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 –