Joseph “Pep” Valverde had three World War II mementoes that he treasured: an 8x10 black and white portrait of him as a young US Navy man, a log book yellowed with age that contained the hours he spent flying in the war airships or blimps, and a tear sheet from a newspaper with a black-and-white picture of an airship that crashed in a rugged terrain near the California coast.
He was proud to show those mementoes and talk about how it was like flying up and down the Pacific Coast from California to as far as Oregon aboard the airships during an interview with a Manteca Bulletin reporter several years ago. But when he recalled the time his airship came crashing to the ground in the pea-soup thick fog in the cold weather and enveloped in the eerie silence, his voice cracked as he realized how fortunate he was to come out of it alive.
He logged more than 2,500 hours flying in those airships that were used to patrol the Pacific Coast during World War II. His log book showed the hours he spent aboard the blimps. Some of the flights originated from Moffett Field in Sunnyvale.
Like many Americans when the war broke out, he was barely out of high school when he went to serve in the war effort.
On Monday, June 6, the proud Navy veteran of the Second World War died. He was 91 years old.
Valverde, who was simply Pep to family and close friends, had a quiet and serious demeanor but he was quite a sociable person. He was a familiar face at many community events especially those that are offered at his parish, St. Anthony of Padua in Manteca. These include the annual omelet breakfast fund-raiser in December to benefit the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Invariably, Valverde was among his many close friends that included his brother Paul, Manteca farmer Arnold Rothlin, Herman Olsen, and the late Frank Macedo and Wally Fagundes. One of their weekly rituals was meeting for an early breakfast at Chubby’s on North Main Street where they would shoot the breeze and share a few jokes and laughs while enjoying their meal.
There are still many people in town who recall that the houses around Washington Street on both sides of East Yosemite Avenue were built by Valverde and his brothers. After his service in the military, he became a carpenter and, along with his brothers, established the Valverde Brothers Construction Company which was in business for more than 45 years.
A graduate of Manteca High School Class of 1940, the young Valverde enjoyed playing sports especially fast-pitch softball and baseball. He actually played for various traveling teams in Manteca. But he was as much an avid sports spectator fan rooting for his favorite teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants. At the same time, he and his brothers and their friends did not forget to root for their Buffalo sports teams at every opportunity. It was during one such sports event when their friend, Wally Fagundes, collapsed and died a few years ago.
Three of Valverde’s brothers survive: Paul and Manuel Valverde of Manteca, and Sal Valverde of Arizona. He was preceded in death by their brother Angelo Valverde. Also preceding him in death was his son Joseph Valverde.
Survivors include his son Dennis who lives in Collegeville with wife Kim; and son Guy who lives in Arnold with wife Casey; as well as four grandchildren. His obituary also notes that he was preceded in death by his girlfriend of 30 years, Marge McNieese.
Visitation for Joseph “Pep” Valverde will be held Thursday, June 9, from 1 to 5 p.m. at P.L. Fry & Son Funeral Home at 290 N. Union Road in Manteca. A prayer service will be held on Friday, June 10, at 11 a.m., also at P.L. Fry & Son. He will be laid to rest at St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Escalon.