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Santa Maria Sun / Humor
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 20
The sweetest guy I knowRemembering Joseph Ross Corea, survivor of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill
BY ARIEL WATERMAN
Usually my column is devoted to the lighter moments in my life. This week is no different because I am going to tell you about the sweetest guy I know—a man with a beautiful spirit who has lived an amazing life. He is a true American hero, being one of the few survivors of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Bunker Hill.
The Bunker Hill was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers that served in numerous campaigns in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II. She carried myriad planes, as well as stores of fuel and ammunition on her flight deck. Joe was assigned to the ship as an engineer, working below decks in the engine rooms. He fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima and in the devastating Battle of Okinawa.
On the morning of May 11, 1945, the Bunker Hill was positioned near the Japanese island of Kyushu when two kamikaze planes struck her within minutes of each other. The first kamikaze aircraft dropped a bomb through the flight deck and into the hangar below. It then crashed into the deck and slammed through several planes, which went up in flames. The second plane smashed into the control tower and then into the deck, where its bombs exploded. Towering flames and plumes of suffocating smoke quickly enveloped the carrier’s upper decks.
Joe told me that his superior officer, Chief Engineer Commander Joseph R. Carmichael, Jr., was in his office when the ship was first hit. Joe recounted how his commander ran down five decks to the engine compartment, located 25 feet below sea level. The ship, by now, had been hit by the second plane and was on fire and in danger of sinking.
There in the dark, smoke-filled engine and boiler rooms, Commander Carmichael and his men, including Joe Corea, kept the engines running and the ship under control. Joe said they kept fans blowing so that air could reach oxygen-starved men below decks, enabling them to remain conscious and to escape to the upper decks. They also ran the pumps to bring in seawater to fight the fires.
These engineers stayed at their posts for almost 20 hours. A few men, including Joe, were sent by Commander Carmichael to the upper decks. Joe said he raced from the engine room to the blazing decks above, where he spent hours dousing gasoline fires amid several explosions and assisting with the wounded. He said he saw men severely burned, and he had to step over dead bodies to get to them.
All the while, everyone feared the ship would sink. Then, Joe told me, Commander Carmichael’s voice was heard on the public address system: “This is the chief engineer speaking. The ship is not sinking. It is not in any danger of sinking. And it will not sink. So put your minds at rest on that.”
Joe told me that those words at that moment lifted the spirits of the men, who rallied to save the badly damaged ship, which finally sailed into Pearl Harbor under her own power.
The U.S.S. Bunker Hill buried 352 of her men at sea the day after the Battle of Okinawa, including 125 men on the engineering crew. In all, 393 sailors perished, of those 43 were missing and never found.
Joseph Corea was 21 years old. His actions, and those of the men serving with him, helped to save the lives of nearly 2,800 crew members that day. His devotion to duty and courage upheld the highest traditions and esprit de corps of the United States Navy.
When I asked him how he endured it all, he simply replied, “I just did what I always do when faced with a difficult problem. I just give it to God.”
Joe is a devout Catholic, a sweet, funny, gentle Italian man, and the love of his wife, whom he adores. They met in 1995 in grief counseling. They had both been recently widowed and, over time, they fell in love. His wife told me that he is not much of a dancer, but she loves to dance. When they were dating, he’d take her to dances at the local senior center. One gent loved dancing with her and she noticed Joe watching closely. She later asked him, “Did you see me dancing, Honey?”
To which he replied, “Oh, no. Sorry, Sweetheart, I was too busy keeping my eyes on your partner.”
Joe finally married his Sweetheart in 2003.
I recently read “Symptoms of Inner Peace” by Saskia Davis and realized that Joe has had all of these symptoms. They include:
• A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on past experiences.
• An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
• A loss of interest in judging other people.
• A loss of interest in judging self.
• A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
• A loss of interest in conflict.
• A loss of the ability to worry.
• Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
• Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
• Frequent attacks of smiling.
• An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
• An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Joe recently faced a new battle and final journey. He lost the battle, but his journey was filled with inner peace and he returned home with his hands full. He and the brave men of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill will always remain alive as long as they are remembered, and his indomitable spirit surrounds us all. He was loved by many and the world is not quite as nice a place without him.
He had a good life and was so well taken care of and loved during the last chapter of his life by his spouse, my sweet mother Donna Corea. He was a lucky man, and their love for each other was a gift from God. The greatest gift we can offer in return to those we lose is to carry on with our own lives with good courage and to remember them at their very best.
I just realized I have written about Joe in the present tense as he passed away only a few days ago. I am now faced with a difficult problem—saying goodbye to the sweetest guy I know: my lovely, loving stepfather, Joseph Ross Corea. So I will simply follow his advice and give him to God. May He offer Joe a warm welcome home.
Ariel Waterman is proud to have been Joe’s stepdaughter and thanks family and friends for helping her write this column. Survivors of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill, their families, and readers are welcome to share thoughts and experiences via her editor, Ryan Miller, at firstname.lastname@example.org.