oseph F. Pauro, serving in the U.S. Navy, was on the S.S. Henry Knox when a Japanese submarine torpedoed the ship on March 4, 1943. He was just 17 years old. 

The torpedo hit the ammo hold, "blowing the front of the ship right off," he said.

He climbed overboard and proceeded to lift wounded sailors in the water onto tires for floatation. Once on a tire, he held on to another sailor in the water, but was separated due to the large swells in the sea.

"I ended up in the water alone and I thought, 'oh what's going to happen to me now?'" he said.

The next day, he found two other sailors floating nearby and soon after found an empty lifeboat floating in the water.

The three sailors floated in the open ocean for nine days.

He was one of 35 that survived the attack.

Pauro was recognized and honored Wednesday night by an array of commissioners for his service and heroism after his ship was torpedoed in the South Pacific.

Community residents filled the hall at the town meeting, held at the New Covenant Community Church, as well as public officials such as Camden County Freeholder Lou Cappelli, U.S. Representative Donald Norcross, Assemblyman Arthur Barclay and Audubon Mayor John Ward.

"You're a true hero and an example of how all Americans should act throughout the course of their life," Freeholder Capello said to Pauro from the podium. "You set a great example."

To honor Pauro, Capello awarded him a proclamation declaring July 20 "Joseph F. Pauro Day."

After receiving a standing ovation, 90-year-old Pauro came to the podium to tell his story.

After nine days floating at sea, he ended up in the Maldives and was soon after hospitalized and treated for malaria and dysentery.

When he got home, he returned to the Navy just 24 days later.

On another mission thereafter, he was torpedoed again. This time by a Japanese airplane while serving in the Philippine Islands.

"In two years I was sunk twice, and I figured 'I'm not getting sunk again," he said.

For his selflessness and heroism, U.S. Representative Norcross awarded Pauro a congressional record that stated his story and honored his service for "community engagement, astonishing self-sacrifice and exemplary services as a Navy veteran."

Norcross added that it is important for people to hear Pauro's story and recognize the heroism of his acts.

"He is our hometown hero," Norcross said.

Pauro was also awarded the Camden County Veterans Special Recognition Award.

"To listen to the story, you can't imagine what they went through," Pauro's son, Ken Pauro said, "He talks about being on the ships all the time. I'm proud of him."

The veteran said he was nervous leading up to his speech, but appreciated the recognition and awards he was given at the meeting.

"It means a lot to me," Pauro said. "It was so nice."

[original article]