VFW to stage fundraiser for homeless, honor Pearl Harbor survivor

VFW Post 3979 is planning one of the most significant events of the year for Friday, Dec. 5. The fundraiser dinner will feature special guest Stan Kowolski, Minnesota state VFW commander, and honored guest Gordy Caza of Cloquet, one of the last s...

VFW Post 3979 is planning one of the most significant events of the year for Friday, Dec. 5. The fundraiser dinner will feature special guest Stan Kowolski, Minnesota state VFW commander, and honored guest Gordy Caza of Cloquet, one of the last surviving Pearl Harbor veterans in the country.

The event, featuring a meal of hot roast beef sandwiches, will take place from 4-7 p.m. at the post home at 210 Arch Street, Cloquet. Proceeds will go to help support the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV). MACV is a nonprofit organization that has been directly helping veterans and their families affected by homelessness in Minnesota for the past 14 years.

MACV provides assistance to veterans in the form of transitional housing, help in finding permanent housing and reintegration into the community, job search assistance, counseling and legal help, and guidance in locating resources for food, mortgage assistance, skills training, health care, and chemical dependency treatment and sobriety. It is estimated that this year alone there are 4,300 homeless veterans in Minnesota.

A panel of resource people from the MACV will be on hand during the event to provide information and answer questions.

Caza, the evening's honored guest, is a life member of the post and Carlton County's only remaining survivor of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


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 joined both the VFW and the American Legion after returning to Cloquet.

He has been back to visit Pearl Harbor on three different occasions since then, and he said he's never once looked back and regretted his decision to enlist during that fateful period in world history.

As the other special guest at the Dec. 5 VFW fund raiser event, Commander Kowalski brings with him a strong tradition of service to his country - and a unique career as well.

Kowolski was born in Minneapolis and attended high schools in Duluth and Minneapolis before going on to the University of Minnesota to study journalism. He enlisted in the Navy in October 1943 and served up until April 1946, as a part of Submarine Squadron 182 in the southwest Pacific, earning American Defense, Asiatic-Pacific Theater, Japanese Victory, Navy Occupation and Navy Letter of Commendation ribbons.

He has been a VFW member for the past 36 years.


In addition, Kowolski was a professional wrestler from 1950 to 1976, with 19 major titles and 6,600 matches to his credit. He was also an Olympic Torch Bearer and has garnered numerous lifetime awards.

The event is open to post members and guests. For more information, contact theVFW at 218-879-2447.

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