John and Harry Dent Jr. at Hornblower & Weeks, Hemphill and Noyes.

From there, Mr. Gronachan moved to Florida, where he retired in 1985 as the manager of the Fort Pierce, Fla., office of E.F. Hutton.

Mr. Gronachan's close friends, Alma and Clinton Brown, recalled that he then returned to Buffalo "to enjoy skiing and sailing, to participate in Buffalo's renaissance and because there were 'too many old people in Florida.' "

Mr. Gronachan returned to his home at Trinity Tower on Linwood Avenue where, despite his advanced age, he lived independently and retained many of his driving privileges until his death this week.

Mr. Gronachan began skiing in Ellicottville in 1939. He took the train from Buffalo to the Cattaraugus County town to ski at Fish Hill with a rope tow. The following year, he learned to sail in Youngstown and was known to participate in many races on Lake Ontario.

Besides his memberships in the Ellicottville Ski Club, Niagara Frontier Boat Racing Association, and the Youngstown and Royal Canadian yacht clubs, Mr. Gronachan also was a member of the Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie sailing clubs, and past president of the St. Lucie River Council of the Navy League and the Railroad Enthusiasts.

His wife, the former Nancy Salt Gronachan, died in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Gronachan donated his body to the University at Buffalo Medical School.

A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Friday from the chapel at Forest Lawn.