The boys on the ballfield

Published 2:14 pm Friday, December 11, 2009

Polk County commissioner Ray Gasperson honored his WWII veteran father and uncle, Roy and Herman Gasperson, during a county board meeting on Monday, which was Pearl Harbor Day. Roy and Herman Gasperson and other family members traveled from Asheville to attend the meeting. Roy and Herman, along with Ray, led the county in the pledge of allegiance. Gasperson told the story of what his then young father and uncle were doing when Pearl Harbor was attacked 68 years ago. Following is the story Gasperson told Monday.Pearl Harbor DayToday, December 7, we remember the event 68 years ago that plunged our nation into war. The account of the attack on Pearl Harbor is well known, but tonight I wish to tell you about what happened on a ballfield in a pastoral setting up the mountain from here near Asheville in the Chunns Cove and Haw Creek communities. The ballfield, ringed by the gentle mountains of Beaucatcher, Sunset, and Piney, was owned by Wallace Wright and it was a magnet to the 15 to 20 teenage boys who used it regularly. If the weather was warm, it was baseball they played. During the cooler days of fall and winter, it was a rousing game of tag football.December 7, 1941 dawned cool and crisp with clear skies over Beaucatcher, Sunset, and Piney. Everything seemed normal. After chores on family farms were completed, the boys attended Sunday school, worship, and dinner with their families. Then, it was time to play ball! They all either hiked or rode their bikes to the ballfield.Midafternoon locally was early morning over the Hawaiian islands. When the boys got to the ballfield, Mr. Wright was in his cabin sitting in his easy chair, enjoying the Sunday paper, and listening to the radio in the background as usual. It was about four oclock in the afternoon, as the boys were fighting it out on the gridiron, that the first news flashes of the attack on Pearl Harbor started coming over on the radio. Quickly, Mr. Wright got up and went to his front porch and began to yell for his son Blanton. Blanton, realizing that something was wrong, began to run to his father. When he got close enough to hear, his father told him, Blanton, go get all of the boys! The boys had already stopped the game. They had never seen the old man so upset, and as they gathered there at the front porch, Mr. Wright told them of the terrible attack on the American Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor. The boys had never heard of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. All they knew about Hawaii was that they grew pineapples there. As Mr. Wright continued talking, his voice cracked and tears filled his eyes. He said, “Boys, our nation will now enter into a great global war. The oldest of you will probably enter the military soon, and the rest of you when you are old enough. By now tears were flowing down his face as he continued Im afraid some of you will go and will not come back. The old mans prophecy proved tragically true. Of the 15 or so boys there that day, five gave their lives to protect our freedom. Johnny Cannon was lost at sea with the attack and sinking of his merchant marine ship. Bruce Carscaddon died on the Anzio Beachhead. Hugh Jolley was killed in a military air crash. Paul Taylor died on a battlefield in Italy, and Elmer Lawing, Army Ranger, who at the age of 20 had just attained the rank of lieutenant, was killed on a battlefield in Germany. All of the boys on the ballfield that day became part of the war effort. Several were wounded in action, allowed to heal and returned to active duty. Thankfully, after the wars end they returned home. Tonight, in this room we have the privilege of having two of the boys who were on the ballfield and witnessed the tears of Wallace Wright.First, let me introduce my father, Roy Gasperson. At 14, he was probably the youngest boy at the ballfield. He entered the navy in early 1945 and had just finished basic training as the war ended. I also have here tonight my uncle, Herman Gasperson. Being two years older than my dad, he was only 18 years old in 1943 when he was thrust into some of the heaviest combat missions of the Pacific theater, fighting in New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines. Hermans unit, the 41st Army Infantry, entered Hiroshima, Japan just a few days after the atomic bombing of that city. Herman was wounded three times in combat and received the Purple Heart with two clusters. Now as we rise to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag that represents our great nation, let us remember the men and women who have shed their precious blood to keep our nation free and strong.