Cloquet's last Pearl Harbor survivor diesPearl Harbor survivor Gordon ‘Gordy’ Caza made his last appearance in the Cloquet Fourth of July parade this year, at the age of 89. Caza died Sunday and was buried Wednesday in Cloquet, the town where he spent most of his life.
By: Wendy Johnson and Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Pearl Harbor survivor Gordon ‘Gordy’ Caza made his last appearance in the Cloquet Fourth of July parade this year, at the age of 89.
Caza died Sunday and was buried Wednesday in Cloquet, the town where he spent most of his life.
He will be missed, said VFW Honor Guard member Rich Chasse, who helped with the graveside ceremony Wednesday in Old Calvary Cemetery.
“I’ve known Gordy ever since I’ve been here,” Chasse said. “His attitude toward life was great. Every time I’d see him, he’d always have a smile and a kind word to say. He was very grateful for what he had.”
Caza was a life member of VFW Post 3979 and Carlton County’s only current resident to have survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Barnum High School graduate Donald Long also survived the attack, but he lives in California.)
Caza enlisted in the U.S. Army when he was just 17. Since he had an uncle in Hawaii at the time, he told the recruiter that was where he wanted to go. After being sworn in at Fort Snelling, he was shipped to California and then on to Hawaii, where he was assigned to a truck company.
That was in September 1941, just three months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Caza was stationed at Fort Armstrong, a small Army fort in downtown Honolulu, about five miles from Pearl Harbor.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 7, he said he was just getting back from breakfast when the alert went off. Thinking it was probably a part of routine maneuvers, he and his fellow soldiers went through the motions of getting rifles and ammunition from the supply sergeant and heading for the parade grounds without any overriding sense of alarm.
It was then two Japanese planes flew right over the base’s parade grounds, strafing the grounds and barracks repeatedly.
Caza and his comrades took shelter beneath the trucks and he said they could see all kinds of smoke in the direction of Pearl Harbor and hear bombs being dropped.
As it turned out, the U.S. aircraft carriers the Japanese were hoping to target were not to be found.
“The aircraft carriers were supposed to have come in that morning,” said Caza, “but there were rough seas on Saturday, so they never made it in.”
The next day, Caza was sent up to Punchbowl, the site of a big ammunition depot, and he hauled ammunition from there down to Pearl Harbor. That’s when he saw the damage wrought by the Japanese attacks.
“It was terrible,” he related. “There was smoke everywhere, and the warships were still burning. Some of them were tipped upside down, and there was oil all over the harbor.”
He said the Japanese made their second mistake by failing to bomb any of the repair docks, so the U.S. troops started repairing the ships at the docks, and within a month or two, they were back at sea, looking for the Japanese.
Two years following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Caza was sent to the Mariana Islands to haul supplies off the ships to various depots. After three years overseas, he was allowed to return stateside and was discharged on May 29, 1945, following the end of the war in Europe.
Caza belonged to both the VFW and the American Legion.
In a 2008 Pine Journal interview, Caza noted he had been back to visit Pearl Harbor on three different occasions since then, and he said he’d never once looked back and regretted his decision to enlist during that fateful period in world history.
Caza’s obituary is located on Page A6 of this week’s Pine Journal.