Andy Rorem interrupted his education at the University of Minnesota during World War II, followed the Allied troops into Europe and puzzled out German communications as a code breaker, relaying vital strategic information for his comrades in harm’s way.
Rorem, a longtime electrical engineer who received the Bronze Star for his cerebral service in the Army, will be remembered at a memorial service one day after what would have been his 93rd birthday. Rorem died on June 29.
Upon his arrival overseas as part of the 129th Signal Radio Intelligence Company, “Britain was under siege by German planes, buzz bombs and V2 bombs during the time we were there,” Rorem said as part of a compilation of memories among World War II veteran members at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
While he and his fellow code breakers were “fairly well equipped” for what lay ahead, Rorem added, “The direction-finding equipment sent us … didn’t cover the frequency used by the Germans.”
Then, in a simple explanation that belied the urgency of his circumstance in unkind surroundings, Rorem said, “I was able to correct the problem in the field.”
While Rorem was not directly in the line of fire, his more than three years of service was not without peril, starting on his voyage from New Jersey to Britain and having to “zigzag” for 14 days across the Atlantic dodging the German submarines below the surface.
Once on land, he spent two years in Britain, Germany and France tracking German troop movements by copying and decoding enemy communications that were sent back to Allied command headquarters in London and Paris. It was that code breaking that earned him the Bronze Star, one of the U.S. military’s highest honors.
His company arrived on Omaha Beach a few weeks after the D-Day invasion of Normandy and “had to be close to the line of battle because we were tracking low-power communications from tanks, command cars and small-troop movements.”
Rorem “was proud of his service, but he did downplay it,” said his daughter, Jane Norell. “I know my boys started questioning him about it.”
One of those boys, 26-year-old Kyle Norell, said he learned from Grandfather that the code breakers were consistently positioned “about a mile behind the front line of the battle because they needed to be close enough to the Axis forces in order to intercept communications and break their code.”
Rorem’s unit was often “one of the first groups to follow in the wake of the advancing Allied forces, and two of the places that they got to see first hand were Dachau and Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest,” Kyle Norell said.
Rorem went by Andy as far back as his days growing up in Minneapolis. He graduated from Central High School and “from a young age he loved taking things apart to see how they worked,” Jane Norell said.
“He could also be a bit of a Rube Goldberg when it came to fixing things,” Jane Norell said. “He built a pontoon out of airplane wing tanks and changed an aluminum fishing boat into a speed boat.”
Rorem married in 1947, settled in Crystal and raised a family in the same home in the Minneapolis suburb until his death. He worked for Univac early on, then joined Control Data, retiring in 1986.
“He was one of the main people when Control Data started, when the shares were a dollar a share,” Norell said.
Rorem was preceded in death by his wife, Eileen. Along with Jane Norell, Rorem is survived by daughters Lynne Thorson and Judy Rorem; and sister Elaine Lalanne, wife of the late fitness pioneer Jack Lalanne. A memorial service has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 12 at the Lakewood Cemetery Chapel in Minneapolis.
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