Right around 2005, a few months after my parents celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary, my mom and I were off for a shopping day. On our way out the door my father gruffed, “What in Sam Hill do you need to shop for?” My mom replied, “We’re going to the mall. I need a new swim suit.” My father chuckling, “Whatsa matter? You gotta hole in the knee in your old one?”
My father lived in Idaho and on Wednesday mornings he would play cribbage with his buddy up at the clubhouse. For years, I heard hilarious anecdotes about this “old guy” he played cribbage with. One day, after laughing at a story about the "old guy,” I finally asked, “How old is this guy?” To which my 82-year-old father shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know, 65 or 66, I suppose.”
Not a Letter to my Father, but a recounting of his time serving the United States of America during WWII: (*His story as dictated to me and an excerpt from his portion of the book The Ship and her Men of The USS ZELLARS DD777)
I went to boot camp at Farragut in Idaho in 1944. I was in Camp Waldren. (Dad was 17 at the time and had two brothers already serving: Uncle Jimmy was serving on the Carrier USS MUNDA (a Jeep carrier with 512 feet of deck that Kaiser built only 50 of) and Uncle Don was serving on the Heavy Cruiser USS WITCHITA.)
After boot camp finished, I took a train back to Walhalla, ND for a 15-day leave. Then boarded a train to San Francisco—Treasure Island—to report for duty. My good buddy, Jack Renville, and I planned to meet up on a street we had both heard of in San Francisco—Market Street—on a certain date. We were both from Walhalla—a small town of about 1,100 hundred people—and figured we’d find each other easily on the main street in San Francisco. We never found each other! (Dad laughs). I spent three to four months waiting for my assignment. Don’t remember doing much of anything, but I lived on the base and we played basketball, swam, took some classes.
I was finally sent on a troop train (train used for transporting military personnel) to Seattle. Actually, Bremerton. This was in September of 1944. I was assigned to a Destroyer; the USS ZELLARS DD-777 in October as an ammunitions specialist. I was a 1st Class Seaman and Plank Owner. On October 25th, 1944, I was listed on the Muster Roll of the Crew during the Commissioning Ceremony and the USS ZELLARS was declared to “Go with God as she began her service to our country.”
And then the shakedown began. We loaded the USS ZELLARS with supplies, and fuel, and ammunition, and ran her through drills up and back across the Sound. And in early November, we took her on her extensive shakedown cruise to San Diego. We ran the USS ZELLARS through sea trials and pushed her to her limits. Then headed back to Bremerton for repairs and corrections. During November and December we would run practices 4 or 5 days a week. And Fridays were dedicated to cleaning the USS ZELLARS from top to bottom.
I spent Christmas in Seattle that year. Then we made our final preparations to ship out in late January 1945. We headed out of Bremerton, through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and overseas towards Pearl Harbor. On the way to Pearl Harbor we would still practice working with carriers. I was 17 years old and heading to war.
The USS ZELLARS pulled into Pearl Harbor and witnessed the aftermath of the Japanese bombing from December 4th.
During the last part of March, we headed for Okinawa. I remember stopping at beach parties—Eniwetok or ?can’t remember—but they were American stations for food, ammunition. We would play football with the officers on the beach. It was our chance to try to beat them up, but generally they were much bigger than us runts, so it didn’t really work out in our favor. I remember having beer—Olympia—and it was lukewarm, but it was the greatest thing in the world.
I had been 18 years old for six days, and on April 12th the USS ZELLARS was hit by three kamikazes.
Dad at his beach party drinking beer.
*The following is an excerpt from my dad’s journal that he wrote the night after the attack:
A JILL torpedo bomber hit the aft part of mount two gun and the ward room. Flames all over the ship. The 20MM mount gun that was hit was where I was supposed to be standing. I was about 2 feet aft lying on the deck. The Jap plane knocked out sound, radio, radar, mess hall, galley, mount 2, plot, CIC, forward diesel room, gyro compasses, 37 gun directors, 2 20MM guns blown off, scullery, navigation room, Captains cabin, ward room sick bay and laundry.
Our ship’s doctor and a PhM 3c were killed and only portions of their bodies were found. Lt Kinkaid and Ensley PHM 3c were their names. We only had a Chief and 2nd class Pharmacist Mate to care for the wounded. We later had another doctor from another destroyer come on board.
I was on a quad 40MM gun on the starboard side as a #1 loader. When the plane hit, the flames were flying on the side where I generally stood. A large piece of shrapnel hit just behind my battle station. I thought it was part of a forward 20MM gun. Most of my friends and buddies were killed. There were 10 from our deck, 8 killed and 2 wounded severely. They were all in mount 2 handling room. It was about 2 feet forward of where the plane hit. The handling room burst into flames and burned H.A. JERCEK, BIEBER, POTTER KEIFERLE. Also killed were MURPHY, KEANE, MOORE, DANKERT, LISTON, KRAMER, who were all in our division. Immediately after the hit I looked aft and saw a Torpedoman 2c torn in half I immediately ran forward to assist with fires and wounded.
Before the attack, we had been bombarding Okinawa for weeks; Destroyers in close, Cruisers, then Battleships further out firing towards Okinawa over the two. I learned that Don’s ship (his brother)—the USS WITCHITA, a Cruiser—was firing over ours at one point.
After the attack, we went into a harbor in Okinawa called the ‘graveyard’ for about 1-2 weeks. We worked cleaning the ship of debris and trying to repair all the holes. I found a Jap coin. We had heard that at night the Japs would swim to ships and knife guys in their cots. We were assigned duty to watch the water. At night, guys would shoot at any little noise. It became a game to throw stuff in water and watch your mates shoot at it. We were young.
When we were ready to leave, we had to wait for a storm, because we had no sound gear. The storm would provide a cover so we couldn’t be tracked. The USS ZELLARS had gone to a dry dock and took off its sound gear to give to another ship. I remember the day before, Tokyo Rose had announced that that dry dock was going to be bombed on that day. A plane did fly over, but only dropped one bomb. Luckily, it missed the dry dock. That Tokyo Rose knew everything that was going to happen. And she would play music from back home and talk of soldiers and happenings that would make all of us homesick.
On our way home, we stopped for one day in Pearl Harbor to refuel, then to San Pedro (May/June 1945). That weekend 250,000 people came to San Pedro to view the ships. There was another ship there that had also been hit; a hospital ship called The USS COMFORT—it was a bad thing for Japs to hit a hospital ship. They were all marked with crosses and signs. And it was just bad, bad, that they hit it.
There were invites to tons of houses for the soldiers for home cooked meals. The girls would just run up to me in the street and hug me and kiss me. I met one girl and her parents invited me for dinner. We got to talking and it ended up that the girl had met my brother, Jimmy, prior. Small world.
While we were in San Pedro, the sirens sounded throughout the city declaring that the Japs had surrendered. The celebration began and things got crazy. Bars started closing because they feared people were going to get too out of control. I did not agree with this and started pounding on one of the doors in celebration. I was thrown into the tank for “Safekeeping”. (Turns out dad was cited for Intoxication—he was 18—and Possession of 2 ID Cards; 1 altered—of which I assume showed him as 21). I was only kept for about an hour and then released “on good behavior” he laughs.
After the war ended, I stayed on the USS ZELLARS through the Panama Canal and then on a shakedown cruise to Rio De Janeiro with the USS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT for a presidential inauguration. I returned with my ship to Florida and then was discharged in March of 1946 and headed to Minnesota.
Thank you, Dad—WWII Veteran—for your service.
Dad's "Release" papers from the tank the day WWII ended.
The story of the USS ZELLARS and all her men can be purchased here: http://tinyurl.com/zncnt2g
For more information and stories about the USS Zellars, visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=uss%20zellars
I know by this point in our relationship--what is it now, 39 years--that you know I think you are great. Or I hope you know that I think you are great. Have I ever told you that directly to your face? Well, I think you are great. But there is one thing you did that I thought (at the time) was complete crap. All my friends were taught to drive by actually driving. Their parents or mentors threw them the keys, let them get behind the wheel, let them start the vehicle up, let them put it in drive, and let them maneuver the car on streets. But you, no. I did not see the keys for months after you told me you were going to teach me to drive. What I did see was the engine of the car, the placement of the oil can, the dirty film clinging to the air filter, the jack and spare tire, the greasy black on my hands after changing the oil or changing the tire. Like I said, it was crap, dad. All my friends talked about the driver’s ed escapades and the hilarity of almost hitting this mailbox and running that stop sign. Did you know that Mr. Hollenbeck actually made Debbie Hanson get out of the car and apologize to a stop sign one time? But your lesson to me about driving started by learning how to change the oil. What did that have to do with driving? My teenage mind rebelled as you forced the corroded oil pan and rag into my hands and told me you were going to teach me to drive today. I don’t know if you noticed the look I gave mom. I just wanted the keys. I could have sued, you know; using me as cheap labor to get your oil changed. In the driveway, you were already lying on the ground and scooting your way underneath the car and beckoning to me to join you. I didn’t set the oil pan down; I let it fall and tossed the rag also. I met you under the engine of the car where you handed me what I think was a wrench. I had to twist the nut loose and get the pan ready to catch the spillage that came. And it came. Remember, you let “goddammit” slip and mom called from the kitchen window, “Dick,” like she does whenever you do something wrong. As we waited for the oil to stop coming, you pointed out various things to me. I have no idea what you were saying then and I still couldn’t tell you today. Then after the oil ceased dripping, I had to wipe around the area. I still don’t know why, no one ever sees that. You handed me the brand new yellow oil filter and instructed me how to place it in its functional spot. It fit like a glove. We lugged ourselves out from under the car and you were so proud when you announced to me our first driving lesson was over. Walking in the house, I’m sure I made some kind of sarcastic remark to mom about how great our “drive” was and that I really got a good lesson about how to keep a safe distance behind the car in front of me or something. Again, dad, the whole thing was bullshit. Especially, when I learned when I got to college that you can pay $14.95 at Grease Monkey and they do that stuff for you. Plus, they vacuum the inside and Windex your windows for no additional charge. But, now that I’m older (and wiser), I’ve realized that your lesson wasn’t about learning to drive or changing the oil. It was about being independent and having a deeper understanding and appreciation about things that normally we just take as a given. Thanks, dad. I think you’re great! Love, Lisa
Oh, and PS: Teaching me how to wash the car and shovel snow off the car did not equal "driving" lessons either!
The first isolated memory I have of my father was from the night before I started 2nd grade. By isolated, I mean just the two of us. It isn’t a memory that was fed to me over the years in the form of a story that someone else told. It isn’t a memory that is captured in a photograph in one of the hundreds of albums or collages that my mom has put together. And it isn’t a memory that anyone else knows about. Just me and my dad. And I’m sure just me. I don’t think my dad would even remember it if I told him about it. Or if he was to read about it somewhere in one of my diaries. Or if he was even to read it right here in this printed piece of paper that he is holding in his hands. First off, it’s nothing monumental. It’s not a memory of a first bike ride, or a first homerun, or an outburst of anger. In fact, it’s quite simple. I don’t even know why it has always captivated me. Other than the fact, that it was a rare moment that my dad was there. Dad traveled a lot when I was young. He was an important business man in an important building in important downtown Los Angeles. I remember the building, but I don’t remember what he did. I know he had a secretary, and that she always brought me candy, but I think that she did other important things too. I never wanted to touch anything--not even sit in the couch--because I knew everything was important. Yes, he had a couch and living room area in his office. Like I said, he was important. Until he lost the election. I was in the 3rd or 4th grade and I didn’t know what that meant; just that he would no longer be in that big important office. He seemed sad about it at the time, but later he said it was the best thing that ever happened to him; caused him to slow down, reassess life, and make new priorities. But hearing the news that my dad had lost made me sad and I wanted to give him comfort and confidence as he had done for me the night before I started 2nd grade, so I wrote him a letter and left it on his pillow. Dear Daddy, I’m sorry you lost. But I love you and I am very proud of you. Just be yourself and you will be happy. Love, I added my signature in slow cursive, Lisa Mayme. Those were the words my dad spoke to me while he was giving me a bath the night before I started 2nd grade at a new school. “Big second grader tomorrow, eh?” “Yeah.” “Are you scared?” “A little. I don‘t know anyone.” “Don’t worry. Just be yourself and you will be happy. I’m proud of you. It takes courage to start a new school.” And that’s it. That’s all I remember of the memory. Just those few words spoken and my dad giving me my nightly bath. Maybe it was so odd and memorable because my mom normally gave me my bath. Maybe it was because that’s the only time I ever remember my dad giving me a bath. Whatever it was, it’s a poignant memory that remains forever in my heart.