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The Pilot Boat New York, Part II

The path to discoveries often take unexpected turns.

Recently, I did another newspaper archive search for articles about the Zircon’s life after World War II. Specifically, I was looking for somethinganything about the ship after John W. Mecom, Sr. purchased it from the Sandy Hook Pilots Association. It had served for about twenty years in New York Harbor by that time, and was about forty-three years old.

I couldn’t find anything substantive, although in my previous post I wrote about possibly having found it’s post-New York name. (Heavy emphasis on possibly.) I then searched again for anything about the ship when it was still the New York. Of course, trying to search for a ship with that name can be futile—to say the least—when there’s a city and a state by that name and probably thousands of businesses with it in their names.

I did an eBay search for Sandy Hook Pilots Association with the thought that maybe, just maybe someone have a press photograph of the ship for sale. I got lucky a couple of years ago when I purchased a copy of a press photo of the ship taken when it was undergoing the conversion from Navy vessel to pilot boat. So, you never know!

I found nothing on eBay, but somewhere, somehow along the way, I found a reference to the book, Always On Station: The Story of the Sandy Hook Ship Pilots, by Francis J. Duffy After looking to see if Duffy might still be alive (he isn’t), I found that he was associated with the Steamship Historical Society of America (SHSA), whom I contacted to see if perhaps the group happened to have a photo of the New York in its collection. Sure enough it does.

Aimee Bachari, SHSA’s Education Director, let me know that she had two negatives of the ship on hand, but no means in-house by which to scan the them. As a matter of wanting to know exactly what she had (I expected 35mm negatives), I asked her if she wouldn’t mind holding a negative up to a diffused light source and taking a photo of it with her mobile. I half-expected that she’d tell me to take a hike, but a day or two later, I got an email with this photo attached. A big, beautiful 4″ x 5″ negative! And well-exposed to boot!

I took the image into Photoshop, inverted from a negative image to a positive, corrected the perspective a little bit, converted it to black and white, and cropped it to get rid of most of Aimee’s hand. I cropped it again to little more than the ship.

In this form, it’s not great, but it is nonetheless gold.

Yesterday, I contacted a photo lab about a mile from where SHSA’s offices are to see how much it would cost for scans of the negatives (surprisingly not much) and then emailed Aimee to offer to pay for them. I’m even willing to pay additional as a donation. I’ve yet to hear back.

I then set about to determine where the photograph had been taken by opening up Google Maps and scanning the Manhattan and Brooklyn shorelines in 3D mode to see if I could recognize the buildings. They look pretty distinct to me, so I was hopeful. But then, the photograph was taken 29 May 1951, and there’s the possibility that the buildings were no longer there.

I contacted a friend of mine back in Michigan who grew up in New York to see if she might recognize the buildings. As luck would have it, she has an 85-year-old uncle who worked on the New York City waterfront during the 1950s. She sent him the photo and he immediately recognized the Whitehall Building, which is just above the boat in the middle of the 1951 photo.

Via Google Earth, this is the area where the ship was photographed. The Whitehall Building appears to have been having some work done on its façade when the image was recorded as there is black fabric covering the south side of the building.

The waterfront area has change quite a bit as almost all of the docks have been replaced by landfill.

Grand Mutter

After what seems like an eternity of not paying much attention to the Zircon, its crew, its history, and therefore this blog, something recently lit a little bit of a fire underneath me to try to find out what happened to the ship after it was sold to John W. Mecom, Sr. in 1973. So, I did a newspaper search hoping that Newspapers.com additions to its collections of newspapers, I’d come across an article about the ship running aground in Corpus Christi in 1988.

I didn’t find anything about that incident, but I discovered an obituary in the 31 August 1986 Galveston Daily News for Bill Curry, whom Mecom had employed as the captain of his yacht.

While Curry died a couple of years before the incident in Corpus Christi, I hope that I might be able to find out from his children (I’ve attempted to contact only one as of yet, with no luck) if they know anything about the ship or have photographs or… something.

I also found this article in the 27 August 1989 Victoria Advocate which, while not about the ship per se, very possibly mentions the name that Mecom gave to to the Nakhoda/Zircon/New York after he purchased it—Grand Mutter.

I haven’t been able to find any other news stories which mention the Grand Mutter, but I’ve sent an email to Mecom’s grandson to see if at least he can confirm that that’s indeed the name that was given to it.

Just as I was about to publish this, I noticed that the latter article above mentions John W. Mecom, Jr. not John W. Mecom, Sr. Possibly it’s a typo or possibly I’m following a dead-end trail.

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 M 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





Common Names

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

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

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

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

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

Edward Simon, Construction Mechanic, Second Class

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

Michael Joseph Silvasie, William Bibbins Post, Edward Simon

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

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

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

Stalking

The above is an email I received after sending a postcard to the daughter of a Zircon sailor. Note that it’s from me!

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 (with MY name as the sender) 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. I’ve spoken to some people who have put the postcard in a drawer or on top of their refrigerator with the intention of calling me but forget to because, well… people are busy. I can’t know what is happening on the other end of my communication attempts.

Anyway, my response to the email, although I suspect that she never again logged into the account to see it:

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.

The Troves

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suppose that if my research comes to nothing else, I will be glad to have discovered all that I’ve come across so far. My father brought virtually nothing back with him from his time in the Navy. Actually, it’s very possible that he had copies of some of the photographs at some point, and that I never saw them since I didn’t come along until more than ten years later. It’s possible that 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 or 1952.

Search

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

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

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

William Mortimore Newman
William Mortimore Newman, MoMM and CMM

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioning Day, 25 March 1941

USS Zircon (PY-16) Commissioning Ceremony

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.

Captain Harold Vincent McKittrick, Lt. Commander Cornelius Martin Sullivan, Lt. Hugo FrankSasse

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

19410325USSZirconDeckLog01
Cover of Deck Log, 25 March 1941
19410325USSZirconDeckLog02
List of Officers, 25 March 1941
19410325USSZirconDeckLog03
Remarks and roster of the ship’s crew
19410325USSZirconDeckLog04
Remarks and continuation of the ship’s roster

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

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

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

From Out Of The Blue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USSZircon_Postcard01
USS Zircon (PY-16) at dock (possibly during its conversion for military service); one of the group photos

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

USSZircon_Postcard02
“The Whole Gang” ~ Riddells Bay, The Bahamas; the Zircon underway

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

USSZircon_Postcard03
Commissioning Ceremony, 25 March 1941, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

A Lack of Stories

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

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

Maybe.

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

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

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