Joseph James Geraci was born on 15 May 1924, to Dominic and Mary Theresa (Gerace) Geraci, in Illinois.
Joseph’s father, Dominic, was about 29 years old when Joseph was born and was working in the local coal mine. He and Joseph’s mother had married almost nine years before on 25 July 1920 in LaSalle. They had only one other known child, John, who was born four years after Joseph on 18 July 1928.
Joseph’s father, Dominic, was born in Caccamo, Sicily. He had left Italy to travel to America in 1911 when he was 16 years old. Eight years after settling in Illinois, in 1919, Dominic declared his intention to become a citizen. At the time he was living in Spring Valley. Joseph’s father was granted citizenship in June of 1926, a little more than two years after Joseph was born.
While Joseph’s mother’s family was from the same town in Sicily as his father and shared a last name so may have been related, their families did not travel together to the United States. Instead, Mary’s family had arrived in the U.S. right before the turn of the century. So she was born in the U.S. However, when she was only two years old, she traveled with her mom and siblings to Italy for a short stay. They returned to America in 1905. Traveling with her mom, siblings, aunt, and cousins, they all arrived in New York in December of that year.
By 1930 when Joseph was five years old, his parents had bought a home at 1225 Eighth street in LaSalle (the home is no longer there). His father, Dominic, had changed jobs and was working for Alpha Cement—a local cement works on the east side of LaSalle. Ten years later in 1940, the Geraci family was still living in the same home on Eighth street, and Dominic was still working as a laborer at the cement works. Joseph was a freshman that year, most likely at LaSalle-Peru Township High School.
But it appears Joseph did not remain in school. With the declaration of war in late 1941, life began to change for many, including the Geraci family. A little over a year after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Joseph Geraci registered for the draft 29 June 1942 in Chicago. At the time he was 18 and 5 foot 8 ½ inches tall, 158 pounds, hazel eyes and black hair. He lived with his mother and worked at Perfection Tool Metal in Chicago.
The next year in 1943, Joseph Geraci enlisted in the US Navy at the end of February on the 27th. He eventually was stationed on Advanced Naval Base 140 Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific although it is not known when he arrived. On 19 October 1943, the USS Denver received Seaman Class 2 Joseph Geraci and several others aboard.
On 13 November 1943, the USS Denver was “steaming in company with Task Force 39… in Special Formation Three, escorting troopships to Empress August Bay, Bourgainville Island, in the Solomons Group.” Early that morning the ship observed a night fighter shoot down an enemy plane. Later more enemy planes showed up and came in for a torpedo attack. The crew of the Denver returned the fire. However, at 4:55 a.m. the ship was “hit by an aerial torpedo, in starboard side, at frame 101.” The main damage was reported to be in the after-engine room. The ship soon started to list to starboard even though pumping of the flooded areas had begun. However, after a short time, the pumping started to pay off and reduced the list enough to allow the ship to begin moving forward. Even so, areas of the ship such as the mess hall remained flooded with about six feet of water and oil.
By 7:25 a.m. the ship was almost completely righted and the flooding in the mess hall reduced to 18 inches. The USS Sioux managed to move alongside to take the USS Denver in tow. Around 8:47 a.m. both ships were again steaming ahead. On November 14th, the ship’s war diary reported 20 men, including Seaman 2C Joseph James Geraci, were killed in action due to the torpedo attack. Fifteen more were wounded. It took two more days for the ship to make it to a safe port on Florida Island in the Solomon Island Group.
Seaman 2C Joseph James Geraci was buried in a temporary grave in the Guadalcanal Cemetery on the Solomon Islands. Years later in January 1949, his remains were returned to the United States, and he was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. As he was killed in action, he would have been eligible for the Purple Heart. After the war, he also would have received the following medals posthumously: American Campaign Medal, WW2 Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 421,000+ of the US WWII fallen saved on Together We Served and Fold3. Can you help write these stories? These stories will be accessible via smartphone app at any war memorial or cemetery.
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- SBTS Historian: Pam Broviak
- 1920 U.S. Census, Dominic Geraci, Ancestry.
- 1930 U.S. Census, Dominic Geraci, Ancestry.
- 1940 U.S. Census, Dominic Geraci, Ancestry.
“New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” SS Prinz Adalbert, New York, arriving 14 Dec. 1905, Mary Geraci, line 24, Ancestry.
- “Stato civile Italiano (registry dei Comuni),” Caccamo, Registro 77, Dominico Geraci, No. 72, p. 25, Archivio di Stato di Palermo.
- “Illinois, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1998”, Dominic Geraci, FamilySearch. (Note: This immigration record shows a birthdate of 24 May 1924, for Joseph Geraci as reported by his father.)
- “Illinois, County Marriages, 1810-1940,” Dominico Geraci to Mary Gerace, 1920, FamilySearch.
- U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, USS Denver, October 1943, Joseph James Geraci, Line 15, Fold3.
- U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949, USS Denver, November 1943, Joseph James Geraci, Line 11, Fold3.
- War Diary, USS Denver (CL 58), Nov. 13–16 1943, pp 559–566.
- “U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947,” Joseph James Geraci, Ancestry.
- “U.S., National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962,” Joseph James Geraci, Ancestry.