Eugene B. Bubb, the first to die in World War II from York County. (YDR file)
Gettysburg’s Pearl Harbor connection: York County’s Eugene Bubb, two others, buried in national cemetery
Kenneth J. Zaveckas has been a tireless researcher about three men who died in the Pearl Harbor attack who are buried in Gettysburg National Military Cemetery.
Eugene Burnell Bubb of York County was one of the three Pennsylvanians researched by Zaveckas, a Gettysburg resident and retired New York City firefighter.
Here is Zaveckas’ research, lightly edited and excerpted:
It all started innocently enough. Never did I think for a moment that a simple inquiry would take me on an almost two-year research quest, a quest that turned into an obsession, before I would finally complete this project that I felt I had a personal connection with.
In an earlier life, probably due to the fact that I was a history education major, I had the good fortune of being mentored by some of the most dedicated professors the college had to offer at the time. My first practicum ever was on Gettysburg. Life’s journey had me on an alternate route however, and on September 11, 2001, I found myself a chief officer with the NYC Fire Department and would witness the murder of 2,749 of your fellow innocent civilians, which included 343 of my fellow brother officers and firemen.
Eventually medically discharged, I retired here to Gettysburg, in hopes of maybe realizing some earlier ambitions. I often challenge myself by reading, writing, or walking anything involving (the battle of) Gettysburg. I was therefore piqued when I read an article on “These Honored Dead: Gettysburg’s Pearl Harbor Connection” by National Park Service ranger Ralph Siegel. Ralph also hosts a walking tour through the Cemetery on this subject.
I admit to not knowing that three fellow Pennsylvanians were murdered during that first Day of Infamy at Pearl Harbor December 7th, 1941, and are now interred in the Gettysburg National Military Cemetery. I contacted Ralph, gentleman and scholar, asking some additional questions and to see their photos as I know it was customary to have a picture taken at time of enlistment.
Rather morbidly, a fact often circulated by senior salts amongst new firefighters, was that the first picture taken by the department was your “death photo.” For me, it was always that first photo that hopefully showed the beginning of a promising career, when you proudly put your hand up and took that oath of office, when the spark of youth, life, and pride twinkled in your eye for all to see. All 343 of my brothers were so first remembered, and then enshrined.
Wasn’t it the same in the military? Maybe not, as Ralph didn’t have all the photos; some weren’t available. THAT moment started it all. I had to know and see faces with those names. These guys, like my guys, routinely put their pants on that morning expecting to go home that evening, and for many of them, they didn’t.
A cowardly enemy with a sneak attack changed many lives forever. We all were serviceman just doing what we were trained to do, and by nightfall we were all veterans in our respective services. None of us were getting paid exorbitant salaries, none bitched or moaned about being disrespected, and definitely none of us took a knee on our flag. I personally witnessed all this. All of us did what we had to do when we had to do it.
It started too easy. Ralph had the picture for George J. Stembrosky. George Joseph, age 20, born January 31, 1921, was the fourth child and second son of George (died, 1951) and Mary (died, 1944) Stembrosky of 210 West Phillip St., Coaldale, Schuylkill County, Pa.; in the heart of “coal” country. George Sr. worked for the local coal company, as did most friends and neighbors, to support their families.
Georgie had other ambitions and after graduating from Coaldale High School in June ’40, he eventually enlisted in the United States Navy on October 16, 1940 in Philadelphia with the rank of seaman second class. By December 1, 1941, after serving in the Navy for over a year, George was promoted to the rank of seaman first class.
On December 7th George was on the USS Nevada. At 0910 at Hospital Point, Honolulu, badly bombed and torpedoed, the crippled Nevada was trying to escape the harbor when Japanese planes concentrated their attack on her. Afraid that if the ship sank, it would block the harbor entrance, Nevada was beached, thus saved before she fully sank, and back in service before the end of 1942; but not before three officers and 47 enlisted men were killed, and five officers and 104 enlisted were wounded.
George J. Stembrosky would be one of those killed. No further information would be given as to his demise. His promotion was short lived, those ambitions unrealized.
As it was the military’s policy not to send home their dead until after the hostilities, George was first interred in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Oahu. Two different sources state George came home either 1947 or 1949 and was reinterred in The Gettysburg National Military Cemetery. The Coaldale VFW Stembrosky/Katcher Post # 6982 is still active in their honor.
George will also be remembered by me because his people and mine all came from Lithuania, his in 1902 and mine around 1905. I can imagine my grandparents in tears after learning a native son was one of the first to lose his life in the defense of his new country, something they feared could happen to their two sons, my eventual uncles, and a son-in-law, my Father, serving in the military.
Eugene Burnell Bubb, age 19, was born (ironically) on September 11, 1922, the first of four children born to John and Grace Bubb of York. John was a WW I vet serving with the AEF in France; he had died January 1st, 1941. Kendrick Brian on Retro York mentions: “Gene’s younger brother John served in Battery B of the 21st Field Artillery. His younger brother, Charles served in the Merchant Marines during WWII and then served in the Army from the end of the war until 1962. His maternal great grandfather, Henry John Becker was a Civil War veteran with 200th PA and was wounded at the Battle of Fort Stedman on March 25, 1865”.
Gene had attended Phineas Davis JHS. He was either living or had lived with his sister, Fern, age 15, and a great aunt, Mrs. Arthur Rowe at 735 West Clarke Ave. Gene would enlist in the Army from his hometown of York in July ’40. He was sent first to Fort Slocum in New York and then to Hawaii, NEVER having come home again on furlough.
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. On December 7, 1941, Private Eugene Bubb was killed at Fort Kamehameha; unfortunately, there is little else known about his service and death.
The exception, from the Togetherweserved.com blog states, “Private Eugene Bubb was killed with four other men during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to C Battery, 41st Coast Artillery, C Battery, Fort Kamehameha. He was one of the men killed when the Japanese Zero, piloted by PO1 Takeshi Hirano from the Akagi, crash landed in a street at Fort Kamehameha, coming to rest at the entrance to the ordnance machine shop. Killed were: Cpl. Clyde L. Bryant, Pvt. Eugene R. Bubb, Pvt. Donat George Duquette Jr. and PFC Oreste DaTorre.”
James McClure from the York Daily Record offered the picture of Bubb. He was able to add: “About 570 military men from York County died in World War II. News of the death of York County serviceman Eugene B. Bubb, reached York within days of the Dec. 7 attack. No details, just that he had died. Eugene Bubb’s 15-year-old sister, Fern, received the telegram. “We didn’t have the radio on that Sunday. We were visiting relatives in Gettysburg,” she said years later. “By Thursday, we hadn’t heard anything, and I thought he would be all right.” There might be more to Eugene Bubb’s story if one consults McClure’s book “In the Thick of the Fight.”
I was able to track down at least one additional relative, a step-nephew who said “my stepfather was Uncle Eugene’s brother, and I remember seeing pictures in old photo albums,” but he had little else to add. Eugene Bubb holds the distinction of being the first known York County soldier to die in battle in World War II.
Yeoman 1/CL Regis James Bodecker would task my research skills to the limit. Regis James Bodecker, age 24, was born November 2, 1917, the seventh child to Emil and Anna (Ann) Bodecker. The family had at least three known residences; 1459 Greenmount Ave. and 1620 Napoleon Street, both in the Beechview section, a close suburb of Pittsburgh proper and 1428 Biltmore Ave in the Dormont section.
Emil supported his family by owning his own barbershop, but died in 1929, leaving his older sons to support the family by working in the Steel Mills. Regis attended St. Catherine’s Grammar School and went eventually to Latimer High School. On January 20, 1939, Regis left home and joined the United Sates Navy. By this time he was married to a Catherine June Nelson, and they had a daughter together, Marian Ann. They all lived together in San Pedro, California, where Regis was stationed.
At some point in this story, Catherine and Marian might have moved to Keokuk, Iowa to be closer to her family. 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.
According to the Pittsburgh Press of December 22, 1941, shortly after his promotion, Regis penned a letter dated Thanksgiving Day 1941 to his brother, Leonard, in Pittsburgh expressing his current concerns:
“I see in the papers the U.S. vs. Japan situation is getting hot. I make the following prognostication – our 2 nations will never fight each other this war. Japan has everything to lose and nothing to gain. Too many Nations on too many sides are waiting a crack at them. Russia, England, the Netherland East Indies and the U.S. NO Sir Len, it seems they can’t win for losing. We just as soon have at ‘em and get it over with.”
Turning to personal issues, Regis mentioned his almost seven years of continuous sea duty as to why he requested the Navy to reassign him to a naval recruiting office in Pittsburgh. He stated that in the last 2 ½ yrs, he had seen Catherine and three-year-old Marian for only 6 weeks total.
He also had hopes of “getting somewhere” because someone told him that “hard work would get a guy what he wanted and I’ve been spending long hours at night cramming book learning into my head.” Just about the same time this letter was received by Len another came from the Navy starting out “The Navy regrets to inform you … .”
Yeoman First Class Regis James Bodecker sustained third-degree burns (a later report claims he also suffered machine gun wounds) 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.
Back in Pittsburgh, Regis’ Mom Ann, 68, was not told of her son’s death, as she had been in bad health due to a heart condition. When she passed on March 5, 1942, from that condition, she still didn’t know about the loss of her son. Regis would be reinterred to Gettysburg’s National Military Cemetery in either 1947 or 1949.
All I needed now to complete the story was a picture of Regis Bodecker. None of the usual sites on the Internet had any more than what you find here, and no picture. The National Archives was of little help, more intent on collecting a processing fee and filing paperwork and promising at least 1 ½ yr waiting period but offering little hope as most records of that period were suppossedly destroyed in a fire at some point.
Info from VFW National Headquarters in Kansas and the Pennsylvania VFW also was surprisingly scarce, the only lead coming from national verifying that a Regis Bodecker Post # 8694, with 77 original members had been established on September 1st, 1949, at 1650 Broadway Ave. in the Beechview section of Pittsburgh.
However, by March 1958 the Post was listed as “defunct,” and the Post # 8694 was reassigned to a new post in Georgia. Nothing, records/minutes etc., was ever returned to national.
I obtained a copy of the original roster but that showed incomplete addresses, lacking phone numbers, and little hope of finding any of these guys as the youngest would have to be at least 94 if still alive. I then discovered through US Naval Ship Registry that the USS Helena still maintains a Reunion contact, and so I called that individual in Nevada only to be told by his widow that her husband had passed 2 years earlier.
After hearing my story, she was practically in tears as she remembered to me that on occasion she had heard her husband discuss a “Regis fellow” with other shipmates during Reunions, but since her husband’s death, and the deaths of many others since his last involvement, she had no contact with the organization.
I turned back to Ralph’s original story “Gettysburg’s Pearl Harbor Connection” to see that someone named “Marian Reese” had responded to it stating “I am the daughter of Regis Bodecker”! WOW, I’ve finally got it, right? Numerous attempts to contact the numerous Marian Reeses’ I found continue unanswered.
Still believing “that hard work could get a guy what he wanted,” I turned once again to the VFW believing that somebody had to know something about Mr. Bodecker. In my life I have had numerous occasions to attend parties or receptions that were given in a VFW post. The one thing in common to all is a soon as one walks in, there is usually a display highlighting the Post honoree.
There were 16 posts in Pittsburgh, and I contacted the two nearest the 1650 Broadway address, hoping that upon the demise of the Bodecker post, all info, pictures, etc., might have been taken in by one of the nearest posts. Calling one, I even managed to catch the senior member there at age 95, who remembered attending something at the Bodecker post but sadly, had no idea what happened to any of the artifacts. He was happy to hear that someone had taken an interest and would “pass the word around,” but I have heard nothing from any Post. Almost 2 years now, and all I’ve got is a record on how not to find Regis Bodecker.
I had one last (new) source to try. Maybe, when our 3 heroes were brought home for reinternment, just possibly there was press coverage at the local level. I reached out to my friend from the Fourth Estate, Alex Hayes from the Gettysburg Times. Alex and I share common interests, especially when it comes to our veterans and human interest stories, and he possesses determination and research abilities comparable, if not greater than, my own.
He was also interested in learning about these Gettysburg Pearl Harbor vets. Utilizing search engines that the Press only has access to, and searching for the name “Regis Bodecker,” Alex was able to find at least 25 instances where the name appeared. Was there a picture?
Then like the flow of a fresh breeze on a summer night, there in the October 10, 1947, issue of the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, was a story on the “Pacific War Dead Returning Home,” and there in the upper right corner was our Regis Bodecker!
The expertise of other individuals will often solve the problem at hand.
Now, finally, Regis Bodecker is again before us, alongside his two other brothers in battle, probably unknown to each other at the time but now, in honor and eternity, most likely side by side.