Sergeant Joseph Gasper still vividly remembers December 7th, 1941, the date that changed millions of lives throughout the world. He was standing on a hill overlooking Pearl Harbor, drilling his soldiers from the 21st Infantry Division when bombs started exploding in the port below. The Japanese sneak attack on Perla Harbor that devastated Pacific Fleet has just begun.
In two waves, totaling 183 planes, Imperial Japanese Navy rained death and destruction on anchored ships and facilities in one of the most important American naval bases. One by one, once proud battleships were reduced to smoldering hulks, filled with dead bodies of their sailors, who tried in vain to defend them on that fateful Sunday morning. USS California and West Virginia were sunk in shallow waters of Pearl Harbor but were later raised and returned to service. Oklahoma, hit by five torpedoes, capsized. She was also raised, but only to be scrapped. Arizona suffered the worst fate. One of the Japanese bombs penetrated her armor and detonated her ammunition magazine. The resulting explosion tore the ship apart. 1,177 of her crew members died that day.
Some of them were close friends with Sergeant Joseph Gasper. Just weeks before the attack, he was onboard Arizona, visiting them. But that morning, as the bombs were falling, he didn’t think about them. Sergeant Gasper was rushing to a jeep, eager to get down to the port and do what he can to help. Unfortunately, a Japanese Zero strafed his vehicle, which ended in a ravine. Gasper suffered wounds in neck and chest, but there were other more seriously wounded than him. He removed his belt to improvise a tourniquet to a young soldier’s leg, which was bleeding severely.
“One kid was hit pretty badly in the leg, and I applied a tourniquet to help stop the bleeding,” Gasper said. “I don’t know if he even made it. The planes came over so low we could see the faces of the Japanese.”
After spending a month in a hospital, he returned to active service and remained in Amry until 1945. He received three Bronze Stars.
Sergeant Joseph Gasper was born in Pennsylvania, on April 23, 1918. He was the youngest of Michael and Mary Gasper’s three children. His parents were Hungarian immigrants and after his mother passed away in 1930, he ran away to join Ringling Brothers Circus. Gasper enlisted in the army in 1939 and was transferred to Hawaii one year before the attack, as a drill sergeant in Schofield Barracks and later at Fort Shafter. His wife, Rosemary “Dolly” Gasper, died in February 2016. They had three children, Margaret “Peggy” Contino, Roberta Adams, and Ronald Gasper.