Mineral Wells Index
By CLINT FOSTER
December is such a wonderful time of year. The Holiday season presents a time for people to reflect on the significance of faith, family and friendship. It’s a time to give thanks for many blessings and bless others with a spirit of giving and goodwill at the front of our minds. The warm glow of colorful Christmas lights juxtaposes the invigorating chill in the air and even in Texas – where smiling at strangers is commonplace – folks just seem to always be in a particularly good mood.
But, as joyous as Christmastime is, so often lost in the shuffle is a day that should be set aside for special remembrance and reflection. It our nation to its very core and forever shifted the course of American and World history. It was a date, as Franklin D. Roosevelt put it, “which will live in infamy.”
Dec. 7, will mark the 72nd anniversary of that infamous date; that early Sunday morning when the United States Hawaiian naval base of Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces, launching the nation into World War II and shattering the notion that America, with vast oceans on either side, was immune to foreign aggression.
Long before he was Mayor of Mineral Wells or a three-war veteran, Col. Willie Casper, 93, was a young man living in Henderson, N.C., driving an ambulance and working at a funeral home. He told the Index on that particular December day, 72 years ago, he had just gotten back to the funeral home from lunch when he heard the President of the United States’ distinct voice over the radio.
“I stopped to see what he was going to say,” Casper recalled from his room at Lakewell House assisted living in Mineral Wells. “I knew it was going to be something bad. I knew we were going to have to do something.”
Casper’s mind immediately went to his two first cousins, Jerry and Samuel Casper, both of whom were sailors on the U.S.S. Arizona – one of five battleships and 13 other vessels that were destroyed in the Hawaiian lagoon that morning. The Colonel later learned that both Jerry and Samuel lost their lives in the attack, along with 2,384 other Americans.
Casper’s next thought was one less of grief and more of dread, for lack of a better word. He knew that the attack would mean he would likely be drafted and fighting in a war was not exactly on young Willie’s bucket list.
“In my case, where I knew [the military] was going to take me in, it had a different feel,” he explained.
Joining the military was the furthest thing from young Willie’s mind, but after the attack, he knew it was only a matter of time before his country would call upon him.
“I had no desire, whatsoever, to be in the military,” Casper said, cracking his infectious smile. “I did everything I could to stay out of the infantry.
There was a medical infantry unit in my hometown and I knew what they were in for. Being in the funeral business, I was a licensed embalmer and they would have put me out in the field to recover bodies and stuff like that. That didn’t suit me at all.”
Casper drove with a friend to Raleigh to take the Air Force’s physical exam. Both past, but Casper was held out of service because he did not weigh the minimum 110 pounds. The Selective Service Board told him he would have to wait, but Casper said that was fine with him.
He ultimately became a pilot in the U.S. Army, flying many missions in the European theater and ascending from the rank of private all the way to full colonel over the course of what would become a 30-year military career. But it all started that day in Oahu.
When asked how the attack on Pearl Harbor compares to the World Trade Center attack in 2001 – a defining moment for the current generation –
Casper suggested the setting was one aspect that was vastly different.
“Well, Pearl Harbor was of course not a sleepy place with the Navy and Marines, but there was no big hurry,” he said. “People got up, did their jobs, went home at night and played bridge or poker or whatever. Pearl Harbor was a beautiful station. A lot of the people that were shipped overseas in the Pacific would go through there.”
Although both attacks were unexpected, another key difference was the harbor’s status as a military target as opposed to the civilian target that was the World Trade Center. But both attacks were a shock to the nation and provoked widespread mourning, yet unity.
Casper said as the calendar turns to another Dec. 7, it is paramount that we all remember the soldiers there and in the ensuing war that gave their lives for freedom.
“The biggest thing we need to think of is the brave men that were forced into the service,” he said. “They had to change their mind from not wanting to go, to being in the military, where they made a lot of friends and went a lot of places they wouldn’t have gone.”
Casper has since visited the memorial at Pearl Harbor and has seen the U.S.S. Arizona where his cousins died first hand.
Casper also designed a Pearl Harbor memorial that sits outside the Palo Pinto County Courthouse.
As the greatest generation dwindles, it is ever important to remember the sacrifices made for freedom and the lives lost on that infamous day in Hawaii. Give thanks for the veterans in your life and those who have done so much for you without ever knowing your name.