From Student to Diver
Joe Corbett '42
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Joe Corbett 42
was in his room at UVMs Kappa Sigma fraternity doing some catch-up
studying and getting ready to listen to the radio broadcast of
the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins football game. The mundane
became the memorable when the breaking news reports on Pearl Harbor
came over the air. Putting the memory to paper years later, Corbett
writes: This infamous and cowardly attack suddenly changed our
lives and we all realized that our next duties outside of college would
be involved in the defense of our liberty. It was with this in mind
that we went on that year at UVM.
The war would indeed change the lives of Corbett and his contemporaries
in ways immediately apparent and some they could never have imagined.
Those events form the basis for Corbetts recently published book,
We Played our Cards: How My Generation Met the Call of World War
At the heart of the volume is Corbetts own story, typically recalled
humbly and often with humor. He notes that he cleared the 125-pound
weight minimum for enlistment by gorging on massive quantities of water
and bananas for two days straight. Assigned for training as a navy salvage
diver, Corbett questioned his young mans visions of military glory
as he encountered the reality of his work. He writes, As I sat
on the bottom of the Hudson River silt, with no visibility, in cold
water and a reasonable amount of apprehension. I wondered, What
the hell am I doing down here?
Corbett survived the rigorous training and played his particular hand
of World War II service well, performing underwater salvage in both
the Mediterranean and in the Pacific on Okinawa.
What sets We Played Our Cards apart from many WWII memoirs is the way
Corbett tells the stories of others as well as his own. Drawing on a
lifetime of friendships, many phone calls and letters, Corbetts
collection offers a view of one sweeping world event through the eyes
of many everyday people.
Corbett, who was business partners with George Little 43 at Burlingtons
George Little Press for decades, came to know many UVM alumni, in addition
to his own classmates, over his years in the community. By Corbetts
count there are 42 Green and Gold alums in the book.
The project gave me a feeling of history, being able to put together
things that happened in my life, Corbett says. Friends read
it and say, Jeez, did you keep a diary? He didnt.
The balance of it is digging into memory, one thing leads to another,
then you remember jerky little things like that Johnny Ewald was the
fastest kid in the neighborhood, then you look him up, and it goes from
To order copies or contact Joe Corbett,
call 802-862-1260, or write Overlake
Publishing Co., P.O. Box 4607,
Burlington, VT 05406-4607
UVM alumni veterans of World War II included
in We Played Our Cards:
Clarence Akley, Roy Alberghini, Everett Bailey, William Benoit, Robert
Carlson, Donald Carpenter, Torrey Carpenter, Thomas Clairmont, William
Conrad, James Francis Corbett, Paul Corley, Harold Crossley, Gino Dente,
Henry Farmer, Richard Healey, Robert Hennessey, Lawrence Killick, Ralph
LaPointe, George Little, Frederick Logan, Rev. John Mahoney, Donald
Maley, Joseph Margolis, Hal Mayforth, Jr., Edwin OConnell, H.
Gordon Page, Harold Rice, William Roeder, Gilman Rood, Benjamin Schweyer,
Albert Shaw, John Spasyk, Norman Strassburg, Sigmund Sysko, James Tennien,
Webster Thompson, Howard Vreeland, Russell West, John White, Robert
White, Hazen Wood.