Ocean City Honors Hometown Hero and WWII Veteran Joe Caserta

first_imgRetired Army Sgt. Joe Caserta (seated) is surrounded by fellow veterans at a ceremony in his honor at VFW Post 6650 in Ocean City. (Photos courtesy Lisa Spengler) By LISA SPENGLERA friend, gentleman, family man, an inspiration, a hero and patriot are just some of the words used to describe Ocean City resident and World War II veteran Sgt. Joe Caserta.At age 97, Caserta was honored Saturday at VFW Post 6650 in Ocean City for his service to his country and community.Caserta fought on Omaha Beach, Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge. It was during the Battle of the Bulge that he earned a Purple Heart and then a Bronze Star while fighting in the City of Cologne.Caserta, stoic in his chair, watched as veterans, friends and family members filled the tables throughout the VFW post Saturday afternoon. Some formed a line in hopes to say a few words and to have their picture taken with him.“I am totally overwhelmed with all of this,” Caserta said, pointing to the room full of people. “We just did a job. It was nothing special.”In true Caserta fashion, he quickly shifted his words from himself to the VFW.“This VFW has opened their doors to everyone today,” he said. “They set this up. They supplied the food. I can’t say enough about all the good they do.”Jim Houck, serving as the VFW bartender for the event, said, “Joe is near and dear to everyone.”Chamber Director Michele Gillian and Mayor Jay Gillian present Sgt. Caserta with a gift basket.As the guests continued to arrive, Michele Gillian, executive director at the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, presented Caserta with a complimentary gift basket from the Chamber and thanked him for his military service and his continued service in the community.Mayor Jay Gillian also said some words of admiration. “He’s an inspiration to everyone. He’s an institution here, and he is what Ocean City is all about,” the mayor said.The magnitude of the day was shared with four generations of Casertas in attendance. They took a few extra minutes to capture the day in photos and to join him in celebration before the formal presentations began.Duncan McQueen and other members of the U.S. Army Brotherhood of Tankers (USABOT) took center stage by their friend and fellow tanker.The USABOT is a Brotherhood of U.S. Army tank crewmen and tank mechanics. Their mission is to collect, safeguard, and promote the Tanker Heritage.“Stay on the Tank,” is a prominently displayed tag line for USABOT.Sgt. Caserta with his great-grandchildren, Joey Caserta, (left) Timmy Styer, Marianna Caserta, Marisa Styer and Matthew Styer.“Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Joe worked at a shipyard until he joined the Army at age 19,” McQueen recounted.He continued, “Assigned to E-Company, 32nd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division, Joe started out as a Sherman tank driver and landed with his division at Omaha Beach two weeks after D-Day.”McQueen took a moment to show the crowd a replica of the Sherman tank.“Joe’s tank was a little bigger than this,” he said with a grin as he looked toward Caserta.Caserta fought with the division through Normandy, through Belgium and the Battle of Mons, through the Siegfried Line for which his regiment earned a distinguished unit citation, and onto the Battle of the Bulge.“During the Bulge, Joe was wounded and knocked unconscious by artillery for which he was awarded the purple heart. After the Bulge, Joe was promoted to commanding his own Sherman tank just in time for Easy Company’s assault on the City of Cologne,” McQueen said, as he continued to share his friend’s remarkable story.“While fighting on the Cologne streets, the gear on the rear of Joe’s Sherman was set aflame by enemy fire and threatening to engulf the tank. Joe climbed out and pushed the flaming gear off, saving the tank and earning him a Bronze Star,” he explained.Sgt. Caserta’s tanker jacket presented by USABOT.On behalf of USABOT, McQueen presented Caserta with a certificate assigning Caserta the status of “Lifetime Honorary Member.” He was issued a tanker jacket, hat, challenge coin, lapel pin, sticker and a lifetime membership card.But anyone in the audience could see that it was the tanker jacket that brought him the most pride.“Joe fought until the war’s end and considers himself lucky to be here, and we are sure lucky that he is,” said McQueen as the crowd burst into applause.The 3rd Armored Division lost more tanks than any other unit in American history.Ocean City Councilman At-Large Keith Hartzell read a letter, signed by City Council, and presented it to Caserta in front of the standing room only crowd.“A special congratulations to you for being honored on Saturday, August 3, 2019, at Joe Caserta Day at Post 6650 here in Ocean City,” said Hartzell.He continued, “The United States Army Brotherhood of Tankers, along with Post 6650, will honor you with a presentation for your service to America. Joe, we cannot thank you enough for your service to our country during World War II and for achieving the Bronze Star.”From left, Mayor Jay Gillian, Post Commander Michael Morrissey, Councilman Antwan McClellan and Councilman Keith Hartzell.Caserta smiled and said, “I am so happy to see that everyone showed up today. Thank you.”As the presentations concluded, Mayor Gillian introduced VFW Post 6650 Commander Michael Morrissey, who shared his thoughts on the day and his friend’s recognition.“At this VFW, we are combat veterans who all served. God blessed us by sending us home,” said Morrissey. “We tell our stories here. We call each other brothers.”Morrissey took a deep breath and looked toward Caserta and said, “And I am so grateful that I can call Joe my brother.”With tears in his eyes, Caserta thanked Morrissey and VFW Post 6650. Four generations of Casertas.Residents and visitors alike will find Caserta every morning at the patriotic flag raising on the Boardwalk at OC Waterpark at Plymouth Place.His friend and neighbor, Denise Nicolos, noted, “Today, Joe wore a T-shirt with his black and white combat photo on the back to the flag raising.”Caserta goes to watch his friend J.R. Robinson, a recipient of three Purple Hearts, raise the flag. He watches proudly as everyone stops and stands at attention while the “Star-Spangled Banner” plays over the loudspeakers.Caserta is hailed as the epitome of an American. There are tears, wide eyes and a true sense of community as young and old come together during the patriotic morning ritual.Sgt. Joseph Caserta is part of “The Greatest Generation.” As Duncan McQueen stated, “The Greatest Generation – if they didn’t do what they did, we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing today.”last_img

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