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.
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 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.
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.
” 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 otherwise might 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 at the time. 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 2003.
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)…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In December of 1940, less than seven months before Frederick Fisher would die, his wife Burtha sold the Nakhoda to the United States Navy.
Two years later, much of the Nakhoda‘s furniture and miscellaneous items would be sold at auction.
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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.
On that day in 1944, in not-too-distant waters, and headed for the Atlantic on a secret mission to report on weather conditions leading up 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, quickly fogging 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.
Signalman Henry J. O’Toole joined dad 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 in a non-combat situation.
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 we referred to them around the house), and his storage chest that was tucked into the shadows of Mom and Dad’s bedroom closet. I also recall a white canvas duffle bag. 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, it occurred to me to do 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.
Three years later, I finally got in touch with Teddy Bertone. But much to my chagrin, I had let one too many years pass, and Teddy told me the sad news that Anthony Susinno had died only a month or two earlier. In the fall of 2017, 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, 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 knew 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.