The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 6, 2012

Local sailor subject of film

Kathy Mellott

ASHVILLE — The Lipple family of Ashville made it a regular practice to attend Mass, a habit passed on to their children and a practice John Lipple took with him when he entered the Navy more than seven decades ago.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, when Lipple, a petty officer first class, opted out of a weekend pass and stayed onboard the South Pacific-based USS Arizona to attend Mass.

At 7:58 a.m., the first wave of Japanese planes attacked battleship row at Pearl Harbor, giving Lipple the distinction of being the first Cambria County resident to die in World War II.

Lipple, who was one of 1,177 sailors who died when the Arizona was hit, is the subject of a documentary premiering tonight at the John Lipple VFW post in Ashville.

The 20-minute film, produced by Wix Pix Productions of Johnstown, looks beyond the ultimate sacrifice by Lipple and honors the World War II veterans who are aging and becoming more rare, said Robert Eyer, project chairman.

“It is about John in a big sense, but I think it is a greater picture of the patriotism in and around the Ashville area,” Eyer said. “We also note the lives of other World War II veterans who died in the war.”

Seventy-one years ago today, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy was termed by President Franklin Roosevelt as “A day that will live in infamy,” and pulled the United States into the worldwide conflict.

At the time, Lipple and his two brothers were all in the Navy. John and Paul Lipple were on ships in the harbor, while a third brother, Joe, was on a submarine tender still in Bremerton, Wash., about to set out for Pearl Harbor.

The story, as recounted in the documentary, was that John Lipple stayed onboard the Arizona that sunny Dec. 7 morning to attend Mass when, at 7:58 a.m., the first wave of Japanese planes attacked.

The Arizona was hit by just two bombs that morning, but the explosions were so great that Paul Lipple, who was aboard the USS Reed, saw the explosion, but only days later learned the fate of his brother.

Paul Lipple, in a letter two days after the attack to his mother, Caroline, in Ashville, asked if she had heard from John. But it took until Dec. 20 for the first telegram from the War Department telling her John was missing.

A second telegram arrived in Ashville in January 1942 informing her John had given his life for his country and that he was interred on the Arizona.

Joe Lipple arrived in Pearl Harbor around Christmas 1941, when he learned the fate of his brother through a survivor of the Arizona.

Joe and Paul Lipple served in the Pacific during the war and saw what is termed extensive action.

Paul Lipple, who lived in Baltimore, died in 1977.

He died at the age of 54 after many years of suffering from a number of health issues believed to be related to his military service, said nephew Daniel Lipple of rural Ashville, a son of Joe Lipple.

The elder Lipple’s telephone was not working Thursday and he could not be reached for comment, his son said.

Daniel Lipple provided photographs and letters for use in the documentary and recalled the stories he grew up with, especially regarding his uncles.

“I grew up across from the VFW,” Daniel Lipple said. “My dad said they lost two scuba divers trying to get to the guys on the Arizona and decided to give up.”

One of the two bombs hitting the Arizona landed near stored ammunition and set off a huge explosion, Daniel Lipple said.

Lifelong Ashville resident Laverne Passanita, 79, said she was a girl during World War II, but remembers the Lipple family and the role the men played for their country.

“They were just a wonderful family. They lived right in Ashville, but their home has since been torn down,” she said. “They were a good family all around. They were a very religious family.”

The patriotic heritage of the Ashville area, a sentiment largely due to the Lipple boys, is the reason, Passanita said, that on Memorial Day she took her 5- year-old great grandson to the John Lipple VFW.

“I wanted him to see the flags. I wanted him to hear about the generations of before,” she said.

Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder, featured speaker at the premiere, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a retired pilot who spent time in special operations in the South Pacific.

Lengenfelder said he will speak of the sacrifice of the Lipple boys and hundreds of thousands of other men and women who died defending the freedom of others.

“It was what projected us into World War II – when the Japanese awoke The Sleeping Giant,” he said.

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