Joseph W. Desch Jr.
Seaman First Class


Joe Desch interview.
7 December 2013

By Matt Rivers


Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in

For most Americans now, the day will live in infamy only in grainy, black
and white photos and video. For 93 year-old Joseph Desch, though, the
memory of December 7, 1941 is painfully vivid:

I saw them picking up guys in the water, they were burned, some had no
legs, everything was on fire, the ships were burning, it was bedlam, Desch
tells CBS3 Eyewitness News.

Hed only been in the Navy a few years when the Japanese attacked.
I enlisted in 1939 and was stationed at pearl harbor.

I was young, I was 21 years-old. What did I know about war?, asked

That changed when the attack began just before 8 a.m. He ran to his
battle station, one of eight anti-aircraft guns aboard his ship. The
planes were so low, he could see enemy pilots.

You could see his face so vivid, he had goggles on, said Desch of a man
who was in the cockpit.

As the enemy dropped bombs and torpedoes, Desch and crew fired
shell after shell skyward. A picture taken from land shows his ship, the
light cruiser USS Helena, smoking after taking a torpedo in her side.

We shot down six planes that day, and we lost 33 men, Desch explains.

Most of those men Desch knew the 33 of the over 2,400 people that
lost their lives that Sunday. Desch would emerge unscathed, though.

Two years later, aboard that same ship, he would survive her sinking
in the battle of Kula Gulf. And even now, decades later, as the father
and grandfather sits at his table with his wife Marian of seventy years,
the emotions of that day in 1941 remain very real:

Ill never forget it, it was bad, it was bad, it was bad, it was bad, said
Desch, with tears in his eyes.

And like so many other World War II veterans, Desch said he didnt
really speak about his experiences, only opening up over the last five
years or so.

But his story and others like it are more important than ever to hear
and to document, because with each day, there are fewer survivors
left to tell them.

Although the following link still opens, the video does not.
We wish it to remain as credit for the Desch story


Shipmate Collections