World War II Honor Roll

William Joseph Vespe

Private, United States Marine Corps


5th Marine Division

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died:  February 19, 1945
Buried at: Plot C1947
                  Beverly National Cemetery
                  Beverly NJ
Awards: Purple Heart
High School Photos Marine Photo

PRIVATE WILLIAM JOSEPH VESPE was born on April 4, 1926. A 1944 graduate of Camden High School, he entered the service three days after graduation. He was the co-captain of the varsity baseball team, playing second base and leading the team in batting average. He was also the class treasurer. Known to his friends as Bill, he was designated "most dependable" and best natured boy" in his high school yearbook. In the Marines, he held an expert sharpshooter's medal.

Bill Vespe entered the Marines from Camden with two other men, Anthony Martin Sr. and John Moullette, the son of Clarence E. Moullette. They went through boot camp together at Parris Island as members of Platoon 396, 8th Battalion. After boot Camp Bill Vespe went to Camp Lejeune NC and John Moullette went to Quantico VA. 

Private William Joseph Vespe was killed in action on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. He was survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dominic Vespe, of 1485 Bradley Avenue, Camden NJ, and one brother Frank Vespe. 

Camden Courier-Post - May 19, 2005

Kevin Callahan: Many went to battle in World War II

"They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America - men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor and achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today." - Tom Brokaw, `The Greatest Generation'.

PENNSAUKEN - A few years back, Tom Brokaw wrote a best-selling book called The Greatest Generation. The Camden High School Class of 1944 was part of that era.

Some of them - about 40 strong - attended a reunion luncheon Wednesday.

Many talked fondly at the Pennsauken Country Club about how strong the Purple and Gold was in football, basketball and baseball their senior years.

Yet, it wasn't for their storied athletic accomplishments that the Camden Class of '44 was part of The Greatest Generation. Rather, it was because many of the graduates served in the armed forces and received medals.

In fact, William Vespe, who played second base on the fabled '44 baseball team, was killed in Iwo Jima only months after his last at-bat for Camden.

Others served, too. Guys like Ralph Herman, Joseph Barbato and Frank Graham. All great athletes from the Class of '44. All great guys who served the country in World War II. 

Herman was in the army, Barbato in the Navy and Graham in the Air Force. Three teenagers from Camden who fought in three branches of the armed forces for one cause. That's greatness.

"It makes you proud," Herman said, "that in a small way, I did serve."

Only someone from The Greatest Generation would call receiving a Purple Heart and Bronze Star like Herman did a "small way."

Here is the thing about The Greatest Generation: The people are still here.

They also need to be heard.

Herman should be telling the story to teenagers of how he went for a MRI a few years back because his knee was bothering him. And the technician said there was a piece of metal in his knee. Herman replied, "oh, I got that in the war," flashing back to the shrapnel he took at the Remagen Bridge that put him in the hospital for a month.

The Remagen was the only bridge crossing the Rhine River that the United States captured and it was how the Allied troops crossed into the heart of Germany.

Barbato should be telling the story of how he and Vespe used to eat lunch together every day at Camden and talk about "why not join the Marines together."

Herman should be telling high school kids how he took the Queen Mary to England from boot camp and, a month later, were in combat.

Barbato should let the 18-year-olds know how much the pain still hurts of losing his friend Vespe and how he "prays for him every day."

These guys would tell their priceless stories, too. For free. Not even for lunch.

They said they would love to go to a high school class and give a history lesson.

"I could tell some interesting stories," said Herman, a three-sport star.

"That would be nice, said Barbato, the quarterback on the football team and third baseman.

All they need is to be asked.

They would appreciate that. They would like the 18-year-olds to know that 61 years ago, they were young and strong, too, like them.

"It seems like they don't realize it when they see old men who look like they couldn't do a thing," Herman said. "I don't mean me, but some of these guys could fly bombers and charged across battlefields."

If they aren't asked to talk at area high schools, then at the very least, they should be thanked.

"Sometimes on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, some of my neighbors will come up and thank me," said Herman, who lives in Harvey Cedars, while wiping away tears. "It makes me feel good."

Herman still looks good, appearing much younger than his 79 years. Just four years ago, he attended Phillies Dream Week.

"I was the oldest guy there," he said, "I pitched, I batted, I did everything."

So did so many classmates of '44. As Brokaw wrote, they did everything to give us the world we have today.

"I wouldn't give that up for anything, it was a great era," Barbato said. "Good parents, brothers and sisters, food in the house, it was a good era."

An era that still needs to be heard. And thanked. 

Bill and the eight others from Platoon 396, 8th Battalion knew more about dying than they knew about living.

John B. Moullette
May 2007

Thanks to John B. Moullette for his help in creating this page.