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ELLWOOD CITY (KDKA) — It is a couple weeks until Christmas, just like it was 77 years ago. The only difference: on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Joe Gasper of Ellwood City was an Army Sergeant stationed in Hawaii.
On Dec. 7, people remember Pearl Harbor. Many visit it. Some go trace the epic events and the human drama of the great attack.
They could do the same thing by visiting Joe Gasper’s bedroom in his daughter’s home.
On the wall, Gasper still has the first edition of the Sunday afternoon Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The date: Dec. 7, 1941, the first Pearl Harbor Day.
Under the headline that reads “War! Oahu bombed by Japanese planes,” it continues six dead and 21 injured. The casualty total wound up being more than 2,400 American service men and women.
Gasper’s Army unit was on maneuvers that Sunday morning, high in the hills over Pearl Harbor. He remembers seeing and hearing the Japanese planes.
“They come over Diamondhead. When they come down, I could see the white of their teeth and their eyes,” Gasper said.
He felt like the Zeros were flying at eye level as they took dead aim at the battleships and planes in the U.S. Naval installation. That’s when his unit got hit.
“When they were dropping the bombs, it hit around the jeeps and it throwed me over the canyon,” Gasper said.
To this day, he endures the pain from his crushed chest. Yet on that day, Gasper focused instead on a soldier who needed help.
“His leg was coming off. To save his leg, I made a tourniquet for him,” he said.
Gasper’s injuries landed him in the hospital, but he gave up his bed saying others needed it more.
“I just wanted to help out, that’s all,” he said.
Now, he lends a hand with his voice.
“I got calls from New York City. I got calls from overseas even. Got a call from a Navy commander, which, I was surprised,” Gasper said.
But you see, they all want to hear his story because frankly, very few can tell the story of Pearl Harbor from personal experience any more.
“I just want they them to remember what happened and never forget Pearl Harbor Day,” Gasper said.
This week, the mayor of Ellwood City proclaimed Dec. 7 as Joe Gasper Day — not just for this year but forever. His hometown wants to make sure no one forgets the service of their native son.