Joseph Yerka Jr.
PFC in 406th Engineer Combat Co
Military occupational specialty: 590 (duty soldier III)
Born 1923 in NJ, Died 1952
County of residence at enlistment: Camden County, NJ
Other residence(s): Franklinville, NJ; Gloucester City, NJ
United States Army, European Theatre of Operations
Joseph Yerka was born on July 27, 1923 in Franklinville, NJ; the oldest of six children. His father had been born in Germany and worked in a paper mill.
In 1930 the family was living with Joseph's maternal grandparents in Franklin. By 1935 they were living independently in Gloucester City, NJ and, according to the 1940 census, young Joseph, who had a sixth-grade education, was a "new worker."
He registered for the draft on June 30, 1942, giving his employer as H&D in Gloucester City.
Joseph was one of 15 young men from Gloucester City who enlisted in the Army between March 15-22, 1943; all but three of them were 18 or 19 years old. On March 25, they found themselves on a train headed to Camp Gordon, Georgia. There they would join the newly activated 293rd Engineer Combat Battalion, and be assigned to Company A. That spring and summer they trained in Georgia and Tennessee, and that fall boarded a train for Camp Pilot Knob, aka the Desert Training Center, five miles from Yuma, Arizona (just inside the California border). In mid-January 1944, the commander of the 293rd received an order to detach his best company for a secret mission. He selected Company A, and by January 30, 1944 the men were back in Tennessee. On April 7, 1944, Company A of the 293rd was officially reassigned and renamed as the 406th Engineer Combat Company, and the unit boarded a ship to England in early May.
That July, as the men of the 406th headed across England on their way to the war, the train stopped in the city of Gloucester. Here the local NAAFI (the organization that runs recreation, canteens, and PXs for British servicemen) served them tea, which was quaffed amid cheers from the soldiers from Gloucester City, New Jersey.
After their service in the Ghost Army all 15 men returned to the states. They were feted on July 14, 1945 by the Third Ward Regular Democratic Club while back in Gloucester City on 30-day furloughs.
Joseph returned to Gloucester City after he was discharged (with the rank of PFC), and married Elizabeth McCormick in 1947. They would go on to have three sons in three years: Joseph III, Charles, and Robert.
In 1950, Joseph, his pregnant wife, and two children were living with his parents, his five younger siblings, and his grandmother in his childhood home. Joseph was unemployed but looking for work.
Nothing else is known of his life or work. Sadly, he was killed in an automobile accident on February 10, 1952 when the car in which he was riding as a passenger hit a telephone pole in Haddon Heights, NJ. He is buried at Eglington Cemetery in Clarksboro, NJ.
1942 draft card
1943 article in the Morning Post (Camden, NJ) about him and 14 other Gloucester veterans of the 406th Engineers—all of them (plus others from the area) were being sent to Fort Dix for training
1945 article in the Morning Post (Camden, NJ) about him and 15 other Gloucester veterans of the 406th Engineers
1947 marriage record
1952 article about his death in Courier-Post (Camden, NJ)
1952 Find a Grave record
406th Unit History Compiled