NORTH CAPE MAY – Joseph Somma wanted to serve the nation close to home, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He joined the Coast Guard; the military branch assigned that duty. However, when the Navy sought Coasties to serve overseas, Somma volunteered.
“The pay was better,’’ Somma admitted for switching local waters for the South Pacific theater and the USS Charlottesville.
Somma celebrated his 100th birthday with family, friends, fellow veterans, officials and a contingent from the local Coast Guard base, in the dining room of Victorian Commons, March 9.
Freeholder Jeffrey Pierson, retired from the Army and the National Guard as a brigadier general, asked Somma if he ever was given a proclamation by a general.
“No, but I’ve had one pin a medal on me,” Somma replied.
He received several medals, including the American Area Campaign Medal, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
The Charlottesville also received two commendations, or battle stars, for meritorious participation in battle.
As a Seaman First Class aboard the Charlottesville, Somma saw action in some of the great battles of the Pacific Theater, including the Philippines, Leyte and Luzon invasions.
Somma said he also spent time in Guadalcanal and the Bering Sea.
Other officials who honored Somma included: Christopher Chin, U.S. Rep. Jeffrey Van Drew’s (R-2nd) director of Veterans Outreach, who presented him with a proclamation and a Congressional Challenge Coin.
Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonson (both R-1st), with a proclamation.
Sheriff Robert Nolan, Lower Township Councilmen David Perry, and Thomas Conrad.
Somma also received a quilt from South Jersey Quilts of Valor.
Somma’s son, Vincent, was present with his wife, Carol. He said his father was a good family man who never drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes and was a hard worker.
“When he came home from the war, he married my mother, in 1945, and was a heavy-duty truck driver and mechanic and eventually opened a sanitation trucking company, F & J Sanitation. He and my mother always prepared fresh food for us, and we are very healthy,” Vincent explained. Joseph added, “It was something in the water,” with a chuckle.
Somma lived most of his life in Belvidere with his wife, Ann, who worked as a welder for General Electric and participated in the Rosie the Riveter Bond Program, before becoming a homemaker. She died two years ago, at the age of 98.
“We moved to North Cape May in 2016, and when my mother passed, he wanted to live here with us,” Vincent said.
Joseph Somma has four children, seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
After Somma invited everyone to join him on the dance floor, he thanked his guests for attending the party.
“I appreciate you all; it’s an honor for me. Let’s do it again next week,” he said with a wide smile.
To contact Carl Price, email email@example.com.