Many visitors who come to Gettysburg National Military Park want to see where President Lincoln delivered his 272-word Gettysburg Address, and rightly so. It is one of the most popular speeches ever given in American history. Park rangers and volunteers escort visitors to the iron fence that separates the Soldier’s National Cemetery from Evergreen Cemetery and point to a general location on the hill to show where Lincoln stood when he addressed the crowd of 15,000 people on November 19, 1863. In the process of walking to see “the spot,” however, we pass the graves of over 3,000 Americans who served their country in foreign wars and conflicts. Unlike their Civil War brothers in arms who fell on American soil, these men who were killed in combat died on battlefields in foreign lands. However, there are three young men buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery that were killed on American soil when the United States was ostensibly at peace with the world. Their deaths, along with the deaths of approximately 2,400 other service men and women, precipitated the United States into a global conflict that would ultimately claim the lives of over 400,000 Americans from 1941-1945. These three men – killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – are the topic of this week’s installment of the “These Honored Dead” series.
On January 31, 1921, George and Mary Stembrosky welcomed their fourth child and second son, George Joseph, into the world. The family resided in Coaldale, Pennsylvania, a small town in the heart of anthracite coal country. Born in Lithuania in 1890, George Sr. immigrated to the United States in 1902. As an adult, he worked for the Lehigh Navigation Coal Company at Colliery No. 9, as did many of his friends and neighbors, in order to support his family. Working in the mines was a part of life for generations. However, George Jr. was not about to live his life underground mining coal. He had other dreams and aspirations.
While at Coaldale High School, George Jr. was a member of the varsity football and basketball teams. After graduating, he enlisted in the United States Navy on October 16, 1940 in Philadelphia with the rank of Seaman Second Class. George entered military service at a time when America was anxiously following the mounting aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. For the time being, George would not see war. He was officially stationed on the USS Nevada, a battleship that served in World War I and that was transferred to the United States Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in 1940. On December 1, 1941, after serving in the Navy for over a year, George was promoted to the rank of Seaman First Class. The promotion was short lived.
The Bodecker household was already bustling with six children when Emil and Anna welcomed their seventh child, Regis James, on November 2, 1917. The family lived in Beachview, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Emil supported his family as a barber in his own barbershop. However, he died of a heart condition in 1929, leaving the older sons to work in the steel mills to support the family. And then in October of 1938, the family buried a son named Paul Leo Bodecker who had died of multiple sclerosis. Just a few months later at the age of 22, Regis left home and joined the United States Navy on January 20, 1939. It appears that Regis married a woman by the name of Catherine June Nelson and the two of them had a daughter named Marian Ann Bodecker. The family lived together in San Pedro, California where Regis was stationed. On September 18, 1939, he boarded the USSS Helena, a light cruiser (CL-50) that was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and stationed in Pearl Harbor. By the first week of December 1941, he had been promoted to Yeoman First Class.
Eugene Bubb was the first of four children born to John and Grace Bubb on September 11, 1922. His father was an Army veteran from World War I. In July of 1940, Eugene entered the United States Army in his hometown of York, Pennsylvania. He was attached to Battery C, 41st Coastal Artillery at Fort Kamehameha, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The fort was located at the entrance to the Pearl Harbor Channel.
December 7, 1941. Christmas was a little over 2 weeks away. Houses were decorated in tinsel and Christmas lights. American store fronts were advertising the latest and greatest items that would make for a memorable Christmas morning. Songs of peace, joy, and glad tidings were sung throughout the country. Families prepared to celebrate another Christmas with their loved ones. For over 2,000 Americans, Christmas would never come. In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, over 300 Japanese planes attacked the United States naval installation at Pearl Harbor. Carnage and chaos rained from the skies as Japanese planes bombed and torpedoed ships and buildings that comprised the naval base. Seaman First Class George Stembrosky of Coaldale, Pennsylvania was killed in action that morning when the Japanese bombed and torpedoed the USS Nevada. Yeoman First Class Regis James Bodecker sustained third degree burns when the USS Helena was hit by a torpedo, causing numerous fires aboard ship. He was quickly taken to the United States Naval Hospital at Pearl Harbor where he succumbed to his injuries later that day. Private Eugene Bubb was killed at Fort Kamehameha; unfortunately, there is little known
information about his service and death.
The war ended for these three young men before it officially began. Over 400,000 Americans would die in the subsequent four years trying to avenge the loss of their brothers in arms who perished at Pearl Harbor. Immediately following the attack, a propaganda poster was circulated throughout the country that depicted a tattered American flag flying at half-mast in front of a thick cloud of black smoke. At the top of the poster was printed a line taken from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It read, “we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” George Joseph Stembrosky and Regis James Bodecker, were reinterred in the shadows of where Lincoln uttered theme immortal words on November 7, 1947, while Eugene Bubb was reinterred on May 18, 1949. They rest next to men who died on battlefields such as Guadalcanal, the beaches of Normandy, and the Ardennes Forrest near the border of Germany. Even though these men died 78 years after Lincoln spoke, his words remain a call to action for us the living: “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
Ranger Caitlin Kostic, Gettysburg National Military Park