Gerard “Jerry” Barbosa, who survived Japanese war planes attacks while stationed on the USS Raleigh as a gunner’s mate at Pearl Harbor, died on Sept. 15, at age 93, of natural causes.
One of the few Pearl Harbor survivors in the area, Barbosa was 17 years old when he volunteered for the Navy in March 1941. He was later stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In a 2011 Herald interview commemorating the 70th anniversary of the attacks, Barbosa said he had been relaxing when he heard planes overhead.
“There were machine-gun bullets bouncing off the deck,” he recounted. His body shook. He reached for his gun and began shooting at any moving target. “All of a sudden, it looked like the ship was picked up out of water and bounced back down again.”
The Raleigh had been hit by a torpedo plane on its port side, along with a dive bomber. Barbosa watched as seamen patched holes between raids. Eventually, a tugboat attached two large barrels of air that kept the ship afloat. After the Raleigh fired 13,526 rounds of ammunition — according to a report filed by the commanding officer on Dec. 13, 1941 — Barbosa was one of hundreds to live through the attack. Thousands were killed.
Although he participated in several raids in Europe on the LST-157 vessel, D-Day was etched in Barbosa’s memory. Barbosa was aboard one of more than 5,000 ships to land on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“When the tide goes out,” he said, “you’ve got nowhere to go. Your ship is on dry land, and you can’t move it until the tide comes in. By the time the evening comes around, the German fighter pilots are coming over because we’re sit ting ducks.”
More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. Soldiers drowned from the weight of their packs before reaching land. “We lost a lot of good men that day,” Barbosa recalled. “It sticks to you, because they didn’t have a chance.”
He was discharged about a year later, settled down in Queens with his family and moved to East Meadow in 1993. He was a decorated veteran, honored with several medals and awards, including a proclamation from President Obama in 2010. He was a member of East Meadow’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2736 for more than 20 years, and attended as many Pearl Harbor and Memorial Day commemoration ceremonies as he could.
“One thing about Jerry that we all really appreciated is that he was so, so dedicated to all the veterans,” said Steve Gismondi, who served in the Army from January 1951 to December 1952. The two met at VFW Post 2736 20 years ago, and remained close friends until Barbosa’s death.
“It’s true about all the things he’s said about Normandy and Pearl Harbor,” Gismondi continued. “But he always said to me, ‘Steve, it was a horror. Pearl Harbor was bad, but Normandy was a horror.’”
Gismondi said that Barbosa dedicated his life to helping fellow veterans. The pair, along with other VFW members, visited the A. Holly Patterson Extended Care facility in Uniondale every Christmas morning to deliver gifts and donations. They were active in the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and sat down one-on-one with students at Meadowbrook Elementary School in the East Meadow School District.
“There was a beautiful display for Jerry at the school,” Gismondi recalled. “The kids were really interested in what he had to say.”
Gismondi said that Barbosa’s dedication to veterans will be remembered in the VFW and veteran community. “What he did in Pearl Harbor and Normandy was tremendous,” Gismondi said. “And that’s the kind of man he was. He was very committed to the veterans.”
Salvatore DeRise, a member of Post 2736, said he had met Barbosa several times at meetings, and always listened to his stories. “I know Jerry was a wonderful person,” DeRise said. “And a very caring person. He will be missed.”
Barbosa is survived by a daughter, Bonnie Barbosa, and a son, Gerard Barbosa. His twin brother, George, who also served in the Navy, died in March. Barbosa’s wife, Marie, died in May.
There was a viewing on Tuesday at Donohue Cecere Funeral Home in Westbury, and Mass was celebrated at St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church in Westbury on Wednesday. Barbosa was buried later that day at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.