MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Joe Kasmark and John Sherman were just teenagers when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 and killed more than 2,300 Americans.

A few years later, the two men, who now live in Cape May County, would both be aboard U.S. Navy ships aiding in the fight in the Pacific during World War II.

This week, Sherman and Kasmark met for the first time. They were brought together by Sherman’s daughter, Debbie Robson, who stumbled upon Kasmark with her granddaughter at the Acme in North Wildwood.

Dobson nominated Kasmark and her father to receive quilts from the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a group that makes quilts to comfort combat veterans.

Sherman and Kasmark received their quilts Tuesday morning over breakfast at Glick’s Corner Cafe in Middle Township. The two WWII veterans talked about their experiences in battle, movies they watched on the ships and the quality of the mess hall food.

Kasmark, 92, of North Wildwood, remembers hearing news of the Pearl Harbor attack Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941. He was a 16-year-old high school student living in Philadelphia.

“As a teenage kid, I didn’t know much about war,” he said. “I didn’t realize how serious things” were getting.

Sherman was a few years younger than Kasmark and living in Maryland when he heard the news.

“I had just went out to get the paper, and I came back,” said Sherman, 89, of Cape May Court House. “(My mother) just told me the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.”

Kasmark was drafted in 1943 right after graduating high school. He asked the draft board if he could join the Navy.

“I just didn’t like the thought of them shooting at me personally,” he said.

Sherman tried enlisting when he was 16 but was told to come back when he turned 17. He said he was eager to serve his country and get revenge on the Japanese.

He did come back when he was 17, and the Navy assigned him to the USS Niobrara in 1945.

“We refueled ships striking in Japan — aircraft carriers, battlewagons, cruisers, all those big ships,” Sherman said, adding the ship was a “floating time bomb” because of the highly flammable fuel on board.

Kasmark, meanwhile, was sent to electrician school for 16 weeks before being put on the USS Connolly, a destroyer escort. The ship sailed into the Pacific and took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima as one of its first missions, he said.

Near the end of the war, the Connolly was operating out of Okinawa and conducting anti-aircraft operations, Kasmark said. They were the first line of defense against Japanese kamikaze planes.

On April 13, 1945 — a Friday the Thirteenth, Kasmark was quick to add — a kamikaze pilot flew directly toward his ship.

“He dove in on us, and our gunners got him before he got to us,” Kasmark said.

The war ended Aug. 15, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. Sherman and others aboard the Niobrara were watching a movie called “Something for the Boys” when they heard whistles and horns coming from nearby ships.

“So we run out on the deck and there’s an officer out there,” he said. “He was a little guy from Georgia. He said, ‘My word, Sherman, the war is over.’”

After returning to the United States, Kasmark became a firefighter in Philadelphia while Sherman worked on electrical power lines. Both men said their experience in the war impacted the rest of their lives.

“When you’re through the war, you take things a little more seriously as a young guy,” Kasmark said.

“At that time (when I came back), it never really dawned on me, but the older you get, the more it comes back to you,” Sherman said.

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Joined the Press in June of 2016 as a nighttime breaking news reporter. I'm now a staff writer covering Cape May County. Born and raised in Philadelphia and a graduate of Temple University. Previously interned for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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