Genesis

Note: This is a pinned blog entry… please scroll down for more recent posts.

On Sunday, the 3rd of November in 2002, deep-water diver Bob Foster discovered the wreckage of the USS YF-415, a Navy lighter that had sunk on the afternoon of Thursday, 11 May 1944. The YF-415 had been in the process of dumping condemned ammunition, pyrotechnics, and ordnance into deep water just outside Boston Harbor when something went very wrong.

YF-415
The YF-415

In not-too-distant waters, headed for the Atlantic on a secret mission to report on weather conditions prior to D-Day, my father’s ship, the USS Zircon (PY-16), caught sight of the YF-415 in trouble. The Zircon‘s mission was to be delayed.

Details regarding what happened aboard the Zircon in the ensuing minutes will probably remain unknown as the principals are no longer around to tell them, and there appear to be a few holes in the witnesses’ testimonies before the court of inquiry. What isn’t in question, however, is that my father and one other sailor, Paul Magera, lowered a motorboat into the cold, foggy Atlantic and went searching for survivors from the YF-415. On their first trip, they returned with eleven men, one of whom was severely burned and would die the next day.

19440513Boston_Globe_01Page01
Front Page, Boston Globe, 13 May 1944

Signalman Henry J. O’Toole joined my father and Magera for the next trip out and returned with three more men. A third trip yielded no additional survivors. Subsequently, my father was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for valour.

Copy of my dad’s citation

These are the basic facts of an incident about which my three brothers and I barely knew a thing growing up. Dad didn’t talk much about his service, and we—no doubt more interested in baseball or hockey or music or girls—didn’t inquire. Or… any inquiries were met with curt, vague answers that likely satisfied us at the time. I recall my mother telling me that Dad had helped to pull men from the ocean during the war, but little beyond that. I recall, too, that my adolescent mind embellished the incident with the menace of sharks.

But that’s where it ended. I never saw his medal, only a bar of ribbons left nonchalantly, unceremoniously in a desk drawer. The only remnants of his naval service that I recall seeing as a kid were the bar of ribbons, a couple of beige “Navy blankets” (as they were referred to around the house), and his storage chest that was tucked into the shadows of my parent’s bedroom closet. It wasn’t until he died in 1992 that my brothers and I saw the above letter of citation he’d received from the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet when my mom showed it to the priest prior to his funeral.

Some years later, once the internet became the internet, and possibly after the YF-415‘s wreckage had been discovered, I received an email from my brother Mike with information about the ship and its demise. I can’t recall now if it was the Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions’ website or some other shipwreck site, but I didn’t pay it much mind beyond the satisfaction of having learned a few more details about that day.

And then, in 2014, on the 70th anniversary of the incident, I did a web search to see if any newspapers had published stories about the disaster. I believe I typed in “USS Zircon” + “YF-415” + “John Power.” What came up was a newsletter from NADE with an update on the incident, thanks to first-hand reports by Zircon sailors Isidore “Teddy” Bertone and Anthony Susinno, who had remained close friends after the war. In his telling of what happened that day, Teddy mentioned my father, “Johnny Powers.”

I cannot adequately describe the surreal aspect of someone I’ve never heard of in my life talking about my father.

I contacted Heather Knowles at NADE to let her know that my dad was the Johnny Powers in the newsletter, misspelled name notwithstanding (there’s no S on the end of our name). She sent me a photo that hadn’t made the cut for the newsletter—one I’d never seen before. It was a group photo of the Zircon‘s radiomen and aerographers, and there in the back row, looking like he was about to kick someone’s ass, was my dad.

Aerographers and Radiomen… my dad is in the back row, far right

Three years later, I finally got in touch with Teddy Bertone. But I had let one too many years pass, and I deeply regretted hearing the news that Anthony Susinno died only a month or two earlier. In the fall of last year, I met Teddy and his family, and it was at that time that it occurred to me that there might be more sailors alive who were on the ship that day.  To this day, I have spoken with two: Clarence Livingstone, who didn’t recall the incident, and Richard Garrison, who reiterated the gruesome details of that day. I’ve also spoken with three other Zircon sailors whose assignments to the Zircon came later. (Clarence, who died in May of 2018, admitted that he wasn’t right after his experiences at Okinawa, where he lost several of his friends. I sent him photos from the Zircon hoping to jog his memory, but nothing clicked. His godson told me recently that he just didn’t want to talk about it.)

Isidore "Teddy" Bertone
Isidore “Teddy” Bertone, 16 October 2017, Staten Island, New York

As best as I can recall, Dad never spoke with any Zircon sailors after the war ended, at least not after he and my mother moved from Staten Island (where Mom had grown up and where Dad met her) to Toledo, Ohio, where dad had grown up. I had never heard the name of John Gigarjian in our household even though he was my dad’s best man. I had seen his photograph, of course, amongst my parents’ wedding photos but never new his name. Neither do I recall hearing the name Carl Lester Miller, although my dad appears to have been his best man.

This “project” remains a work in progress. What began as research into the events of 11 May 1944 has become something bigger. I’m not a military fetishist, nor am I a big believer in the “Greatest Generation” myth. While indeed I’m interested in knowing what happened with regard to the YF-415 incident, my attention has mostly turned towards the men who served aboard the Zircon, and to honouring them for more than just their service.  It is the human element that has caught my fancy. Who were these four hundred or so men who came together during a five-year period?

With this blog, I hope to tell some of their stories, as well as more about a yacht named Nakhoda purchased from a millionaire and converted for war duty.

Common Names

So far, one the biggest obstacles to locating the families of Zircon sailors has been the inability to track down those who had common names. Doing most of my research from home, I often have very little information to go by in my searches at Ancestry. The muster rolls, from which I get names, service numbers, ratings, and (most times) date and place of enlistment, occasionally provide a sailor’s home address. I’ve found this to be the case when a sailor is on leave, and likely was included as a matter of having it at hand should he be called back to the ship suddenly.

So, unless (and until) I am able to find more about what became of these sailors after the war, I can only hope someone from their respective families does a web search and finds me, and that the photos encourage them to contact me.

The next several photos include Francis James Lynch and Edward Simon, two such sailors for whom I can find virtually no viable information because there were numerous people with the same name that served during World War II.

ChipDrantPhotos_02EditSM
Francis James Lynch, Coxswain
ChipDrantPhotos_01EditSM
Probably also Francis James Lynch

The names were written in the photo album I received from Arthur Fleming Drant’s son, so I feel fairly certain the the names are accurate, but there’s no guarantee. The name next to the second photo (above) reads “Madera.” There was no Madera on board, but there was a Paul Magera. Mager’s son said it’s not him, and based on other photos I’ve seen of Magera, it doesn’t really look like him, despite that the tightly drawn hood obscures much of his face.

Edward Simon, Construction Mechanic, Second Class

Edward Simon is identified in the above photo, and I have another photo of him (below) with Michael Joseph Silvasie and William Bibbins Post. The face above is a bit hidden by the navigation device, so I’m not 100% sure it’s the same fellow as below. The nose looks about the same.

Michael Joseph Silvasie, William Bibbins Post, Edward Simon

I’ve sent postcards and emails to Post’s children (one of the postcards was returned as not deliverable), a postcard to someone who might be related to Silvasie, and based on connecting a few vague dots, I think I might have found a relative or two of Lynch’s.

Based on muster rolls, Lynch enlisted on 6 November 1939, a date which happens to coincide with the enlistment date on a National Guard Service Card I found belonging to a Francis James Lynch, who was born 5 August 1922 and lived at 2185 Amsterdam in New York.

The 1930 census confirms Lynches at that address, and that Lynch had a sister Irene. I also found a Virginia marriage certificate for Francis James Lynch and June Darling Young Collins, which has the same birth date for Lynch. So, I think I’m on the path. I’ve sent a note to Lynch’s sister’s daughter, so my fingers are crossed.

Stalking

” I don’t know why you continue to try and contact me. This is your 3rd attempt to try and get me to contact you. I have no idea who you are and I do not want to contact you. I have absolutely NO INTEREST in replying to you about anything or any body. I feel like I am being stalked. If this continues I will report you to any and all agencies that I feel would protect me. Please take this as your only response from me that you will ever get….from here, if you attempt any more contact with me, I will take immediate action!!!!!!!!!!!

The above is an email I received after sending a postcard to the daughter of a Zircon sailor.

In this day and age of Facebook and LinkedIn and twitter and Instagram, it’s almost impossible to keep oneself from being found online if you’re willing to put yourself out there. I guess that even if you don’t really put yourself out there but use the internet at all, there are data sites which collect your information and sell it. Throughout the course of my research, I have subscribed to one such data site.

The problem with these data sites, however, is that the information they provide might be outdated or just inaccurate. In my attempts to contact people I think are related to Zircon sailors, I generally look for an email address first. If the email bounces, I send a postcard. If that is returned to me as undeliverable, I look for someone else to contact. For the most part, I’m a little hesitant to call people out of the blue. I don’t know why, really. Sometimes, I think that the postcard somewhat validates my efforts a little more than a strange voice over the phone. It gives people an opportunity to find me online (I’m all over the place) and verify to a point that I’m not attempting to scam them.

When I receive photographs from other families of Zircon sailors, I get excited. My excitement is not only about something new coming to the proverbial surface, but I get excited about sharing a photograph with someone that he/she might otherwise never have seen. It also gives me what I hope to be a hook by which I can get someone to contact me.

Such was the case when I received a cache of photographs from the son of Arthur Fleming Drant. What was great about the photographs was that they were from the Zircon’s first year as a Navy vessel, and most appear to have taken in the North Atlantic near Argentia, Newfoundland, one of the Zircon’s regular ports of call. Also great about the photographs: Drant had identified almost all the men in the photos. These are men whose names I’ve pored over on my spreadsheet time after time after time; names I’ve searched via Ancestry, Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive.com, Google, and other sources trying to locate someone related to them.

And so it was that I received two photographs of Joseph Cornelius Benson, Jr.

He looks like he was a character. At the time these photos were taken, he was 22. He looks about 19.

Because Benson is near the top of my alphabetically sorted spread sheet (AND he was one of the ship’s first crew members), I had attempted to locate someone from his family in July of 2018, a year ago. I received the Drant photos in January of 2019, so I was inspired to once again look for his children.

I found that Benson was married in 1946 and was divorced in 1965. He and his wife had six children… three girls and three boys. His oldest daughter was born at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in 1951. I found, too, that one of his sons died in

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I never know what to expect when I contact someone from out of the blue. Some are thrilled that I’ve found them and want to talk about their fathers. Others are indifferent. A few—most notably the one I’ve quoted at the beginning of this post—have been rather forcefully antagonistic. It’s my guess that she hated her father. But then, I’ve recently discovered that I shouldn’t make assumptions. It could very well be that she’s just freaked out.

In her case, I had emailed her, sent a Facebook message, and sent a postcard. Upon receiving the above photographs, I decided to post them on her Facebook page (her permissions had been set to Public), figuring that she’d probably never see the Facebook message, and not knowing if she had actually received the email or postcard. I followed up with another postcard, which is when I received the above response.

This is what my scurrilous postcard message looked like (I’ve blurred the name and address to protect her privacy)…

Stalking

By the way, she created an email address specifically for the purpose of responding to me. Which is kind of weird since it’s all too likely that I had her email address already. The thing is, I never know if people receive my emails OR my postcards unless they respond.

My response to the email, although I suspect that she never again logged into the account:

Dear Mrs. ______________,

While it’s clear that you created this email account specifically for me, and while you might never open the account ever again, I’ll respond nonetheless.

I don’t understand why you might be inclined to jump to the conclusion that you’re being stalked when all I’ve done is ask you to contact me about your father. If you had no interest in my query about him, you could have let me know after my first attempt to contact you. Which, by the way, I have no idea whether or not you’ve received any emails or cards. People change email addresses, move… so, I really have no way of knowing if my messages get through. Regardless, a simple “I’m not interested in your research, please don’t contact me again.” would have sufficed after the first email or postcard or however I contacted you.

For your information, I have Navy muster rolls, from which I got your father’s name (see attached). The information I gleaned from the muster rolls are: he was a Signalman, Third Class at the time the first muster (on 25 March 1941) was taken on the USS Zircon; his Service Number was 2233834; he enlisted 1 June 1937, at the Navy Receiving* Station in Brooklyn, New York.

I also discovered (in other available muster rolls) that he left the ship as a Signalman, Second Class on 13 April 1942; he also served on the Omaha (CL-4), the Tuscaloosa, the PC-561, the Alfred A Cunningham (DD 752), the Montague (AKA-98), and the Macon; he was discharged in August of 1945.

Via Ancestry, I learned various family details. I found his father’s draft registration card via Fold3.com; I found your sister’s birth announcement, your father’s obituary, and your brother William’s obituary (where I got your name) via newspaper archives sites (all attached). It is my contact with other Zircon sailors’ families that led me to receiving two photos of your father (also attached), taken in late 1941 (likely) or early 1942, near Argentia, Newfoundland. 

I have tried to include as much information about what I’m doing in my emails, as the postcards have space limitations, but sometimes, postcards have an authenticity about them that emails might not have in this day and age of scammers. The URLs I provide on the cards, however, serve to illustrate that I’m not stalking anybody. 

And yes, this is the last time I will contact you or anyone in your family. You don’t come across as a very nice person.

*Correction: Navy Recruiting Station

The Troves

As mentioned in my last post, a couple of Zircon sailors’ granddaughters contacted me after finding me via web searches related to their genealogical research.

A couple of days ago, I received a package of photographs from one of them, and was delighted by yet another surprise. Many of the prints were in booklets of ten or so per booklet.

Zircon Photo Booklets
Booklets by The Camera House, 728 Lexington Avenue, New York City

Something that I have wondered about for some time is how the sailors came to receive the photos that have been shared here. Who took them? Who took care of having the film processed and printed? How were they distributed? Did everybody on board get all of the photos? Did sailors have the chance to order them? Considering that some men were on board for only short periods of time, it’s possible that their photos were taken and they never saw them. It’s possible, too, I suppose, that those who were on the ship the longest never saw a single photograph.

By the way, most of the prints that have been sent to me to be scanned have been two-inch by three-inch images on three-inch by four-and-a-quarter-inch pieces of paper. Considering the format, I suppose I can assume that they were taken with a 35mm camera (2:3 ratio). But can I? I’ve yet to count up the number of photographs I’ve collected since I started this project, but I’d say it’s approximately a hundred. I remain confounded as to who took the photos and how they seem to have ended up (so far) in the possession of only a handful of people.

Inside Photo Booklet
Ensigns John G. Gay and Julius Peter Wilkowski (who later changed his name to Peter J. Wills)
Back of Photo in Booklet
Perforations allow for easy removal of the photos.
The Camera House Imprint
The Camera House, Inc. imprint on the backs of the booklets

I suppose that if my research comes to nothing else, I will be glad to have discovered all that I’ve come across so far. My father brought virtually nothing back with him from his time in the Navy. Actually, it’s very possible that he did since I didn’t come along until more than ten years later. It’s possible that his photographs and other Navy-related things (except for his ribbons, Navy and Marine Corps Medal, paperwork, and “Navy blankets”) were left behind in Staten Island when he and my mother moved from there to Toledo in 1951.

Search

For coming up on two years, I have been looking for living Zircon sailors or—in lieu of that—their family members.

Recently, I have had a couple people contact me regarding their grandfathers’ service aboard the Zircon after my searches for them had stalled. This gives me hope that there are still others out there who might be looking for information about their fathers’ or grandfathers’ or uncles’ naval service.

One of the people who contacted me, sent me photos of her grandfather, William Mortimore Newman.

William Mortimore Newman
William Mortimore Newman, MoMM and CMM

Newman was received on board the Zircon 25 March 1941 as a Motor Machinist’s Mate (MoMM) when the ship was commissioned, which made him a Plank Owner, and he served until 21 August 1944. By then, he had been promoted to Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate. Newman was amongst the first hundred or so people I’d sought out as he was on board when the Zircon came to the aid of the YF-415 on 11 May 1944, and given his Chief rating, I’d hoped he’d spoken of the incident. (I have found, in speaking with Zircon family members, that officers and petit officers more likely to have talked about their service.) I thought I had found a son living in Connecticut, but I received no responses—from him or his immediate family—to several phone calls, e-mails and postcards. So, I was quite thrilled to get the email from his granddaughter, who’d found this blog while researching her grandfather. As luck would have it, Newman was in a photo I’d obtained almost two years ago.

USSZircon_Oakley001BWSM
From left: Paul Magera, unknown, Newman, unknown, unknown

I also had forgotten that Newman appeared in a photograph from the 15 August 1941 Bridgeport Post, something I’d received from the grandson of James Stoughton MacBride.

Bridgeport Post - 15 August 1941
Full names (left to right): Frank Truhn, Jr., Raymond John Battistelli, James Eli Monte, William Ganeric Petrushonis, William Sexton, Paul Magera, William Mortimer Newman, John Robert Edwards, Frederick Joseph Beloin, James Stoughton MacBride.


I have considered the possibly that others out there somewhere are researching their family members and their military history, and have listed names of Zircon sailors on my Flickr site, where many of the photos I’ve received are posted, hoping a web search would bring them my way. I’ll redouble that effort here and list the names of those who were on the USS Zircon the day of the YF-415 disaster first, then those who served with my father prior to and after 11 May 1944, and lastly, those who served prior to and after my father’s time on board. I have already been in contact with many of those listed.

Sailors on board for YF-415 disaster
Louis Augusto Alves
Gilbert Atwood Anderson
Ralph Patrick Annunziata
Edward Richard Ausfeldt
Edward F Babish
James Harold Bacha
Alvin Edward Barber
William Eugene Barnett
Stanley Baron
Paul Buford Beach
John Shissler? Beck
Richard Roy Beckwith
Robert Anthony Begandy
Frederick Joseph Beloin
Frank Walter Bernard
Frank Whittelsey Berrien
Isidore Teddy Bertone
Frank Paul Bielskis
John Erwin Bills
Douglas Cato Bird
Marvin Gordon Black
Charles Andrew Blocher
Richard Harold Blust
Otto Martin Boerner
James Rudolph Burton
Raymond Francis Carpenter
Howard Cochrane
Richard Kendall Cockey
Francis Michael Conlon
James Loren Cook, Jr.
Herman Harold Crouser
Charles LaVern Damon
Charles Brant Deer
Frank Nicholas DeRupo
Parker R Despain
Max Earl Dey
Albert Joseph DiPastina
William Louis Dommerich
Arlo Eugene Ellis
Albert Craft Emmett, Jr.
Pete Richard Federoff
Steven Knowlton Fox, Jr.
Richard Llewellyn Francis
Julius Emanuel Garber
Richard Hamilton Garrison
Benjamin Johnson Gibbs
John Gigarjian
John David Gillis
William Arthur Green
Buford Aubry Griggs
Henry George Grossman
Nicholas Gulich
Louis Monroe Harper, Jr.
Charles Frederick Havemeyer
Howard E Henry
Joseph Henry Hoser, Jr.
Joseph Ovila Huard
George Waldo Humphrey
Daniel Frederick Hurley
Sumner Kinney Hushing
Rinaldo Biagio Iannettone
Burris Beaty Jones
Randall Manuel Keator, Jr.
Gordon Denslow Kissam
George Albert Krueger
Martin John Kuck
Ned Landis Lamprecht
Charles A(ubrey?) Lea
Abraham Levy
Clarence Livingstone
Michael William Magenheimer
Paul Magera
Angelo Maiorano
Albert Frederick Manzke
Bruce Harold Martin
James Francis McGovern, Jr
James Stanley McKee
Richard Edward Mercer
Carl Lester Miller
John Mirgo, Jr.
Charles Waymon Moody
William Mortimer Newman
Stanley Thomas Niciejewski
Henry John Niemczyk
Anthony Nigro
Edwin Lathrope Oakley
Edward Daniel O’Connell
Thomas Augustine O’Neil
Henry John O’Toole
Walter Leo Parks
Richard Burton Peacock
Russell Ralph Peck
William Ganeric Petrushonis
Ardrey Vernon Peyton
James William Plant, Jr.
John Bell Power
Thomas Francis Powers
Edward Walter Ranski
Louis Rene Richards
James Michael Riley
Irwin Rubin
Angel Louis Ruiz
Joseph Lawrence Sakmar
William Richard Salomons, Jr.
Mario Pat Saponaro
Peter Anthony Schmanski
Robert Forest Segar
George Preston Seybolt
Jules George Sills
Stanley David Simon
Quay Henderson Smith
Theodore Soltys
Henry Eller Staley
Francis Joseph Suchowiecki
Anthony Charles Susinno
Andrew Mertens Swarthout
Leonard Francis Therrien
Ed Thorne
Richard Prescott True
Stornes Tucker, Jr.
Elster Johannessen Tufte
William Walter Turney
Harrison Gates White
Lester Burton Wood
Marvin Glenn Wright
Ira LaFlorrid Zeek, Jr.

*Niciejewski legally changed his name to Stanley Thomas Nichols in 1968.

Sailors who served with my father prior to and after 11 May 1944
Ignacio Acack
Arthur Merrill Adams
Fausto Plaganas Apostol
Fred Gilbert Baker
Joseph Francis Baldassare
Charles Robert Barton
John Wesley Bassett, Jr.
Raymond John Battistelli
Charles Clifton Beaury
John Stuart Bennethum
John Leonard Betts
William Alfred Blair
Harry Reno Blankenship
Warren Albert Boebert
Robert Mervin Bogart
Samual/Samuel Booker
Berton Johnson Byers
James Alfred Campbell
Page Herman Carter
Thomas Joseph Casa
James Cleveland
Garrett Joseph Connolly
Chester Guy Cooke, Jr.
Carl Robert Cooper
Sylvester Craven
Dalton Burtum Creaser
Henry Robert Crum
Clarence Weed Davis
Charles James Dorrian
Robert Milton Drew
Thomas Stephen Dunstan
Jack Joseph Edwards
Burton Sandiford Evans
Victor John Fox
William Joseph Franey
Robert Lee Frederick
Michael Joseph Gaglio
William Francis Gilligan
Philip Sheldon Godfrey
Anthony George Gutsch
Richard Stanton Harbster
Eugene Hayden
Rolla Harold Hoffmeister
Albert Edward Homewood, Jr.
Harold Victor Horn
George Thomas Horrigan
Kenneth Melvin Howarth
John Joseph Howes
Edward Davis Howland
Walter Hudgins
Bernard Joseph Hughes
Daniel Johnson
Gordon Ronald Johnson
Alvin Leanda Knox
Alexander Joseph Kotarba
Edward Lawrence Larsen
James Francis Ledwith
Kenneth Jenners Libby
John William Lomas
Harold Reynolds Love
William Frederick Luthmann
Francis James Lynch
John Bistis Lyon
Francis Lawrence MacDonald
Donald M Mackie
James Marvin Marcus
Francis McDiarmid
Ulysses McFadden
John McGhie
John Charles McNicol
Richard Elmo McPhail
Henry John Meyer, Jr.
Louis Ludwig Milano
James Eli Monte
Charles Milne Morris
Edgar Vernon Neer
Orla Ezra Nichols, Jr.
Alfred Lester Nickles
Joseph Francis Nolan
Robert Davidson O’Brien
Eugene Martin O’Connell
William Henry Oesterle
James Thomas O’Hagan
Theodore Louis Ormsby
Eugene Patrick O’Shea
Julio Sabila Pacalioga
John Herbert Peach
William Edward Pitt
William Bibbins Post
Mark Foster Preston
Lawrence Augustus Pyle, Jr.
Tommie Rush, Jr.
Charles Owen Schauss
Michael Joseph Silvasie
Isiah Smith
Carl Gottlob Sommer
John Leon Sorota
Christopher Sottile
William Dixon Stevens
Carl Stone
Harrison Stone
Richard Harry Stortz
Earl Eugene Sullivan
Ernest Herbert Swaggart
Ernest Rudolph Tashea
Edwin Garth Taylor
Frank Truhn, Jr.
Benjamin Vencheski
Anthony Joseph Viviano
Oscar Truman Walker
Stanley Jerome Wazbinski
Ralph Leland Weber
John Dickson Webster
Louis Mario Weinman
Leroy Matthew Weiss
George James Welsh
James Taylor Wenman
Wellesley Plant Wheeler
David Quentin White
Edelbert Eugene Williams
Lowell Eugene Wright
Edward Lee Crain

Zircon sailors who did not serve with my father
Hartwig Achenbach
Edgar Calvin Alverson
Kenneth Alvin Anderson
Ellis William Anderson
Charles John Andres
Samuel James Andrews
Emery Joseph Arsenault
Elmer Edward (Edison?) Banner
Napoleon Beamon
Harold Beck
Allen/Allan? Terhune Benjamin
Jesse Gilbert Bennett, Jr.
Joseph Cornelius Benson, Jr.
Sidney Berkowitz
John Paul Boyd
Daniel Frederick Brach
Thomas Brader
James McKnight Bradford, Jr.
Redding A Braxton, Jr.
William Armond Brehm, Jr.
Earle Robinson Brown
George Brownlee, Jr.
Raymond Butler
Wallace Richard Carper
Raphael Cervera, Jr.
John Chencharik
Sanford Lee Childers
William Brougham Clark
Robert George Clark
Harold Eugene Clift
William John Collins
Salvatore Joseph Collusi
Burl J Cooley
Donald Gilbert Countryman
Aaron Cousin
Olin Roy Cousino
James Joseph Creevay
Edward Anthony Cronauer, Jr.
Robert P Crowder
Arthur R DeFields
Meir Hershtenkorn Degani
Ernest Leonel Descheneaux
Charles A(ddison) Dodge
A W Doherty
Richard Frederic Douglas
Arthur Fleming Drant, Jr.
Michael Duzmati
John Robert Edwards
Edward William Edwards
William Elmer Ellis
Donald Charles Elmore
Andrew Jackson Ely, Jr.
Spencer Joseph Emery Ettman
Harry Wesley Eumont, Jr.
George Joseph Fager
Lester M Ferguson
Thomas Frank Fiorini
Martin Joseph Fotusky
Frank Stevall Frazier
Emanuel Friedman
Amadeo Galli, Jr.
James L Garnes
Ira Elmer Garver, Jr.
John G Gay
Thomas Edward Gilmore
John Thomas Gleeson
John Richard Glenn
Walter Edward Gray
William Albert Greffin
Clifford Thomas Grein
Harry Roland Gustafson
George Seaman Hallman
Floyd Philip Hallstrom
Francis Charles Hanggi
George Emery Harmon
Bernard Lee Harvey
Alfred Maxwell Haseltine
James Adelbert Hauser
Earthy Lee Hawkins, Jr.
John J Hayes
Harold Berton Hendershot
Odis Henderson
Robert John Hendricks
Percy Eugene Henneman
Robert Richard Holmquist
Stephen G(arret?) Holster
Harold Wayne Hushour
Nealon Lewis Johnson
Lonnie Johnson
Homer Dowell Johnson
Joseph Johnson, Jr.
Charles Jordan
Julian Paul Kaczynski
George Richard Kaufmann
James William Keating, Jr.
Francis Woods Keefe
George Donald Kelly
Herbert Fairfax Kendall III
George Vincent Killoran
William Leroy Kirchhoff
Henry Francis Kroupa
Paul Francis Kruyer
Bernard Richard Kuprewicz
George La Roy
Arthur D LaBrecque
Clifford Everett Lamplough
John Joseph Lane
Auther Claud Lawler
Louis/Lewis E Lee
Paul Lenchuk
George Love
Alexander Lulic
Stephen Lupco
James Stoughton MacBride
Charles Wight MacQuoid
Harold Wallace Manner
Olden Manning
Thurlow Winsfield Manzie
George Ernest Marra
Donald Edward McAllister
Francis Homer McCoy
Gilbert McGhee
William H McInnis
Theodore Charles Metzing
Irwin Earle Meyer
Dwight Robert Miller
Earle McK Mitchell
Wilson Broaddus Moberly
Doris Clinton Mooney
John Earl Morgan
Joseph John Muller
Ben Ashenhurst Muse
Tolbert William Nash, Jr.
Frank White Nesbitt
Erhard Linus Olson
Michael Angelo Paladino
Will P Parker
Tilford E Patterson
Nicholas Pegan
John Louie Pineault, Jr.
Meredith Pippens
Rebo Pope
Milton Powell
William Luke Reedy
Braulio Riqueza
William James Robb
James Walter Robertson
William Gaston Robinson
William Rogers
John Francis Ronkovitz
Max Wilburn Rood
Arthur Tracy Row, Jr.
Eugene Vapor Sagaral
Servillano Sayaman
Henry Raymond Schneider
James Joseph Senft
Albert Severino
William Sexton
William Patrick Shea, Jr.
Francis Lynde Sherwood
Thomas Charles Shubert, Jr.
Solomon Silverman
Edward Simon
Joseph Edward Sims
James Howard Singleton
George W Sizemore
Lasal Smith
Joseph Emerson Spence, Jr.
Floyd Everett Spencer
Robert James Stanslow
Albert Thomas Stephens
Ray N? Stewart
Iliff Ira Strahan
James Ralph Strain
Frank Joseph Strakosch
Cornelius Martin Sullivan
Charles Julian Symington, Jr.
Herman Joseph Taroli
George Eugene Tessier
Henry Francis Thomas
Kenneth Edward Thompson
Roy M Thompson
Willie Melvin Thompson
P J Tiffany
James Edward Tiner
Joseph Michael Torres
Ernest William Turnbull
Louis George Uljon
Draper Jack Underwood
Joseph Benedict Volente
James Eugene Walker
Franklin Leroy Walter
Robie Leslie Waugh
Richard Lewis Weis
Carl J Westbrook
Daniel Wheeler
William E Whitney
Julius Peter Wilkowski**
Leroy Allen Williams
John Franklin Wilson, Jr.
Arthur Thomas Wincek
Lloyd Elmer Woodworth
Carl Young
Vincent Joseph Zemalkowski

** Changed his name to Peter J. Wills sometime after the war.

Commissioning Day, 25 March 1941

Commissioning of the USS Zircon (PY-16), 25 March 1941 (photo courtesy Suzie Counts)

The USS Zircon (PY-16) was commissioned at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on 25 March 1941, with six officers and fifty-eight enlisted men on board. During the ship’s commissioning ceremony, Captain Harold Vincent McKittrick of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, along with his assistant, Lieutenant Hugo Frank Sasse, handed over command of the newly converted Navy vessel to Lieutenant Commander Cornelius Martin Sullivan.

Below… the deck log entry for the ship’s first day as a Navy vessel…

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Cover of Deck Log, 25 March 1941
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List of Officers, 25 March 1941
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Remarks and roster of the ship’s crew
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Remarks and continuation of the ship’s roster

In this process, I learned that the first men to serve aboard a ship upon its commissioning are known as Plank Holders. The Plank Holders, therefore, of the USS Zircon (PY-16) were as follows (in alphabetical order):

Ignacio Acack, OS1c*
Arthur Merrill Adams, S2c*
Charles John Andres, S1c*
Joseph Francis Baldassare, S2c*
Raymond John Battistelli, SF2c*
John Stuart Bennethum, S1c*
Joseph Cornelius Benson, Jr., SM3c
John Paul Boyd, S1c
Thomas Brader, EM1c
Richard Kendall Cockey, Lieut. (j.g.) D-O, USNR (Gunnery)*
Francis Michael Conlon, S2c
William Louis Dommerich, Ensign D-O, USNR (Asst. Gunnery)*
Arthur Fleming Drant, Jr., F3c*
John Robert Edwards, MM1c*
Spencer Joseph Emory Ettman, S2c*
George Joseph Fager, F2c*
Lester M. Ferguson, Matt3c
William Joseph Franey, CBM (PA)*
Emanuel Friedman, S1c
Charles Frederick Havemeyer, Lieut. D-V(S), USNR (Communication)*
Walter Hudgins, Matt1c*
Daniel Johnson, F2c
Charles Jordan, MM2c
George Donald Kelly, F1c
George Vincent Killoran, Cox
Henry Francis Kroupa, RM2c*
George LaRoy, MM2c
Edward Lawrence Larsen, GM3c*
Alexander Lulic, RM1c
William Frederick Luthmann, S2c
Francis James Lynch, S2c
James Stoughton MacBride, CMM (PA)*
Thurlow Willis Manzie, EM2c
John McGhie, MM2c*
John Charles McNicol, QM3c*
James Eli Monte, MM1c
John Earl Morgan, SC3c
Charles Milne Morris, Y2c
Joseph John Muller, F1c
William Mortimer Newman, MM1c
Erhard Linus Olson, CQM (PA)*
Julio Sabila Pacalioga, OC1c
Michael Angelo Paladino, CGM (AA)*
John Herbert Peach, SK3c*
William Richard Salomons, Jr., S1c*
Charles Owen Schauss, F1c*
William Sexton, EM3c
George Preston Seybolt, S1c*
Francis Lynde Sherwood, RM3c*
Michael Joseph Silvasie, S2c
Solomon Silverman, PhM1c
Edward Simon, CM3c
Theodore Soltys, BM2c*
Christopher Sottile, S1c*
Carl Stone, SM1c
Iliff Ira Strahan, Ensign E-M, USNR (Engineer)*
Cornelius Martin Sullivan, Lieut. Comdr., USN (Commanding)
George Eugene Tessier, CCStd (AA)*
Kenneth Edward Thompson, S2c*
Frank Truhn, Jr., SM1c*
Elster Johannessen Tufte, S1c*
Anthony Joseph Viviano, GM2c
Harrison Gates White, Lieut. Comdr., DE-O, USN (Executive)
Vincent Joseph Zemalkowski, SC1c*

*Zircon sailors whose children, grandchildren, or other family with whom I’ve been in contact. I’ve transcribed the names on the log as it is my hope that others whose fathers or grandfathers or uncles served on the Zircon will find this site and reach out to me.

In Memoriam: William Leroy Kirchhoff

As I have stated previously, the impetus for my research regarding the USS Zircon was the USS YF-415 disaster. From time to time, however, I have gotten a bit frustrated chasing down leads regarding the sailors involved with that incident, and I have turned my attention to other aspects of the ship and its history. Last year, I devoted a considerable amount of time looking for the sailors who were last to serve aboard the Zircon. Since I found many of them to be new enlistees, and therefore younger than those who’d served during the thick of the war, I hoped to find a few who were still living.

I did.

One of them was William Leroy Kirchhoff, who was received aboard the Zircon on 6 June 1945 and served until the ship was decommissioned on 10 May 1946. I called Bill, who lived near Baltimore, not long after looking him up, and we exchanged a couple of voicemails before finally hooking up. Bill’s voice sounded strong and enthusiastic as he told me that after I’d left my first message, he’d written down the names of a few of his ship mates aboard the Zircon. I could only smile as the names he read to me matched up with my those on my spreadsheet. His memory seemed tack-sharp and he recalled anecdotes about the sailors and his time aboard the ship, and when his memory went dry with regard to other names, I read from my spreadsheet the names of those who would have been on board at the same time as he was. This fueled a few more memories as the names rang familiar with him.

We talked for probably forty minutes, and he seemed to thoroughly appreciate my having contacted him. I told him I had met Teddy Bertone, one of his ship mates, and I suggested that I give his phone number to Teddy so that the two could chat. He approved and indeed Teddy and Bill spoke not long afterward.

Bill told me that his eyesight was bad due to ocular degeneration, and that he had pretty much stopped using the computer. He wouldn’t be able to check out the photos and other miscellany I had collected and posted online. I offered to send him some photos, hoping he would be able to identify some of the sailors in them, but time and work and—probably most importantly—my too-occasional inability to follow through interfered with that plan.

For the last several months, I have been meaning to call Bill about something that has confused me a bit about men whose names appeared on Zircon muster rolls. Their ratings are all aviation-related, so I hoped he could tell me more about why those men were assigned to the ship… if they actually served aboard the Zircon, or served elsewhere, but technically reported to the Zircon. (If that makes sense.) Again, I didn’t get around to it.

A few days ago, a couple of people posted photos in the Zircon Facebook group. The first one, a snapshot of a photo, is of (from left to right) Bill, Richard Lewis Weis, and Robert James Stanslow, three names I had seen on my spreadsheet for so long but whose visages were but vague apparitions in my head. During our conversation, Bill talked of being pretty good friends with Weis, so I was pretty excited to see the two of them together.

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William Leroy Kirchhoff, Richard Lewis Weis, Robert James Stanslow

The second photo was posted shortly after that by someone else, with Bill and two other sailors at what was likely a photo studio at Coney Island. (The person in middle is a bit of a mystery, as there was no Yacobozzi, the barely visible name written above him, on the Zircon‘s muster rolls. )

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Ralph Patrick Annunziata, (Al?) Yacobozzi, William Leroy Kirchhoff

The photos prompted me to give Bill a call at long last, and when I called, his wife, Shirley, answered the phone. After telling me rather brusquely that I couldn’t talk to Bill, and asking who I was and why I was calling him, she eased up and explained that Bill had died about a month ago. Once she recognized who I was (Bill had told her about our conversations), she apologized profusely for being so suspicious, but I told her it was completely understandable in this day and age. Shirley called me again yesterday to give her daughter’s email address to me so that I could send the above photos, as well as a photo of one of the pages in the photo album the above top photo is in.

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Memory Leaves

Making his entry in the album just two days after he’d turned 19, Bill signed his name, included his address, and counselled the album’s owner, Richard Edward Mercer, “Don’t Forget Ocean City.”

William Leroy Kirchhoff, 17 April 1927 ~ 3 January 2019

From Out Of The Blue

In my search for Zircon families, I use a number of sources: Ancestry.com, Fold3.com (an Ancestry site for military information), Newspapers.com, NewspaperArchive.com, GenealogyBank.com, Findagrave.com, Google, and a whole host of other sites, too many to recall must less list here. I look for obituaries or wedding announcements or anything, really, which might lead me to someone with whom I can get in touch.

Once I think I’ve homed in on the people for whom I’m looking (sometimes even not-so-common names are problematic), I look for email addresses. Usually, my first attempt at contacting someone is via email because I can explain what I’m doing, and send links to the photos and documents I’ve collected as a matter of illustrating that I’m not a Nigerian prince looking to scam them. As much as I try to send form messages that I can copy and paste, I feel a need to customize each note with information that is specific to the Zircon sailor.

I usually start off the email with, “I realize that this is from out of the blue…”

Of course, I don’t know for sure if the email address actually belongs to the person I hope to contact. I get a lot of bounces of undelivered messages which helps me to eliminate them from my list, but unless someone responds to the messages that don’t bounce, I never really know if they’ve received my inquiry; and if they did, if they’re the right person.

I can’t help but think, too, that there are many people out there who just don’t want to be bothered, or who hated their fathers, and for whom my email is just an unwanted reminder of someone they’d rather not think about.

If I don’t get a response via email, or if I can’t find a viable email address, I’ll send out postcards I’ve had printed up, which I hope gives some assurance to people that I’m on the up-and-up. I write out the messages by hand hoping to add yet another layer of trustworthiness. But as with email addresses, I can never be sure that I’m sending the cards to the correct address, since people move occasionally. And as with the emails, I can never be certain that the cards are all that welcome, but I’ve designed them with photos of the ship and/or sailors with the intent of creating an authenticity that suggests, well, authenticity on my part.

At the time I sent out the first card, I had just received about fifty photos from the daughter of one of the Zircon sailors, so I used a couple of those. With the photo of the actual ship on the front, and a group photo of about twenty-five sailors on the back, I hoped that the card announced very clearly what my intentions were.

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USS Zircon (PY-16) at dock (possibly during its conversion for military service); one of the group photos

Not long after printing those up, I received a group photo taken on 1 October 1944 at Riddells Bay in the Bahamas. When the photo was posted to the Facebook group, my jaw about hit the floor when I spotted my father in the front middle of the group. I had never seen the photograph before, so I felt like I’d found gold. Because there were about twice as many guys in the group, I created a second card, hoping that those to whom I sent the card might recognize their fathers’ faces, much as I had. On the back is an aerial photo of the Zircon underway, an image I’d received from the National Archives.

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“The Whole Gang” ~ Riddells Bay, The Bahamas; the Zircon underway

The third card I created uses photos from the Zircon’s Commissioning Ceremony, which I received from the daughter of one of the ship’s officers, who sent her 8″ x 10″ original copies to me to scan. At the top of the photo, standing at attention, is the bulk of the Zircon’s original crew, so I sent the card to relatives of the Zircon’s first sailors, the “Plank Owners”… again hoping they might recognize their fathers (or uncles or grandfathers).

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Commissioning Ceremony, 25 March 1941, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

A Lack of Stories

As I’ve mentioned previously, my dad didn’t talk much about his time in the Navy. I’m pretty sure that it was my mom who had given me the vague information that he had helped pull men from the ocean, but nothing about the circumstances.

As I’ve thought about this, I suppose part of the reason he didn’t speak about it was his humility. So many of the Zircon sailors’ children that I’ve spoken with have had the same experience with their fathers. I suppose there is something about just getting the job done during a national crisis that makes a person recognize that he or she is but a bit player in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps it was a preference to not discuss the gruesome details of the disaster.

Maybe.

I also consider that by the time I was born in December of 1955, my dad had been out of the service for a little over ten years. By the time I was in any way conversational, I was probably 10 — another ten years of separation from his service. I have to assume that it wasn’t really much on his mind.

Of course, now… as I’ve had conversations with two of his fellow sailors, Teddy Bertone and Richard Garrison, about the events of 11 May 1944, I really wish that I’d prodded him about his experience that day. I wish I’d asked how it affected him.

Oddly, when I did ask him about his service, he told me that he was on a minesweeper. My older brother says that when he asked dad about his service, he said that he was on a weather ship. I can understand, to a point, why “minesweeper” would be his response, as it was his last assignment (the YMS-75), but I don’t get why the answers would vary. 

The Nakhoda

I suppose that my story has to start somewhere. In a way, it starts with my having discovered Teddy Bertone’s comments about my dad online, since it was the impetus for all the research I’ve done and continue to do. But there are so very many pieces to this puzzle that I’m going to back things up a bit to the somewhat unlikely beginnings of a millionaire’s fancy at the time of economic disaster.

The Zircon‘s pre-wartime incarnation was as the Nakhoda, a yacht designed by Cox & Stevens, Inc. and John H. Wells, Inc., and built by the Pusey and Jones Corporation of Wilmington, Delaware in 1929 for Frederick J. Fisher, of General Motors and Fisher Body fame. It cost Fisher somewhere between one and two million dollars, and the Navy acquired it for $155,000 as World War II loomed. The Nakhoda was one of three “sister” ships built at the time for Detroit-area millionaires, the other two being the Cambriona, built for entrepreneur and Detroit Tigers part-owner, Walter O. Briggs (purchased by the Navy in 1942 and renamed USS Crystal), and the Rene, built for Alfred P. Sloan, president, chairman, and CEO of General Motors (purchased by the Navy in 1941 and renamed Beryl).

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The ship’s launching in Wilmington, Delaware was worthy of an item in the New York Times in August of 1929, as was its arrival at Brooklyn’s Tebo Yacht Basin for outfitting the following February in both the Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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New York Times, 22 August 1929 (left) and 8 February 1930
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Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 7 February 1930

News of the Nakhoda’s impending arrival was announced in the Detroit area, with nearly two-thirds of a page in the Detroit Sunday Times devoted to the ship, with photos and details of the ship’s elegant design.

Detroit Times, 8 June 1930

Items appeared in various newspapers about the ship’s ports of call, ranging from the Great Lakes to Miami, Florida. The Nakhoda‘s passengers included other captains of industry to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and Jesse H. Jones, head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

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Newport Mercury, 6 June 1930
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Detroit Free Press, 23 June 1931
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Detroit Free Press, 27 August 1931
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Miami News, 5 March 1932
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Battle Creek Enquirer, 27 July 1934
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Detroit Free Press, 27 July 1934
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Ironwood Daily Globe, 7 August 1935

In December of 1940, less than seven months before Frederick Fisher would die, his wife Burtha sold the Nakhoda to the United States Navy.

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Detroit Free Press, 8 December 1940
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Detroit Free Press, 19 June 1941

Two years later, much of the Nakhoda‘s furniture and miscellaneous items would be sold at auction.

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Parke-Bernet Galleries Auction Program, 5 June 1943 New York Times