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, which I believe is the highest award one can receive for valour in a non-combat situation.

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 that bar of ribbons, a couple of beige “Navy blankets” (as they were referred to around the house), a canvas duffel bag (with “Power” written at the top) 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.

Lt. McKee and his Radio Gang- Also Areographers and SonarmenBWsm
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 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" BertoneIsidore “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 based on photos, 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.

Riddell’s Bay, 1 October 1944

Riddell’s Bay, 1 October 1944

The banner cover for this blog was originally shared to the Facebook group I created in November of 2017. In the early days of the group, I was only looking for family members of the sailors who were on the Zircon on 11 May 1944, the day of the USS YF-415 Disaster.

A couple of those sailors were Edwin Lathrope Oakley and Henry John Niemczyk. I originally contacted Oakley’s son, who didn’t seem very interested in this project of mine, but passed along my message to his sister. She joined the group and posted a photo of about fifty loose photos (and a few news clippings) that she had. In all honesty, I hadn’t expected that there’d be so many photographs since I don’t recall that my dad ever had any. But indeed there were, and she agreed to send them to me. I was a little disappointed that my dad wasn’t in any of them, but I was more than pleased to share them to the group once I scanned them.

A month later, I tracked down Niemczyk’s son, Mike, and invited him to join the group. It wasn’t long before he posted the group photo, taken at Riddell’s Bay in the Bahamas. On the back of the photo, his father had written: “Riddel’s Bay – The Whole Gang” and dated it 1 October 1944. There are forty-six men in the photo, accounting for just under half of the ship’s full complement that day.

And there, in the middle-front of the group was my dad.

Dad amongst “The Whole Gang”

The feeling I had upon seeing this for the first time is almost indescribable. I can only compare it to what it must have been like finding gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. And, of course, it was gold for me. I can’t tell you how much I love the photograph. While seeing him on board the ship with the other Soundmen and Radiomen was trippy, in a way, since I’d never seen it before, seeing this one was something altogether different, as it showed him communing with his ship mates, some of whom he’d spent the better part of two and a half years of his enlisted life. This moment was but a sliver of a lifetime that I barely had known existed. (Recently, another Zircon sailor’s daughter sent me a copy of this for me to scan at 9600 dpi, and that’s the one I’ve included here. The print is about 2.5″ x 3.5″ and the image 2″ x 3″.)

Not long after he posted this photo, Mike shared a photo taken either just before or after this one. I’ll call it the outtake. There aren’t quite as many men in the photo and many of them appear either getting into position or getting up. A light leak mars the image, but I like it because my dad actually looks to have a smile on his face.

Riddell’s Bay, Take Two

I created a contour-line legend for the first photo (I suppose I should do it for the second as well) so that we, the Facebook group members, could more easily put names with the faces.

As of 27 July 2021, twenty-five of the forty-six sailors have been identified.

02. Michael William Magenheimer
04. Albert Craft Emmett
06. William Richard Salomons, Jr.
07. Joseph Henry Hoser, Jr.
08. Isidore Teddy Bertone
10. Henry John Niemczyk
11. Anthony Nigro
13. Raymond Francis Carpenter
14. Leonard Francis Therrien
16. William Arthur Green
19. Robert Forest Segar
23. George A. Krueger
25. Irwin Rubin
26. Lester Burton Wood
27. Ira LaFlorrid Zeek, Jr.
29. Angel Luis Ruiz
31. My dad
34. Rinaldo Biaggio Iannettone
35. Theodore Soltys
36. James Rudolph Burton
37. Louis Augusto Alves
38. Paul Buford Beach
39. Frank Nicholas DeRupo
40. Hervey Johnson Gibbs
41. Peter Anthony Schmanski

I’m most bummed that two of the faces are obscured by beer cans. In the outtake, the fellow who is #20 in the “good” photo is in profile, and it looks like it might be Ralph Patrick Annunziata. I think that there’s a good chance that #18 is Richard Hamilton Garrison, but since his family has chosen not to speak with me, I can’t confirm it.

A handful of other photos have since surfaced that also appear to be from the same period, maybe even the same day, at Riddell’s Bay. I hope to get scans of them but these are the best I have for the time being—mobile photos of photos. I’m 99.9% certain that my dad is in the first one. The hat he’s wearing in the group photo looks to be what he’s holding in his lap in this one. I’m also pretty sure that the fellow who had the beer can obscuring his face in the group photo also has a beer can partially obscuring his face in this one. The person who is second from left appears in so many photos I’ve seen, but I’ve been unable to figure out his name.

Robert Forest Segar (left), my dad (third from left), Leonard Francis Therrien (far right)
Theodore Soltys and William Richard Salomons, Jr.
Standing (left to right): Schmanksi, Niemczyk, Salomons, O’Toole, Bernard; Greene;
On the ground: #28 in “The Whole Gang” (unknown), Emmett, #21, Alves , #22
Paul Magera

Frank Paul Bielskis

Because I haven’t updated this site in some time, I thought I would start posting individually about some of the men who served aboard the USS Zircon (PY-16).

When I began my search for the Zircon sailors (or their families), I created an Excel spreadsheet of all the names that appeared on muster rolls I’d obtained via Fold3.com. One of the first things I did was to determine which of the sailors were on board the day of the YF-415 disaster (11 May 1944), as looking for witnesses to that event was a priority of mine at the time. So, taking the March 1944 Muster Roll and then adding and subtracting the sailors whose names appeared on the subsequent Reports of Changes, I was able to determine that there were a hundred and twenty enlisted men aboard the ship on 11 May 1944. Once I acquired the ship’s deck logs for 1944, I found that there were eight officers.

Top: Thomas Charles Shubert, Jr; Middle: Elster Johannessen Tufte, William Albert Greffin, Ned Landis Lamprecht, Frank Paul Bielskis; Bottom: William Richard Salomons, Jr., Paul Magera, Buford Aubry Griggs (Photo courtesy of Thomas Shubert)

Once the spreadsheet was completed, I began searching for information about each sailor in alphabetical order, and amongst the first handful on the list was Frank Paul Bielskis. Unlike many (probably most) of the people I’ve searched for, I found a fair number of newspaper articles which mentioned Bielskis’ name. Sadly, they all were news articles about the boarding house fire in Brockton, Massachusetts in which he died. The above photo of him (at top right) is the only one I have of him in which he has been identified. I received it from Thomas Shubert, whose father is at the top of the photo.

Page 1 of the 30 April 1966 edition of the Boston Traveler

Bielskis had been married and had two children, but he appears to have been either separated or divorced from his wife at the time this fire occurred. For a time, he and his wife, Frances (“Fannie”) had lived with his parents, Casimir (Charles) and Eva, in Brockton. He worked as an automobile mechanic.

His wife apparently did not marry again, or so her obituary suggests. Bielskis was not mentioned.

Boston Globe, Sunday, 6 October 2002, Page 71

His children have not responded to my postcards, letters, and phone calls, so either they were too young to know much about him when he died, or their relationships with him were such that they have no interest in speaking about him. I’m sending postcards out to two of his surviving sisters today.

Radio School

Radio School, Personnel Staff | U.S. Naval Training Center – 30 August 1944

I received this mobile phone photo taken of a long-stored, rolled-up group photo of a Radio School graduating class taken on 30 August 1944. I don’t know where the Training Center was located or who is in the photo, with the exception of one person, Joseph Michael Torres.

Torres was a Zircon sailor for only a week, from 17 to 23 February 1942, during the ship’s first year as a Navy vessel. His rating at the time he was transferred was Radioman, Second Class (RM2c). He is one of the staff members in the photo, front row, fourth from the left (counting the person cut off at left). I’m unsure of what his rating was a the time of the photo.

When my dad left the Zircon, he was a Radioman, Second Class, so there’s a chance that he went to this very training center, and very possibly had Torres as an instructor. It’s very possible, too, that there are people in this photo who went on to be Radiomen on the Zircon during its last year and a half.

Once the National Archives opens up again, I hope to find out where this was taken and if it was the only training center for Radiomen. I also hope, at some point, to get a better copy of the photo.

Radio School

Radio School, Personnel Staff | U.S. Naval Training Center – 30 August 1944 (Photo courtesy Robyn Torres)

I received this mobile phone image taken of a long-stored, rolled-up group photo of a Radio School graduating class taken on 30 August 1944. I don’t know where the Training Center was located or who is in the photo, with the exception of one person, Joseph Michael Torres.

Torres was a Zircon sailor for only a week, from 17 to 23 February 1942, during the ship’s first year as a Navy vessel. His rating at the time he was transferred off the Zircon was Radioman, Second Class (RM2c). He is one of the staff members in the photo, front row, fourth from the left (counting the person cut off at left). I’m unsure of what his rating was a the time of the photo.

When my dad left the Zircon, he was a Radioman, Second Class, so there’s a chance that he went to this very training center, and very possibly had Torres as an instructor. It’s very possible, too, that there are people in this photo who went on to be Radiomen on the Zircon during its last year and a half.

Once the National Archives opens up again, I hope to find out where this was taken and if it was the only training center for Radiomen. I also hope, at some point, to get a better copy of the photo.

The Men of the USS YF-415

The impetus for my research of the USS Zircon (PY-16) has been the USS YF-415 disaster. Ultimately, had I not learned of my father’s heroics on 11 May 1944, or had he not been involved with the rescue, I probably wouldn’t be typing this today.

I occasionally spend more time attempting to locate relatives of Zircon sailors than the sailors even spent aboard the ship. But as I have discovered, the more I follow the bread-crumb clues to a sailor’s post-war life story, the greater the chance that I might find stories or photographs out there which help to fill in a little more of the Zircon puzzle.

Boston Globe, 13 May 1944

But I keep circling back to the YF-415 disaster to make yet another attempt to locate someone who might be related to the men who were on that ship that day. Sometimes, new records are made available at Ancestry that hadn’t been available a year or even a month earlier. Newspapers.com also adds to its archives every month or so. Other times, I change search terms, such as dropping a middle initial, as I did recently for Ensign Kenneth Brundage Bowen, who was one of the officers aboard the YF-415 that day. (I previously hadn’t found an obituary because almost all obituaries include a person’s middle initial.) According to his testimony before the Court of Inquiry, he had no official role aboard the ship that day… he was essentially aboard as an observer. I finally located his children, although I’ve yet to speak with any of them.

I have to admit that the chain of command on the YF-415 that day has confused me a bit. It has taken re-reading the transcripts for the Court of Inquiry to connect the dots. But it still seems to have been a bit haphazardly organized. So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

The regular crew of YF-415 that day were:

Louis Brunswick Tremblay (Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Captain)
William John Bradley (Motor Machinist’s Mate, First Class)
Joseph Francis Burke (Coxswain)
Frank Emil Federle (Electrician’s Mate, Second Class)
Eugene Lee Hall, Jr. (Machinist’s Mate, First Class)
Yee Ming Jin (Seaman, Second Class)
Donald Brook Neal (Motor Machinist’s Mate, Second Class)
Mike Peschunka (Seaman, Second Class)
Vernon Warren Smith (Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class)

Mike Peschunka

Of the regular crew, only Tremblay, Hall, Neal, and Richardson survived the fire and blasts. Yee was below decks and took to the ship’s shower, hoping to protect himself from the flames. He went down with the ship. Bradley, although one of the fourteen men rescued, suffered third-degree burns over seventy-five percent of his body. It’s my belief that he attempted to get Yee to leave the shower and abandon ship, and in so doing cost him his life.

Chief Gunner’s Mate, Levi (Lee) Tritle Ridenour was in charge of the dumping operation according to his testimony before the Court of Inquiry. He also was supposed to ensure that the materials were handled safely. His assistant, for want of another word, that day appears to have been Warrant Gunner George Richard Hornak. He was aboard essentially to observe, but also assisted with the dumping of some of the materials.

George Richard Hornak

Lieutenant Robert Vincent Knox was in charge of the work crew, the Black sailors assigned to the ship from Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot. I think that his only responsibility was to ensure that these fifteen men did their assigned work; he didn’t actually supervise the work they did. If that makes sense.

Lieutentant Herman William Doering had transported twenty-four “dangerous fuses” from Cohasset, Massachusetts to be dumped as well. Once these fuses were overboard, he assisted with the dumping of the materials from the depot. He had no official capacity aboard the ship beyond getting rid of those fuses, although he did assume unofficial supervisory duties over the work crew at the request of Ridenour when he and Hornak took a lunch break.

Kenneth B. Bowen, Robert V. Knox, H. William Doering

The work crew from Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot:
Adell Braxton (Yeoman, Third Class)
Raymond Navarro Carr (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Truman Sterling Chittick (Seaman, Second Class)
George Mitchel Cook (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
James N. Cox, Jr. (Seaman, First Class)
Freddie Edwards, Jr. (Seaman, First Class)
James Stanley Griffin (Seaman, Second Class)
Warren Lee Griggs (Seaman, Second Class)
Charles Reed Harris (Seaman, First Class)
Raymond Lester Henry (Seaman, Second Class)
Julian Jackson (Seaman, Second Class)
Ellis Mosley
(Seaman, Second Class)
George Richardson (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Carl Lee Ruffin (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Edward Wilson Sumpter (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
James Buster Turner (Seaman, Second Class)

Boston Globe, 13 May 1944

There is very little to find about most of the Black sailors since, well, it was 1944, and beyond listing names, newspapers didn’t provide much information about Black people as a rule. It has been one of the more startling aspects of my research to see newspapers that devoted a few column inches each day to “News For Negroes” or something similar. One exception was Adell Braxton, who was a star athlete in Battle Creek, Michigan before he joined the Navy. It was a weird coincidence, too, to discover that he got married (or at least obtained his marriage license) in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. It took me some time, but I was finally able to track down Braxton’s widow’s daughter from a third marriage.

A collection of articles about Adell Braxton from the Battle Creek Enquirer from 1944

A few of the clippings I’ve found regarding the disaster have listed those who died along with next of kin. Many of the Black sailors were from the South, so finding anything about their relatives has been a struggle. Death announcements or obituaries are virtually impossible to find. I found a clipping with Raymond Carr’s photo from before the war, but I’ve not been able to locate family. Another photo of Carr accompanied the article about the disaster in the Louisvile (Kentucky) Courier-Journal.

Louisville Courier-Journal, 17 August 1941
Louisville Courier-Journal, 14 May 1944

Frank Federle, also from Louisville had a brother and a sister at the time of his death, but as best as I have been able to find, neither had children. I’ve been in touch with survivor Edward William Sumpter’s son, who forwarded along some information he’d received from Joseph Francis Burke’s son, who was instrumental in having the disaster recognized in the Congressional Record (entered by Senator Edward Kennedy) as well as convincing the Navy to perform a memorial service at sea for those who died.

One of the survivors, Carl Lee Ruffin, appears to have made the military his career as I found clippings indicating that he served in the Air Force, reaching the rank of Technical Sergeant. I’ve located his family, but no one has yet responded to my queries.

Sikeston (Missouri) Daily Standard, 27 May 1963

I’ve also spoken with a great niece of Truman Chittick, who forwarded along this photograph of her uncle. She had found me via Ancestry while doing a search for information about him.

Truman Sterling Chittick

The Men of the USS YF-415

The impetus for my research of the USS Zircon (PY-16) has been the USS YF-415 disaster. Ultimately, had I not learned of my father’s heroics on 11 May 1944, or had he not been involved with the rescue, I probably wouldn’t be typing this today.

I occasionally spend more time attempting to locate relatives of Zircon sailors than the sailors even spent aboard the ship. But as I have discovered, the more I follow the bread-crumb clues to a sailor’s post-war life story, the greater the chance that I might find stories or photographs out there which help to fill in a little more of the Zircon puzzle.

Boston Globe, 13 May 1944

But I keep circling back to the YF-415 disaster to make yet another attempt to locate someone who might be related to the men who were on that ship that day. Sometimes, new records are made available at Ancestry that hadn’t been available a year or even a month earlier. Newspapers.com also adds to its archives every month or so. Other times, I change search terms, such as dropping a middle initial, as I did recently for Ensign Kenneth Brundage Bowen, who was one of the officers aboard the YF-415 that day. (I previously hadn’t found an obituary because almost all obituaries include a person’s middle initial.) According to his testimony before the Court of Inquiry, he had no official role aboard the ship that day… he was essentially aboard as an observer. I finally located his children, although I’ve yet to speak with any of them.

I have to admit that the chain of command on the YF-415 that day has confused me a bit. It has taken re-reading the transcripts for the Court of Inquiry to connect the dots. But it still seems to have been a bit haphazardly organized. So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

The regular crew of YF-415 that day were:

Louis Brunswick Tremblay (Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Captain)
William John Bradley (Motor Machinist’s Mate, First Class)
Joseph Francis Burke (Coxswain)
Frank Emil Federle (Electrician’s Mate, Second Class)
Eugene Lee Hall, Jr. (Machinist’s Mate, First Class)
Yee Ming Jin (Seaman, Second Class)
Donald Brook Neal (Motor Machinist’s Mate, Second Class)
Mike Peschunka (Seaman, Second Class)
Vernon Warren Smith (Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class)

Mike Peschunka

Of the regular crew, only Tremblay, Hall, Neal, and Richardson survived the fire and blasts. Yee was below decks and took to the ship’s shower, hoping to protect himself from the flames. He went down with the ship. Bradley, although one of the fourteen men rescued, suffered third-degree burns over seventy-five percent of his body. It’s my belief that he attempted to get Yee to leave the shower and abandon ship, and in so doing suffered the burns which cost him his life.

Chief Gunner’s Mate, Levi (Lee) Tritle Ridenour was in charge of the dumping operation according to his testimony before the Court of Inquiry. He also was supposed to ensure that the materials were handled safely. His assistant, for want of another word, that day appears to have been Warrant Gunner George Richard Hornak. He was aboard essentially to observe, but also assisted with the dumping of some of the materials.

George Richard Hornak

Lieutenant Robert Vincent Knox was in charge of the work crew, the Black sailors assigned to the ship from Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot. I think that his only responsibility was to ensure that these fifteen men did their assigned work; he didn’t actually supervise the work they did. If that makes sense.

Lieutentant Herman William Doering had transported twenty-four “dangerous fuses” from Cohasset, Massachusetts to be dumped as well. Once these fuses were overboard, he assisted with the dumping of the materials from the depot. He had no official capacity aboard the ship beyond getting rid of those fuses, although he did assume unofficial supervisory duties over the work crew at the request of Ridenour when he and Hornak took a lunch break.

Kenneth B. Bowen, Robert V. Knox, H. William Doering

The work crew from Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot:
Adell Braxton (Yeoman, Third Class)
Raymond Navarro Carr (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Truman Sterling Chittick (Seaman, Second Class)
George Mitchel Cook (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
James N. Cox, Jr. (Seaman, First Class)
Freddie Edwards, Jr. (Seaman, First Class)
James Stanley Griffin (Seaman, Second Class)
Warren Lee Griggs (Seaman, Second Class)
Charles Reed Harris (Seaman, First Class)
Raymond Lester Henry (Seaman, Second Class)
Julian Jackson (Seaman, Second Class)
Ellis Mosley
(Seaman, Second Class)
George Richardson (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Carl Lee Ruffin (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
Edward Wilson Sumpter (Gunner’s Mate, Third Class)
James Buster Turner (Seaman, Second Class)

Boston Globe, 13 May 1944

There is very little to find about most of the Black sailors since, well, it was 1944, and beyond listing names, newspapers didn’t provide much information about Black people as a rule. It has been one of the more startling aspects of my research to see newspapers that devoted a few column inches each day to “News For Negroes” or something similar. One exception was Adell Braxton, who was a star athlete in Battle Creek, Michigan before he joined the Navy. It was a weird coincidence, too, to discover that he got married (or at least obtained his marriage license) in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. It took me some time, but I was finally able to track down Braxton’s widow’s daughter from a third marriage.

A collection of articles about Adell Braxton from the Battle Creek Enquirer from 1944

A few of the clippings I’ve found regarding the disaster have listed those who died along with next of kin. Many of the Black sailors were from the South, so finding anything about their relatives has been a struggle. Death announcements or obituaries are virtually impossible to find. I found a clipping with Raymond Carr’s photo from before the war, but I’ve not been able to locate family. Another photo of Carr accompanied the article about the disaster in the Louisvile (Kentucky) Courier-Journal.

Louisville Courier-Journal, 17 August 1941
Louisville Courier-Journal, 14 May 1944

Frank Federle, also from Louisville had a brother and a sister at the time of his death, but as best as I have been able to find, neither had children. I’ve been in touch with survivor Edward William Sumpter’s son, who forwarded along some information he’d received from Joseph Francis Burke’s son, who was instrumental in having the disaster recognized in the Congressional Record (entered by Senator Edward Kennedy) as well as convincing the Navy to perform a memorial service at sea for those who died.

One of the survivors, Carl Lee Ruffin, appears to have made the military his career as I found clippings indicating that he served in the Air Force, reaching the rank of Technical Sergeant. I’ve located his family, but no one has yet responded to my queries.

Sikeston (Missouri) Daily Standard, 27 May 1963

I’ve also spoken with a great niece of Truman Chittick, who forwarded along this photograph of her uncle. She had found me via Ancestry while doing a search for information about him.

Truman Sterling Chittick

In Memoriam: Richard Hamilton Garrison

RIchard Hamilton Garrison

In May 2014, I had no idea what a simple web search would wrought. As explained in the pinned post (and again in my post from last month), I was curious to see if any newspapers ran articles about the USS YF-415 disaster, and the subsequent rescue of about half of its crew by my dad’s ship, the USS Zircon (PY-16). Because of life (read: mostly work) and my hesitancy to make cold calls to people I don’t know, I didn’t get in contact with Isadore “Teddy” Bertone for almost two years after I’d read about him on the Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions (NADE) website. My biggest regret in this process so far is that I didn’t contact Tony Susinno when I had the chance. Tony was Teddy’s lifelong friend and fellow Zircon sailor with whom Heather Knowles at NADE also had spoken about the YF-415 disaster.

It wasn’t until after I met Teddy in October of 2017, that it occurred to me that more Zircon sailors who were aboard the ship on 11 May 1944 might be alive. So I went through the ship’s muster rolls I’d downloaded from Fold3.com and identified the approximately one hundred enlisted men and officers, and I began searching various newspaper archives sites, FindAGrave.com, Ancestry.com, etc. to see if I could find living Zircon sailors.

The first one for whom I couldn’t locate an obituary, either in archived newspapers, public records, or more recent newspapers via Google searches, was Richard Hamilton Garrison, who when he left the Zircon had the rating of Storekeeper, Third Class (SK3c). Not wanting to repeat my previous mistake of failing to speak with a Zircon sailor when I had the chance, I found Richard’s phone number online and gave him a call early in February of 2018. I announced who I was and explained why I was calling, and he lit up. He recounted his experience on the Zircon that day in 1944. While he couldn’t recall what he was doing at the time the Zircon came upon the YF-415, nor the names of the three men who had gone out searching for YF-415 survivors (my father, Paul Magera, Henry John O’Toole), he described the gruesome details of body parts in the water and the smell of burning flesh.

He also talked of being a musician, and how when he enlisted, he’d hoped to play in a Navy band. That wouldn’t come to pass. He told me of his wife, who had died of cancer, and that he also had cancer. It was clear in his voice that he missed his wife, but his own sickness didn’t seem to affect his attitude. At 92, he was sharp and cogent. He told me his son lived in the San Francisco area, and that his daughter had been a nurse in Oregon or Washington… that she looked after him. I later found he had another daughter.

We spoke for probably forty-five minutes, and towards the end, the names one of his fellow sailors came to mind… Joseph Henry Hoser, Jr., who also worked in the ship’s store. At the end of the call, Richard told me that he was really pleased that I’d called and suggested that if ever I were in the San Diego area to get in touch so that we could meet. I told him I would do just that, and as it happened, a client contacted me the next day or so to confirm photographing his association’s annual meeting in Los Angeles in the coming week. I called Richard and told him that I’d be in Los Angeles in just a few days, and that I could rent a car to make the two-hour drive to see him. He seemed excited at the prospect. I certainly was.

A day or two later, however, he called and left a message on my voicemail. It was rather somber in nature, and he said that he had to cancel my visit; that it was “weird,” but would I please call him back. When I did, he told me that a neighbour of his, a local sheriff, had come by to check in on him, as he regularly did, to see how he was doing. He asked him if anything was new, and Richard told him about me, my phone call, and my plans to visit him. The neighbour told him not to see me, that I was probably a con artist attempting to scam him. Richard told me that he didn’t give the guy my name, address or phone number. I told him that if he had, he would have been able to find me all over the internet. You know… because I’m not a con artist. Richard then told me that he would treat this all as if it had never happened. We said our good-byes.

In the months that followed, more Zircon photographs came into my possession, and I sent copies of a number of them to Richard, hoping that 1. I could convince him I was on the up and up; and 2. see if he could recall names of unidentified sailors in the photos. I also sent copies of news articles and the NADE newsletter. He didn’t respond. I sent a letter to his daughter who cared for him. She didn’t respond.

At some point, I shared Richard’s phone number with Teddy Bertone so that the two former ship mates could talk. Teddy has been my driving force in this project, and as he has opened up about it in the last few years with his family, he has also come to miss those with whom he served. Teddy is as proud a person that has ever worn a military uniform, and he continues to hold dear those days he was in the Navy. I knew how important it would be for him to talk with Richard, so I helped to make it happen. Neither knew each other way back then (or recalled having known each other), but Teddy had remembered that Richard played a trumpet on board and that he had blonde hair.

I’m a little more than half-convinced that the sailor on the right is Richard at RIddell’s Bay

A month or so later, I asked Teddy’s daughter how it went and she said it had gone great. I asked, too, if I came up in the conversation, hoping that Teddy had vouched for me and my integrity. She said that he had. So, I made another call to Richard, shortly after sending him an enlargement of the group photo which graces the top of this blog. I was really hoping he could identify himself in the photo and perhaps others. But he was curt with me when I asked about the photo, and then he hung up. I was really hopeful that I could have gotten him on video talking about the day of the YF-415 disaster, as well as about his everyday life aboard the ship. But since it was clear that he no longer wanted to talk to me, I decided not to press him and stopped communicating with him altogether, with the exception of a postcard for his birthday. As the 75th anniversary of the disaster approached, I sent a note to a San Diego area television station hoping that someone would interview him about the incident. I never heard from anyone. I suspect that no one contacted him. I shared his phone number with Boston-area writer-historian Jim Rose, who interviewed him for his article on the 75th anniversary of the disaster.

A couple of months ago, since I had stopped trying to contact Richard, and since I couldn’t have expected his family to get in touch with me, I did a web search, essentially look for—and hoping I wouldn’t find—an obituary for him. Alas, I did. I felt a bit crestfallen. He had died about ten months earlier. I began writing this up with the intention of posting it today, the first anniversary of his death.

I sent notes of condolence to two of his children, neither of which has responded, and I let Teddy’s daughters know. While I suppose I understand Richard’s kids’ unwillingness to contact me, I also sort of can’t. Selfishly, I’m sad that I wasn’t able to develop my relationship with Richard beyond that first phone call. I really would have loved to sit face to face with him and have a discussion about his time on the Zircon, and his life before and after the war… something I never did with my own father.




Anniversary

Six years ago today, I did a web search to see if any news articles had been posted anywhere about the 70th anniversary of the USS YF-415 disaster and the subsequent rescue by the crew of the USS Zircon (PY-16). (I think I typed in “USS Zircon” + “YF-415” + “John Power” for my query.) I thought that since the incident occurred near Boston, perhaps the Globe or other local papers might have something. I found no news articles.

As I have mentioned before, my dad never really talked about the events of 11 May 1944, despite that it probably was his defining moment as a sailor during the war. Until six years ago, I knew little more than the two ships’ names and the date and place the disaster occurred.

What I discovered was a link to the North Atlantic Dive Expeditions‘ (NADE) newsletter, The Lookout, in which my dad’s name (albeit misspelled as Powers) was mentioned by Teddy Bertone, another Zircon sailor, who had come across NADE’s website which originally discussed the discovery of the YF-415 on the ocean floor by Bob Foster in 2003. Teddy wanted to provide a first-hand account of that day.

I immediately contacted NADE’s Heather Knowles and David Caldwell to let them know of my connection, and asked for a better copy of one of the group photos that included my dad, one I’d never seen before. I also asked to get in touch with Teddy, and Heather provided his daughter Lisa’s contact information. I emailed his daughter the next day, but because I was suffering from a major back problem at the time, limiting my computer time, our communications stalled a bit. Also, because I am a weird blend of introvert/extrovert, I didn’t immediately follow up with contacting another sailor who was on the ship that day, Tony Susinno, and by the time I did get around to contacting Teddy directly, Tony had died.

In October of 2017, I met Teddy while I was out east for work, and it was at that time that it occurred to me that there might be other Zircon sailors out there who were on board that day in 1944. So, I went about downloading all the Zircon’s muster rolls via Fold3.com (an Ancestry site for military records) and creating a spreadsheet of all the sailors who’d served on the ship, and then narrowing it down to those who were aboard on that specific day.

Using Newspapers.com and NewspaperArchives.com, Google, and Ancestry, and other sources, I began tracking sailors’ names (via wedding announcements, obituaries, news items, etc.) to see who might still be around and able/willing to talk about the incident. I found only two, Richard Hamilton Garrison and Clarence Livingstone. When I called Richard, he told me how glad he was to hear from me, and he recalled that day quite vividly. Clarence, on the other hand, didn’t recall even being on the Zircon, much less the YF-415 disaster. (He later served in the Pacific Theater, where he lost numerous friends, and he told me “I’m not right” after that experience.) His godson told me that he didn’t like talking about his time in the Navy.

A lot of the details are somewhat muddy with me now, but at some point in the process, I also gathered what few photos I have of my dad in uniform and added them to my brother’s Ancestry account. One of those photos, which included my dad’s best man, John Gigarjian, was discovered at Ancestry by his daughter Jill (if memory serves), and she contacted my brother to ask about it.

It then occurred to me that many of the families of the sailors I was looking for might have accounts on Facebook, so, in November of 2017, I created a group, and while my original intent was to find only about a hundred sailors, I expanded my search to include all 450 or so sailors that served aboard the ship during its five-year commission. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that there might be many photos of the ship and crew available. But as more people joined the group, more and more photos were uncovered, my favourite being the one that adorns the header of this blog.

While my work on this project has slowed for various reasons over the course of the last several months, I continue to try to locate the families of sailors who served on the Zircon. I regularly refer to my spreadsheet and if someone I’ve sent a card or email to hasn’t responded, I try again. In lieu of getting results in that manner, I can only hope that those who, like me, are researching their fathers’ naval history, type their fathers’ names into a search engine along with “USS Zircon” and their searches lead them here.

So, in order to perhaps increase the odds of that happening, here is the complete list of enlisted sailors and officers I’ve been able to establish as having served on the Zircon at one point or another during its five-year commission as a Navy ship. There are one or two whose names might not belong on the list; many served in a capacity which I’ve yet to understand, and who therefore might not have actually served on the ship, but their names are on muster rolls, so I’ve included them. Those whose families I’ve located are in bold.

If your father’s or grandfather’s name is on the list (or if you are in some way related to a sailor on the list), and the name is not in bold, please contact me via the form on this site.

Ignacio Acack
Hartwig Achenbach
Arthur Merrill Adams
Edgar Calvin Alverson
Louis Augusto Alves
Gilbert Atwood Anderson
Kenneth Alvin Anderson
Ellis William Anderson
Charles John Andres
Samuel James Andrews
Ralph Patrick Annunziata
Fausto Plaganas Apostol
Emery Joseph Arsenault
Edward Richard Ausfeldt
Edward F Babish
James Harold Bacha
Fred Gilbert Baker
Joseph Francis Baldassare
Elmer Edward (Edison?) Banner
Alvin Edward Barber
William Eugene Barnett
Stanley Baron
Charles Robert Barton
John Wesley Bassett, Jr.
Raymond John Battistelli
Paul Buford Beach
Napoleon Beamon
Charles Clifton Beaury
John Shissler? Beck
Harold Beck
Richard Roy Beckwith
Robert Anthony Begandy
Frederick Joseph Beloin
Allen/Allan? Terhune Benjamin
John Stuart Bennethum
Jesse Gilbert Bennett, Jr.
Joseph Cornelius Benson, Jr.
Sidney Berkowitz
Frank Walter Bernard
Frank Whittelsey Berrien
Isidore Teddy Bertone
John Leonard Betts
Frank Paul Bielskis
John Erwin Bills
Douglas Cato Bird
Marvin Gordon Black
William Alfred Blair
Harry Reno Blankenship
Charles Andrew Blocher
Richard Harold Blust
Warren (also William in error) Albert Boebert
Otto Martin Boerner
Robert Mervin Bogart
Samual/Samuel Booker
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.
James Rudolph Burton
Raymond Butler
Berton Johnson Byers
James Alfred Campbell
Raymond Francis Carpenter
Wallace Richard Carper
Page Herman Carter
Thomas Joseph Casa
Raphael Cervera, Jr.
John Chencharik
Sanford Lee Childers
Robert George Clark
William Brougham Clark
James Cleveland
Harold Eugene Clift
Howard Cochrane
Richard Kendall Cockey
William John Collins
Salvatore Joseph Collusi
Francis Michael Conlon
Garrett Joseph Connolly
James Loren Cook, Jr.
Chester Guy Cooke, Jr.
Burl J Cooley
Carl Robert Cooper
Donald Gilbert Countryman
Aaron Cousin
Olin Roy Cousino
Edward Lee Crain
Sylvester Craven
Dalton Burtum Creaser
James Joseph Creevay
Edward Anthony Cronauer, Jr.
Herman Harold Crouser
Robert Preston? Peter? Crowder
Henry Robert Crum
Charles LaVern Damon
Clarence Weed Davis
Charles Brant Deer
Arthur R DeFields
Meir Hershtenkorn Degani
Frank Nicholas DeRupo
Ernest Leonel Descheneaux
Parker R Despain
Max Earl Dey
Albert Joseph DiPastina
Charles A(ddison) Dodge
A W Doherty
William Louis Dommerich
Charles James Dorrian
Richard Frederic Douglas
Arthur Fleming Drant, Jr.
Robert Milton Drew
Thomas Stephen Dunstan
Michael Duzmati
Jack Joseph Edwards
John Robert Edwards
Edward William Edwards
Arlo Eugene Ellis
William Elmer Ellis
Donald Charles Elmore
Andrew Jackson Ely, Jr.
Albert Craft Emmett, Jr.
Spencer Joseph Emery Ettman
Harry Wesley Eumont, Jr.
Burton Sandiford Evans
George Joseph Fager
Pete Richard Federoff
Lester M Ferguson
Thomas Frank Fiorini
Martin Joseph Fotusky
Victor John Fox
Steven Knowlton Fox, Jr.
Richard Llewellyn Francis
William Joseph Franey
Frank Stevall Frazier
Robert Lee Frederick
Emanuel Friedman
Michael Joseph Gaglio
Amadeo Galli, Jr.
Julius Emanuel Garber
James L Garnes
Richard Hamilton Garrison
Ira Elmer Garver, Jr.
John G Gay
Benjamin Johnson Gibbs
John Gigarjian
William Francis Gilligan
John David Gillis
Thomas Edward Gilmore
John Thomas Gleeson
John Richard Glenn
Philip Sheldon Godfrey
Walter Edward Gray
William Arthur Green
William Albert Greffin
Clifford Thomas Grein
Buford Aubry Griggs
Henry George Grossman
Nicholas Gulich
Harry Roland Gustafson
Anthony George Gutsch
George Seaman Hallman
Floyd Philip Hallstrom
Francis Charles Hanggi
Richard Stanton Harbster
George Emery Harmon
Louis Monroe Harper, Jr.
Bernard Lee Harvey
Alfred Maxwell Haseltine
James Adelbert Hauser
Charles Frederick Havemeyer
Earthy Lee Hawkins, Jr.
Eugene Hayden
John J Hayes
Harold Berton Hendershot
Odis Henderson
Robert John Hendricks
Percy Eugene Henneman
Howard E Henry
Rolla Harold Hoffmeister
Robert Richard Holmquist
Stephen G(arret?) Holster
Albert Edward Homewood, Jr.
Harold Victor Horn
George Thomas Horrigan
Joseph Henry Hoser, Jr.
Kenneth Melvin Howarth
John Joseph Howes
Edward Davis Howland
Joseph Ovila Huard
Walter Hudgins
Bernard Joseph Hughes
George Waldo Humphrey
Daniel Frederick Hurley
Sumner Kinney Hushing
Harold Wayne Hushour
Rinaldo Biagio Iannettone
Nealon Lewis Johnson
Homer Dowell Johnson
Lonnie Johnson
Daniel Johnson
Gordon Ronald Johnson
Joseph Johnson, Jr.
Burris Beaty Jones
Charles Jordan
Julian Paul Kaczynski
George Richard Kaufmann
James William Keating, Jr.
Randall Manuel Keator, Jr.
Francis Woods Keefe
George Donald Kelly
Herbert Fairfax Kendall III
George Vincent Killoran
William Leroy Kirchhoff
Gordon Denslow Kissam
Alvin Leanda Knox
Alexander Joseph Kotarba
Henry Francis Kroupa
George Albert Krueger
Paul Francis Kruyer
Martin John Kuck
Bernard Richard Kuprewicz
George La Roy
Arthur Donot LaBrecque
Clifford Everett Lamplough
Ned Landis Lamprecht
John Joseph Lane
Edward Lawrence Larsen
Auther Claud Lawler
Charles A(ubrey) Lea
James Francis Ledwith
Louis/Lewis E Lee
Paul Lenchuk
Abraham Levy
Kenneth Jenners Libby
Clarence Livingstone
John William Lomas
Harold Reynolds Love
George Love
Alexander Lulic
Stephen Lupco
William Frederick Luthmann
Francis James Lynch
John Bistis Lyon
James Stoughton MacBride
Francis Lawrence MacDonald
Donald M Mackie
Charles Wight MacQuoid
Michael William Magenheimer
Paul Magera
Angelo Maiorano
Harold Wallace Manner
Olden Manning
Thurlow Winsfield Manzie
Albert Frederick Manzke
James Marvin Marcus
George Ernest Marra
Bruce Harold Martin
Donald Edward McAllister
Francis Homer McCoy
Francis McDiarmid
Ulysses McFadden
Gilbert McGhee
John McGhie
James Francis McGovern, Jr
William H McInnis
James Stanley McKee
John Charles McNicol
Richard Elmo McPhail
Richard Edward Mercer
Theodore Charles Metzing
Irwin Earle Meyer
Henry John Meyer, Jr.
Louis Ludwig Milano
Carl Lester Miller
Dwight Robert Miller
John Mirgo, Jr.
Earle McK Mitchell
Wilson Broaddus Moberly
James Eli Monte
Charles Waymon Moody
Doris Clinton Mooney
John Earl Morgan
Charles Milne Morris
Joseph John Muller
Ben Ashenhurst Muse
Tolbert William Nash, Jr.
Edgar Vernon Neer
Frank White Nesbitt
William Mortimer Newman
Orla Ezra Nichols, Jr.
Stanley Thomas Niciejewski (Stanley Thomas Nichols)
Alfred Lester Nickles
Henry John Niemczyk
Anthony Nigro
Joseph Francis Nolan
Edwin Lathrope Oakley
Robert Davidson O’Brien
Edward Daniel O’Connell
Eugene Martin O’Connell
William Henry Oesterle
James Thomas O’Hagan
Erhard Linus Olson
Thomas Augustine O’Neil
Theodore Louis Ormsby
Eugene Patrick O’Shea
Henry John O’Toole
Julio Sabila Pacalioga
Michael Angelo Paladino
Will P Parker
Walter Leo Parks
Tilford E Patterson
John Herbert Peach
Richard Burton Peacock
Russell Ralph Peck
Nicholas Pegan
William Ganeric Petrushonis
Ardrey Vernon Peyton
John Louie Pineault, Jr.
Meredith Pippens
William Edward Pitt
James William Plant, Jr.
Rebo Pope
William Bibbins Post
Milton Powell
John Bell Power
Thomas Francis Powers
Mark Foster Preston
Lawrence Augustus Pyle, Jr.
Edward Walter Ranski
William Luke Reedy
Louis Rene Richards
James Michael Riley
Braulio Riqueza
William James Robb
James Walter Robertson
William Gaston Robinson
William Rogers
John Francis Ronkovitz
Max Wilburn Rood
Arthur Tracy Row, Jr.
Irwin Rubin
Angel Louis Ruiz
Tommie Rush, Jr.
Eugene Vapor Sagaral
Joseph Lawrence Sakmar
William Richard Salomons, Jr.
Mario Pat Saponaro
Servillano Sayaman
Charles Owen Schauss
Peter Anthony Schmanski
Henry Raymond Schneider
Robert Forest Segar
James Joseph Senft
Albert Severino
William Sexton
George Preston Seybolt
William Patrick Shea, Jr.
Francis Lynde Sherwood
Thomas Charles Shubert, Jr.
Jules George Sills
Michael Joseph Silvasie
Solomon Silverman
Stanley David Simon
Edward Simon
Joseph Edward Sims
James Howard Singleton
George W Sizemore
Quay Henderson Smith
Isiah Smith
Lasal Smith
Theodore Soltys
Carl Gottlob Sommer
John Leon Sorota
Christopher Sottile
Joseph Emerson Spence, Jr.
Floyd Everett Spencer
Henry Eller Staley
Robert James Stanslow
Albert Thomas Stephens
William Dixon Stevens
Ray N? Stewart
Harrison Stone
Carl Stone
Richard Harry Stortz
Iliff Ira Strahan
James Ralph Strain
Frank Joseph Strakosch
Francis Joseph Suchowiecki
Earl Eugene Sullivan
Cornelius Martin Sullivan
Anthony Charles Susinno
Ernest Herbert Swaggart
Andrew Mertens Swarthout
Charles Julian Symington, Jr.
Herman Joseph Taroli
Ernest Rudolph Tashea
Edwin Garth Taylor
George Eugene Tessier
Leonard Francis Therrien
Henry Francis Thomas
Willie Melvin Thompson
Kenneth Edward Thompson
Roy M Thompson
Edwin Thorne
P J Tiffany
James Edward Tiner
Joseph Michael Torres
Richard Prescott True
Frank Truhn, Jr.
Stornes Tucker, Jr.
Elster Johannessen Tufte
Ernest William Turnbull
William Walter Turney
Louis George Uljon
Draper Jack Underwood
Benjamin Vencheski
Anthony Joseph Viviano
Joseph Benedict Volente
Oscar Truman Walker
James Eugene Walker
Franklin Leroy Walter
Robie Leslie Waugh
Stanley Jerome Wazbinski
Ralph Leland Weber
John Dickson Webster
Louis Mario Weinman
Richard Lewis Weis
Leroy Matthew Weiss
George James Welsh
James Taylor Wenman
Carl J Westbrook
Daniel Wheeler
Wellesley Plant Wheeler
Harrison Gates White
David Quentin White
William E Whitney
Julius Peter Wilkowski
Leroy Allen Williams
Edelbert Eugene Williams
John Franklin Wilson, Jr.
Arthur Thomas Wincek
Lester Burton Wood
Lloyd Elmer Woodworth
Marvin Glenn Wright
Lowell Eugene Wright
Carl Young
Ira LaFlorrid Zeek, Jr.
Vincent Joseph Zemalkowski





The Pilot Boat New York

The Pilot Boat New York, (New York Times, 16 November 1951)

The story of the Nakhoda cum Zircon cum New York has fascinated me. Primarily, I suppose, because of my dad’s lack of conversation about his relationship with the vessel. As I’ve said, the one or two times I might have asked him about his time in the Navy, he said that he worked on a minesweeper, the USS YMS-75, despite that his most consequential actions as a sailor came while on the Zircon.

You see, I would have expected that the story of having served in the Navy on a yacht might have been an interesting one to tell, because of its un-usualness. I mean, who goes into the Navy expecting to be assigned to a former luxury yacht?

Of course, by the time the Navy renovated it for military service, it wasn’t the same ship upon which Frederick J. Fisher cruised the Great Lakes, or sailed to Miami, Florida, or partied with the other millionaires and politicians of his day. But I’ve been told that there were remnants of its former luxury despite the conversion to a war vessel.

Transforming the USS Zircon (PY-16) to the New York (Photo dated: 25 June 1951, Staten Island Advance )

It is thanks to NavSource that I first learned of the ship’s history from its construction until the time it disappeared from registries.

I contacted the Sandy Hook Pilots Association, hoping that there would be photos of the ship in the association’s archives, but after receiving a response to my initial email, I’ve not heard squat from the group, despite following up with several emails.

I also contacted the grandson of the millionaire, John Mecom, who purchased the New York when the pilots association built and commissioned a brand new ship in 1972. He told me that he accompanied his grandfather to New York to get the New York and sail it to the Houston area. According to NavSource, the New York‘s fate was unknown after 1973, but I found a forum online somewhere (I haven’t been able to find it again since) in which someone had heard that it had run aground in Key West in 1973. Mecom’s grandson confirmed that something had happened to the ship, and that his grandfather made an attempt to rehabilitate it, but he couldn’t recall any specifics.

After emailing a fellow at the Port of Galveston, he found documentation that it had indeed run aground, but not in Key West in 1973… in Corpus Christi in 1985.

I realize that it’s probably not likely, but I hope that the ship is still afloat somewhere as a houseboat.

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.

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