For the longest time, I had no idea who the fellow on the left side of this photo was. This is one of five photographs in which he appears amongst the twenty-three photos taken at my parents’ wedding, on 20 January 1945. I knew him only as my dad’s best man.
No names appear on the back of the photos. No names were written on the pages of the album that the photos once occupied. I recall that the album had a deep wine-coloured covered and was bound with rivet-like posts—two or maybe three of them—and I seem to recall a decorative cord. The pages were black (like construction paper) and the photos were held to them with photo mounting corners.
On my parents’ Certificate of Marriage, the Witnesses’ names identified Dad’s Best Man as John Gigarten.
For as long as I’ve had the Certificate of Marriage, I had never paid much attention to the writing on it. I had always assumed that the Witnesses’ names were signatures. Therefore, why would someone not spell his name correctly. Of course, had I taken the time to scrutinize the document just a wee bit, I would have noticed that the handwriting was identical. It’s possible that Gladys, mom’s best friend and Maid of Honour, had written the names in. Maybe Mom did, although the handwriting doesn’t quite look like hers. The priest perhaps? Someone in the church’s office?
I’ll never know, of course.
Years ago, when the internet was still rather in its infancy, I had a trial account at Ancestry, and I searched for John Gigarten in Ancestry’s database. Nothing. Not one single result came up. I probably even used my pre-Google search engine of the day, AltaVista. Nada. It seemed that there was not a human being on the planet with the name Gigarten. It never occurred to me at the time that the name was misspelled because again, I had assumed—without close scrutiny—that he signed the document and how is it possible that he would have written the wrong name? It was nothing short of baffling.
Fast forward to October of 2017…
I had work in Boston photographing a conference, so while I was there, I visited the YF-415 memorial for the Black sailors who were killed in that disaster, which is on the site of the former Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot (now Bare Cove Park), and later that day met the divers who discovered the wreckage of the YF-415 in 2002. (It was a weird coincidence that one of the divers, Bob Foster, attended Bowling Green State University at the same time I had, and that we had a mutual friend.) When the conference was over, I took a train to New York so that I could meet one of my dad’s ship mates, Isidore “Teddy” Bertone, who has been a driving force for this research project of mine. We met while a videographer recorded our meeting. While Teddy and I talked, I showed him my parents’ wedding pictures and when the above picture of my dad and his best man came up, Teddy excitedly exclaimed, “Chick!”
He explained that “Chick” was a cook on the Zircon, and then showed me a picture from shipmate Frank DeRupo’s wedding—”Chick” was the same guy in my parents wedding pictures! He was DeRupo’s best man, too. In all likelihood, “Chick” was probably a really great guy, but I’ve also wondered if maybe he was so popular because he was the ship’s cook (SC1c) and no one wanted to get on his bad side. I also wonder how many times he served as someone’s best man.
When I returned from the trip, I began in earnest seeking out more living Zircon sailors. Because the YF-415 disaster was forefront in my mind with regard to the information I was seeking, I downloaded all of the Zircon’s Muster Rolls and Reports of Changes and set about trying to figure out who was aboard the Zircon on 11 May 1944. As I created my spreadsheet, I came across the name Gigarjian on one of the muster rolls, and a light went on.
So “Gigarten” was probably due to someone having misheard a name. Or perhaps my mom and dad weren’t familiar enough with John to know how he actually spelled his name, despite that Dad had spent two years with him aboard the Zircon, so took a guess without asking him. Maybe my dad always thought his name was Gigarten.
My older brother Mike, who has been working on our family’s genealogical history for probably twenty years created a “family tree” of Zircon and YF-415 crew members using his Ancestry account. He made a profile for Gigarjian within the tree, and I uploaded the wedding photographs I have of him to the profile. Not long after that, we received a note from one of Gigarjian’s daughter’s with regard to the photographs as she had never seen them before. It occurred to me then to create a Facebook group where we could come together to share photos, stories, documents… anything related to our fathers’ service on the Zircon. As of today, the group has about 170 members representing about a quarter or so of the 400-plus sailors that served on the ship at one point during its five-year commission.
Living in these times with the internet, it’s easy to forget the days when getting in touch with someone who lived a thousand miles away was either a chore (writing letters) or a major expense (long-distance telephone calls). I recall well my mom’s frugality with regards to household expenses. For example, once I traveled to Chicago alone, and Mom wanted me to call her collect when I got there. She would refuse the call, of course, as she only wanted to know that I arrived OK.
So it probably was with my dad and his former ship mates. The cheaper long-distance rates didn’t kick in until after 11:00 P.M. on weekdays, and as my dad rarely stayed up beyond 11:30 (he’d hit the sack after watching the local news), it’s unlikely he would have called Chick. I believe that the same rates applied to the weekends, so it’s possible that if Dad had wanted to catch up with Chick or anyone else he’d served with, he would have done it at that time, but I just don’t recall him ever spending that much time on the phone with anyone. Besides, nine months out of the year, his weekends were spent either playing golf or watching it (and baseball) on television.