Lake of the Pines: Veterans to be honored |

Lake of the Pines: Veterans to be honored

In 1941, just seven days after the United States entered World War II, 19 year-old Joseph Volek of Ohio enlisted in the Navy for six long years. The first two ships he was assigned to sunk before he ever stepped aboard. He left his Rhode Island boot camp for his third assignment, spending time at a Bermuda hospital base as storekeeper.

Next, he joined the crew of the USS Vincennes, where he served until the end of the war. He was present at the battle of Iwo Jima, and also supported landings at many other islands during the Pacific campaign. The 600-foot long cruiser “shot her guns out” at Okinawa, Japan, and returned to the U.S. On his way back to the Pacific, the war ended.

Joseph, now 83, is just one of many servicemen we are honoring on Veteran’s Day this week. He smiled as he showed me snapshots of Pacific Island hula dancers, but his look turned serious as we came across the photos of bombed American ships where hundreds of men were lost at sea.

The USS Vincennes was sunk off the coast of Washington State in 1966 during target practice. Of the 1,200-1,400 crewmembers, only 40 or so are still alive. Fourteen of those, including Joseph, met this past September in Las Vegas for a reunion.

Joseph and his wife, Rita, have lived in Auburn since 1960, and in Lake of the Pines for 17 years. They met in 1945 while Joe was on leave in Ohio. Rita was working in an aircraft factory building B-25s and B-29s. After a one year letter-writing courtship, Joseph mailed her an engagement ring.

Joseph told me he was “proud to be a veteran” and proud of the boys currently serving in Iraq. He also stated that, “Yes, I would do it all over again.”

While Joseph was fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, another LOP resident, Eugene Gazzola, was battling the Germans. Eugene received his draft notice in the spring of 1944. After basic training at Camp Robertson in Little Rock, Ark., he joined the 28th Infantry Division in Germany. Just a few months later, he found himself outside of Aachen, the first major German city to fall to the Allies.

In the battle of Hurtgen Forest, just outside the city, American forces met the Germans. It was Nov. 11, 1944, when Gene was sent out as a scout.

“The Germans were shelling the hell out of the forest,” 86 year-old Gene told me from his LOP home, “and the splinters from the trees were more dangerous” than the ammunition.

Gene was injured that day when large splinters entered both legs. He was able to pinpoint the German’s position, however, and received a Bronze Star for valor, along with his Purple Heart.

Gene was sent by train to Paris, where the splinters were surgically removed. From there he recovered in England before crossing the ocean to New York. He spent that Christmas at home.

A few years later, Gene met his wife, Sibbie, in a Chicago nightclub, during a time when he was attending college and working for Montgomery Ward. When he offered to buy her a drink, she replied “I don’t speak to strangers.” After they were properly introduced by a mutual friend, she turned to him and said “I’ll take that drink now.”

Sibbie and Gene were married for 57 years. She died just three weeks ago.

The Lake of the Pines area’s World War II veterans are being honored Dec. 5 by a Bear River Lioness’ luncheon at the Higgins Lions Community Center. Seating is limited so please R.S.V.P. by Nov. 28 at 268-0906. The luncheon is free to WWII veterans and their guest.


Laura Lavelle lives at Lake of the Pines, and her column is for Lake of the Pines area residents to share thoughts and information. Contact her at or leave a phone message with the readership editor at 477-4238.

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