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From Student to Diver
Joe Corbett '42

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Joe Corbett ’42 was in his room at UVM’s 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 Corbett’s recently published book, We Played our Cards: How My Generation Met the Call of World War II.

At the heart of the volume is Corbett’s 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 man’s 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, Corbett’s 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 Burlington’s George Little Press for decades, came to know many UVM alumni, in addition to his own classmates, over his years in the community. By Corbett’s 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 didn’t. “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 there.”

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 O’Connell, 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.