Ocean City Loses WWII Hero Joseph Caserta

Ocean City Loses WWII Hero Joseph Caserta

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Ocean City World War II veteran Joseph Caserta, throws out the ceremonial first pitch in May of 2019.

By MADDY VITALE

There are many things that could be said about Joseph Caserta, a World War II veteran who fought in Europe while serving as a tank commander with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division.

Those who knew him well recalled that he was brave, humble and would give his fellow soldiers, veterans and family all that he had.

And that was a lot.

On Friday night, at the age of 98, the American hero died peacefully at home surrounded by his family.

To those who knew Caserta, he will forever be remembered as a larger-than-life hero who fought valiantly for his country, a decorated soldier awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and scores of other commendations.

“He was unbelievably humble and kind. He was always a giving man,” said the youngest of Caserta’s four sons, Jess Caserta.

Jess, 60, moved in with his father four years ago.

“He would give all of us his time. Whatever we needed, he would give,” Jess said of the family.

It was not until Caserta began attending his Armored Division reunions 12 years ago, that Jess and his three siblings learned of some of their father’s courageous acts.

“He was one of those guys, when he got home, he put it away,” Jess recalled. “When I was a kid, growing up, I’d ask him questions, he’d recap some things.”

Joseph Caserta with his great-grandchildren, Joey Caserta, (left) Timmy Styer, Marianna Caserta, Marisa Styer and Matthew Styer in August of 2019.

Caserta, a sergeant, 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. “Tanker Joe,” as he was nicknamed, was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division.

He was a driver and commander of “Everlasting” (Sherman Tank) in E-Company, 32nd AR, 3rd Armored Division.

In addition to the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Caserta earned the American Campaign Medal, World War II Medal and European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. He was appointed as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic for his contributions to France’s liberation during World War II.

In 2020, he received the Distinguished Service Medal from the State New Jersey for distinguished service in the U.S. Army during WWII.

The heroic acts of the men in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Armored Division, nicknamed the Spearhead Division, were chronicled in a book, “Spearhead.”

Jess remarked that he hopes to have a good and as long a life as his father did.

“He played tennis until he was 94. He waterskied until he was 85,” he said. “I hope to make it as long as he did.”

Caserta was married to the late Eileen Caserta for 70 years. They raised four sons, Jess, Joseph, Michael and Tom. They had eight grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Caserta is also survived by his brother-in-law Jess “Pete” Vandevere.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a traditional funeral will not take place, but service arrangements are being made and will be announced in the near future, Jess said.

“The procession line would be so many miles long,” Jess said. “We know for a fact that the Church of St. Francis Cabrini would be flowing with people. The (Garden State) Parkway would probably be backed up for miles.”

World War II veterans Jack Kreider, left, and Joe Caserta shared the honor of laying the wreath at a Memorial Day ceremony in May of 2017.

Ocean City VFW Post 6650 and American Legion Post 524 commanders and city officials recalled what an impact Caserta had on their lives.

“I feel like I lost my grandfather. He had a great life and did great things for America,” VFW Post Commander Michael Morrissey said. “I have known him for about 10 years now. Joe was the guy that I would answer to under any conditions. I don’t say that about a lot of people.”

Morrissey continued, “He was a terrific American, a good friend and someone I looked to. I was the commander of the VFW, but I had so much respect for him that anything he needed or wanted, I made sure he had. I worked for him.”

American Legion 524 Post Commander Bob Marzulli said of Caserta, “Joe was larger than life. He was very humble and never wanted to be recognized as the hero or a part of the Greatest Generation, because he felt that was his job.”

Caserta would trade war stories with fellow veterans for years.

“He had so many stories to share at the post,” Marzulli noted.

Marzulli and others at the post have read the book, “Spearhead.”

“We have a copy down at the post and it is so enlightening,” Marzulli said. “The last couple of weeks, I was delivering meals to him through our dinner program and I got to speak with him.”

Marzulli said that the post was honored to learn that the family asked Post 524 to do its Post Everlasting ceremony in honor of Caserta during the service.

“It is a ritual where the soldier reports to post-everlasting. Four of us will be involved with a bugler,” he explained.

Sgt. Caserta looks out his tank in this undated photo. (Photo submitted by Jess Caserta from the collection of Ray Gernetzke)

City Councilman Keith Hartzell, whose late father, Paul Hartzell, was a World War II and Korean War veteran, had a special bond with Caserta.

“He embodied the Greatest Generation, the men and women who lived in the Depression first and then went to war and defended our country,” Hartzell said. “He was an American hero, not just because of what he did in the war, but for what he did in his life afterward. He came home. He got married. He raised his kids and he did it right.”

The last time Hartzell saw his friend was two weeks ago.

Caserta’s health was fading.

“The last time I saw him he made sure to stand up to say goodbye to me,” Hartzell said as he choked back tears.

City Councilman Michael DeVlieger’s late father, Louis F. DeVlieger, was also a World War II veteran. When DeVlieger learned of Caserta’s passing, he spoke of how Caserta impacted his life.

“He was the closest I have ever come to meeting a super-hero,” DeVlieger said. “He was a pure American hero.”

But to Caserta, he just lived a life doing what was right for his family, his friends and above all, his country.

In 2019, when the decorated World War II veteran was honored for his service by VFW Post 6650, he said this:

“We just did a job,” Caserta said humbly. “It was nothing special.”

Joseph Caserta, far left, with the 3rd Armored Division. (Photo submitted by Jess Caserta from the collection of Ray Gernetzke)