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.
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.
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. )
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.
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