Joseph Francis Knapp Sr., 95, of Missoula, Mont., died peacefully in his home at the Village Senior Residence Tuesday, October 29, 2019.
Joe was born February 2, 1924, in Masontown, to Agnes and Andrew Knapp. When he was two, his brother Andy was born. The following year, when Joe was just three, his father was killed in an industrial accident and his mother had to find work to support her young family. Fortunately, Joe's maternal grandparents lived nearby and played a critical role in his rearing. While living in Nemacolin, another Pennsylvania coal mining town, Joe's mother remarried Charles Stasko. They had five additional children, Olga, John, Harry, Ann and Ed. As the oldest child, Joe assumed many of the chores at home, and spent significant hours with his grandparents working their farm. Joe excelled in school, and after taking several months off to work in the coal mine to help his parents pay their bills, he graduated from Cumberland Township High School in Carmichaels in 1943.
The day that his high school class was graduating, Joe was not in attendance. He was in Pittsburgh, raising his right hand in service to his country as he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After basic training, Joe was assigned to the armored infantry, and 21 days after the D-day invasion he landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy with the 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division. Having grown up among immigrants in the coal mining communities of Pennsylvania, Joe learned to speak a variety of Eastern European languages (including Russian, Polish and Slavic). This served him well during the war, where he acted as an interpreter in many critical situations. Joe was seriously wounded in France and spent several months in a hospital in England before being reunited with his platoon in Germany. At the war's end, he remained in eastern Germany for four months as part of the occupation forces. He returned home and was honorably discharged, having been awarded a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and multiple other combat commendations. He moved to Washington, D.C., to work, but missed the military life. So in July of 1946, Joe re-enlisted, this time in the Navy.
Just prior to his deployment to Europe, Joe's brother, Andy had introduced him to Irene Swidzinsky of Brooklyn, N.Y. Joe and Irene stayed in touch by letter writing during the war, and reconnected upon his return stateside. On their fifth date, in early 1947, Joe proposed to Irene and they were married in the Ukrainian Catholic Church on December 21 of that same year. Joe and Irene had two children, Joe Jr. and Laura.
Joe's Navy career was mostly spent sailing the Pacific, followed by a desk job in Washington, D.C., in support of the Antarctic scientific explorations in the 1950s. His final assignment was at the Litchfield Naval Air Station outside of Phoenix, Ariz. After 21 years of service in the Armed Forces, he settled with his family in Arizona in 1964.
Joe continued his public service with 20 years in the U.S. Postal Service as a letter carrier in Phoenix. Even with all his years at sea, it wasn't until he retired in the desert that he took up fishing. He kept neighbors and friends well stocked. Joe was always there to help neighbors, his church, and his family. He and Irene remained in their Phoenix home until Irene's passing in 2006. After 47 years of life in the desert, Joe moved to be with his daughter, Laura, in Durham, N.C. They eventually moved to Kahului, Maui in 2011, and subsequently to Missoula, Mont., in 2017, where his extended family resides.
After 95 years of a life devoted to his family and his country, he passed quietly and comfortably. Joe was preceded in death by his wife, Irene; brother Andy Knapp; and sister Olga Zappone.
Joe is survived by his two children, Joe (Darlene) and Laura; three granddaughters, Beth (Tim), Sarah (Robert) and Rachel, along with four grandsons, Ben, Donovan, Garrett and Dylan. He is also survived by four siblings, John Stasko, Harry Stasko, Ann Richardson and Ed (Marie) Stasko.
We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the kindness and generosity extended to Joe by Partner's Hospice of Missoula, and the staff and residents of the Village Senior Residence.
A private family ceremony will take place at a later date.