Pearl Harbor Veteran Passes Away at Age 100

George Winston
(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Pearl Harbor  vet Joe Walsh passed away at the age of 100 years old on December 21, 2019. Walsh was a veteran of the Marines who was serving at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when it was attacked by the Japanese. The attack would lead to the US entering World War II.

In 1987, Walsh helped found the North County chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in San Diego. He felt that the troops that served during that surprise attack “deserved to be remembered.”

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joe Walsh in Guam in 1945
Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joe Walsh in Guam in 1945

He was the president of the chapter for many years and the last surviving active member when co-founder John Quier passed away in February at the age of 98.

Walsh organized services every year on December 7th to remember those who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. He never missed a single service including the one held exactly two weeks before his death.

His daughter, Joan Culver, said that she felt he was holding on just to make it to that service because it meant so much to him.

During Walsh’s 100th birthday party last March, he said that he still remembered every detail from that day in 1941. He was a Marine in the 3rd Defense Battalion back then.

The Japanese attacked while he was attending a color guard ceremony in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. Along with three other Marines, Walsh manned an anti-aircraft gun and began to try to defend the American battleships from the invading planes.

He said that there was no time to be scared. He just did what he was told to do and tried to stop as many attacking planes as he could.

Shortly after the attack, Walsh was assigned to the Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific. There, he helped build air defenses. He then attended Navy flight school and spent the rest of the war in the Marine Corps’ VMO-8 observation squadron.

After nine years in the Marines, Walsh retired with the rank of gunnery sergeant. He returned to active duty during the Korean War and served as a drill sergeant at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin holds the congressional record recognizing married Marine veterans LaVonne “Bea” Walsh, 95, and  Pearl Harbor vet Joe Walsh, 100, on Joe’s 100th birthday in March.(U.S. Marine Corps)
U.S. Rep. Mike Levin holds the congressional record recognizing married Marine veterans LaVonne “Bea” Walsh, 95, and  Pearl Harbor vet Joe Walsh, 100, on Joe’s 100th birthday in March.(U.S. Marine Corps)

Though Walsh is proud of his service, he was grateful that his sons never had to serve during a war.

When Walsh joined the Marines in 1938, it wasn’t a sense of duty or adventure that called him. Instead, it was the promise of a steady paycheck during the Great Depression.

He made $19 per week and sent $10 of it home to his mother. She had raised Walsh and his siblings by herself after their father left them when Walsh was 5.

Walsh met his wife, LaVonne “Bea” Phaneuf, while attending the wedding of a fellow Marine in 1945. The two were married for 73 years and had six children.

Bea was also a veteran of the Marines. She was one of only 23,000 women who enlisted during World War II. She served in the Aviation Women’s Reserve Squadron 21 at Brown Field in Quantico, Virginia.

Walsh didn’t talk about his wartime experiences until he was invited to speak to schoolchildren in the 1980s. He was stunned to learn that the children had not been taught about Pearl Harbor.

Shortly after, he helped found Chapter 31 and began planning the annual memorial ceremonies.

In 2006, he and Bea and Quier convinced the city to install a monument at Oceanside Harbor’s small-craft fishing pier.

After WWII, Walsh earned his business degree from Seton Hall. Other than his return to active duty in the Korean War, he worked the rest of his career for Prentice Hall Publishing.

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He traveled throughout the Southwest selling legal and tax books to judges, lawyers and CPAs. Walsh retired in 1986 at the age of 67.