Raritan's Joe Lomastro was killed in World War II while serving on the USS Essex
In front of the Raritan Municipal Building there is a plaque that honors all the men who died fighting for our country. This author has tried to tell the stories of these brave men so that they can be remembered for who they were, where they lived, and what battles they fought in - as opposed to just being some name on a plaque.

Fortunately with Joe Lomastro quite a bit of information can be found on him. Also, the ship he served on, The USS Essex, had an extensive “well documented” battle record.
Joe Lomastro lived at 47 First Street. A house that is ironically within sight of the plaque that bears his name. He was born in Raritan in 1917.

His father, Joe Sr., and his mother Anna Micaroni had been born in Italy and came to the U.S. . They would have three boys. Joe was the middle child - the others were Paul and Dominic.

Growing up Joe and his brothers spent much of their time outside playing the childhood games of the era. Their summertime fun was swimming in the Raritan River.
Joe Lomastro's childhood home today - 47 First Street
The Lomastro family, as families did back then, listened to the radio together. Their favorite regular show was The Shadow, but they always gathered to hear President FDR’s fireside chats.

Much of their extended family, which had also come over from Italy, lived around town. His maternal grandparents lived just a block away. There were many family get togethers with Easter and Thanksgiving being the most festive.
Joe, on the right, with his
brother Paul who served in Coast Guard
Joe would attend the local Raritan Schools through the eighth grade. After that he, like many teenagers of the era, chose not to attend high school for it was time to go to work. He, along with his brothers, all had full time jobs and contributed their paychecks to the family pot. As result, the Lomastro family came through the depression much better off than most. In fact, each boy was able to afford to buy a car.

As a teenager Joe Lomastro was a big ladies man. He never lacked for a date. After playing the field for many years he met a keeper, Alice Sowa, at a Valentine’s Day dance. They married in 1938.

Joe worked at “Art Color” in Dunellen for a few years, but when the country entered World War II he joined the Navy in October of 1942. He said goodbye to his pregnant wife who would then move in with his parent’s on First Street in Raritan.
Back in the 1940s thousands worked at Art Color.
They closed in the mid 1960s but
a tower on location remained for decades.
In the Navy Joe was assigned to a new aircraft carrier the USS Essex. In May of 1943 they sailed out of Norfolk, Virginia, toward the Pacific. To get there they would pass through the Panama Canal. The USS Essex would be the first aircraft carrier to do so. As they moved slowly through the canal poor children begged for coins to be tossed to them – which the sailors did. Some coins missed the land and went into the canal. The sailors were astonished when they saw many young kids jumping in the narrow water passage between the large ship and the canal wall risking their life for a few coins.

After they were through the canal (it took one day), they docked off of Panama. Many sailors were then given shore leave. Upon leaving the ship they were quickly solicited by the local women for prostitution. While many sailors took the offer, many other sailors felt “pity” rather than “passion” for the desperate girls who were trying to feed their families. Joe Lomastro and the crew of the USS Essex had not yet reached the war zone, but were getting plenty of life experience.
Aboard the ship Joe Lomastro’s duties during non-combat times was at first that of an airplane mechanic, but soon he was assigned the job of “military police officer”. One duty he had was to escort the Japanese Prisoners of War when they were brought abroad the ship or moved to the interrogation room. There is a surviving photo of Joe with a Japanese prisoner.

Another duty was keeping order on shore duty as sailors after surviving life threatening battles often over did their drinking on shore. Joe tried to break up fights and wanted to simply get the drunks back on the ship as opposed to getting them in trouble. Joe’s duty during combat was that of an ammunition loader.
Joe, on the right, with a Japanese Prisoner
Once out in the Pacific the USS Essex would launch their airplanes in support of attacks and invasions at many battles. They launched over a hundred bombing runs for the first invasion of a Japanese occupied island when they fought at Tarawa.

The USS Essex would participate in many other battles including Tinian, Truk, Kwajalein, and the Marshall Islands. Often the enemy’s land based guns or planes would fire at the USS Essex, but in those battles they avoided taking a direct hit. There was one close call when a bomb detonated 75 feet away putting several “repairable” holes in the ship.
The USS Essex during the Tarawa Invasion
Between battles in March of 1944 the USS Essex returned to the U.S. for repairs.

Joe was able to get back to Raritan to see his son Ronald (then 5 months old) who had been born while he was away.

This would be the first and only time he would see him. After a week home he returned to the ship.
In late 1944 the U.S. fleet moved closer to Japan to finish off the enemy. With this the fighting became even more dangerous. On November 25th 1944, the USS Essex was 90 miles off the coast of the Philippines. They were sending their planes to bomb a Japanese occupied airport. With the flight deck of the aircraft carrier dangerously packed with airplanes with full gas tanks and loaded with bombs a Japanese Kamikaze plane managed to get through the anti-aircraft fire and crash into the ship. This resulted in many explosions and started a murderous fire that spread across the deck.

Sixteen sailors were killed - one was Joe Lomastro. The surviving crew managed to put out the fire and was back in action 30 minutes later. Joe’s body was never found as it had been knocked overboard in the explosions and resulting chaos.
The USS Essex on fire after it was hit Click to see the newspaper articles about Joe Lomastro
The War Department sent a telegram to his wife Alice. Since his body was not found the telegram said “Missing in Action”. While that was technically correct it was quite cruel as it gave hope where there really was none. A year later the war department sent the official “declared dead” telegram to the family.

Very few, if any deaths in World War II have been as well documented as Joe Lomastro’s. A clear photo was taken of the kamikaze plane just a few seconds before it hit the ship. And the name of the Japanese pilot is known - it was Yoshinori Yamaguchi.
The plane that killed Joe - seconds before impact
A book, available at the Raritan Library, entitled
“Life and Death aboard the USS Essex” by Richard Streb
tells Joe Lomastro’s and the ship’s story in further detail.