Ashes of Pearl Harbor survivor from Milford scattered at sea

Editor’s Note: The latter part of this article is based on a 2005 article published in the Milford Mirror.

Rain began to fall as the service honoring Pearl Harbor survivor Jack A. Stoeber commenced.

Sailors and friends gathered at the USS Utah Memorial for an ash scattering ceremony honoring Stoeber at Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dec. 1. The memorial service was a time of reflection as Stoeber's ashes were scattered in the waters surrounding the USS Utah Memorial.

Bob Bracci, an honorary member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Vietnam War veteran, and friend to Stoeber, spoke about the history of Stoeber's actions on that fateful day, Dec. 7, 1941.

Stoeber served as a carpenter's mate and was stationed aboard the Dobbin-class destroyer tender USS Whitney (AD 4) during the attacks. He was supposed to be on leave to visit his uncle that day, but his plans changed and he stayed on the ship.

USS Whitney was in the harbor receiving routine maintenance and repairs. Once finished, Whitney would return to the fleet to provide supplies to destroyers at sea.

According to Bracci, as the bullets began to rain down on Pearl Harbor, Stoeber ran to retrieve his ammunition box.

"The weight of the box was almost as much as Stoeber himself," said Bracci. "When he returned to his station, he manned the .50-caliber machine gun, shooting at incoming aircraft. "

Bracci spoke fondly of Stoeber, his brother-in-arms, his long-time friend.

"Jack was like a father to me. He couldn't have been any closer, even if he had been a blood relative," said Bracci. "They didn't make them finer than Jack."

Representing the family members who could not make it to the service, Bracci spoke on behalf of Stoeber's widow, Florence, who was proud that the Navy could perform the service for Jack.

"He was honored to serve in the U.S. Navy during the war," said Bracci. "He requested to have his ashes scattered in the waters he served in. This is the final tribute to a great man."

Stoeber received a rifle salute before taps played in honor of his service contribution to his country.

As the service came to an end, so did the rain, marking a final farewell to a loved one, a friend a shipmate.
A Milford man
Stoeber was 98 when he died on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016.

A familiar face at many local veterans’ parades and ceremonies for many years, he graduated Milford High School with the Class of 1936.

After Pearl Harbor he served as Chief Carpenter’s Mate aboard the USS Pickens that participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines. Later he worked as an experimental aircraft mechanic for Sikorsky.

Stoeber shared his story with the Milford Mirror in 2005, recalling the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“It’s very important to remember,” Stoeber said then. “But people tend to be complacent, as we were before World War II.”

Stoeber was 21 years old on the day of the attack: He wasn’t supposed to be aboard ship the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. He’d had plans to meet his uncle Saturday night and spend time with him in Hawaii.

But plans changed and Stoeber returned to the ship. Even though he had a 48-hour pass, which, due to a typographical error actually gave him leave from Dec. 6, 1941 to Dec. 8, 1951, he was aboard on that fateful morning.

He had just gotten out of the shower when the attack began. He felt the thud of torpedoes hitting the U.S. battleships that were located a distance away from where the USS Whitney was moored.

“My ship didn’t suffer any damage,” Stoeber said in 2005. “A loader got hit with shrapnel in the arm, but that was it. They were after the battle ships.”

The first thing he saw when he went topside was a Japanese plane, and he knew the U.S. was at war.

Fresh from the shower, the young Navy man started to scramble, as others around him did the same. He set off to get ammunition: The trek was a long one, two decks below and from one end of the Whitney to the other and back again carrying a box of ammunition that weighed about 90 pounds.

He loaded his gun and starting shooting.

“I hit one plane that was flying down low, and he crashed,” Stoeber recalled in 2005. “I could see my tracers going right into that ship, and I could see his plane as clear as day. I can’t be sure if I shot him down, though, because there were so many others firing.”

He saw the USS Arizona blow up and felt the intense blast when the battleship erupted.

Pearl Harbor took its toll on Stoeber but not quite so heavily as did the battle of Iwo Jima.

Stoeber was aboard an attack transport ship; his crew had loaded Marines aboard in Maui the day after Christmas and shared living space with them until reaching Iwo Jima in February, 1945.

Stoeber became friends with one Marine especially, a fellow from New London.

But after unloading him and the others, Stoeber never saw the man again.

Stoeber’s ship also had the job of hauling casualties from Iwo Jima to Guam, and “some of those guys were really shot up.” These battles and casualties, he said years later, “live on in your mind forever.”