Pearl Harbor survivor Jack Stoeber has died

Milford resident Jack A. Stoeber, a Pearl Harbor survivor, has died.

Stoeber, who was 98, died peacefully, his wife said, on Saturday, Jan. 16.

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

He was a retired experimental aircraft mechanic for Sikorsky, and a veteran of World War II. He served aboard the USS Whitney when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

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.

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."
Jack Stoeber's story
Jack Stoeber was 21 years old and stationed aboard the USS Whitney at Pearl Harbor.

He actually 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."
A full life
Stoeber’s wife, Florence Stoeber, has binders and books filled with photos and memories of her husband’s war service and his life after, as he built a home and family. One of the letters among many is from a military man to Stoeber’s first wife, the late June Stoeber, that advises June, “You will never find a better man than Jack, no matter how hard or how far you look. He is the best there is.”

Florence couldn’t agree more with that. She said her husband led a good life, and that he never swayed from his principles.

When he was younger, he resembled the actor Paul Newman, Florence said, adding, “Everyone always admired his blue eyes, those twinkling blue eyes.”

Florence and their many family members are sad at Jack’s passing, but Florence said Jack Stoeber’s life was full.

“This man had quite an experience,” she said.

Graveside services for Mr. Stoeber are being arranged and will be announced. An obituary notice will be forthcoming.