A Son of Lancaster Lost at Sea

Homer Clapper was a popular student at Lancaster High School. He played football for the Gales and was known to be outgoing and friendly. His father, also named Homer, was a well-known resident of Lancaster. Clapper Sr. was a veteran of World War I, owned a grocery on Cedar Heights for 33 years, and served on the Lancaster City Council as a member and as president.

Lancaster High School Yearbook photo of Homer Clapper, Jr.

Homer Clapper, Jr.’s 1944 Lancaster High School senior yearbook photo.

This should have been an exciting time for Clapper Jr. as he was ready to graduate high school and become an adult. However, his senior year was in 1944 and his class found themselves in a world at war. During a time of turmoil and uncertainty, the new graduates had important choices to make. Just nine days after graduating, Clapper would make his.

On June 19, 1944, Clapper enlisted in the United States Navy. Following in his father’s footsteps, he wasted no time in signing up to serve his country. He received his training at Great Lakes, Illinois, Washington D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia. He served in an Atlantic fleet for a short time but was ultimately sent to San Diego. In January of 1945, Clapper Jr. was headed to war in the Pacific aboard the USS-LSSL 16.

A few months after his departure, Homer Clapper Sr. and his wife, Nettie, received a letter from their son. In the letter, Clapper Jr. told his parents that he had participated in the Easter Sunday invasion of Okinawa. Code named Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa began on April 1, 1945 and lasted nearly three months. More than 60,000 Americans participated in what would be the deadliest battle in the Pacific. It involved 1,300 U.S. ships and 50 British ones. After almost three months, the Allies captured Okinawa and the final casualty numbers were quite staggering. Over 12,000 U.S. soldiers, 100,000 Japanese soldiers, and around 100,000 Okinawan citizens were killed.

The letter that Clapper Jr. wrote was dated April 9, 1945, just a week after the invasion began. It would be the last time Homer and Nettie would hear from their son.

The biggest danger that American sailors faced in the battle were kamikazes. Kamikazes were Japanese fighter pilots that committed suicide by flying into naval ships. Japan launched the largest kamikaze attack of the war during the Battle of Okinawa with over 350 Japanese fighter pilots attempting to fly into ships. The result of the attack was devastating. In total, the U.S. lost 26 ships and another 168 were severely damaged. Over 40% of U.S. fatalities came from these attacks.

Black and white aerial photo of the USS-LSSL-16.

Homer Clapper Jr. served on the USS-LSSL-16.

Knowing their son was involved in this battle must have caused Homer and Nettie to be in a constant state of anxiety. Their fears would multiply in May of 1945 when they were informed by the U.S. Navy that their son was missing.

It would be almost a year before Homer’s parents were finally given the official report that they didn’t want to hear. Finding no record of Clapper Jr. in any prisoner camp or any reports from personnel stating that he was alive, the U.S. Navy listed him as dead on April 17, 1946. They provided details of the events that unfolded.

On April 16, 1945, just a week after he wrote the letter to his parents, Clapper Jr.’s ship was attacked by three kamikazes. Two of them landed in the water but the third one struck the stern and exploded. This caused huge fires to break out. The fires were eventually extinguished and the ship was saved. However, following the attack, Clapper Jr. and five other sailors could not be found. All six sailors were members of a gun crew that was in the vicinity of where the kamikaze struck. Naval Secretary James Forrestal reported that the men were blown overboard or were forced to jump overboard due to the fires.

Carved Honolulu Memorial, Courts of the Missing, with inscription honoring Homer Clapper, Jr.

Carved Honolulu Memorial, Courts of the Missing, with inscription honoring Homer Clapper, Jr.

Homer Clapper Jr.’s name can be found on memorials in Lancaster and Hawaii.

In Hawaii, his name is etched in stone at the Honolulu Memorial, also known as the Courts of the Missing. There are eight large courts that contain the names of over 28,000 missing American armed forces from the Pacific theater of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Clapper Jr.’s name can be found on court number five.

In Lancaster, his name can be found on the headstone of his parents at Forest Rose Cemetery. Between their names is the etching, “HOMER Jr. – LOST AT SEA – 1945.”

Close-up of headstone with Homer Clapper, Jr. "lost at sea" inscription.

“Lost at Sea” inscription honoring Homer Clapper, Jr., on his parent’s headstone at Forest Rose Cemetery in Lancaster, Ohio.

 

In the 1944 Lancaster High School yearbook, each senior has a statement adjacent to their photo. Homer’s statement reads: “No shrinking violet…enjoys today; tomorrow is a long way off.”

Hopefully, we can all follow his advice and live in the present. Tomorrow is a long way off and is never guaranteed.

If you enjoyed this story, read more from Michael Johnson by becoming a supporting member of the Fairfield County Heritage Association. He authors the Association’s quarterly publication which includes stories like this one.

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Filed under: Histories & Mysteries, Life, Meet Your Neighbors, News, People
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.