USS Zeilin APA-9
Air Attack Guadalcanal
By way of an introduction, I want to take the time to explain how a former member of an unnamed branch of military service came to become a guest blogger on a site devoted to naval history. Two words best describe that reason. Duty, a word coming from the 13th century Middle English word duete, meaning conduct due parents and superiors, done with the force of moral obligation; and the word Honor, as in the Biblical Commandment to one’s father and mother. These two words led me to have an unabated interest in naval history and gave purchase to a quest to know the man who was my father.
I was six years old the last time I saw my Dad. My last recollection was of a tall dark haired man, dressed in Levis, a white shirt and wearing a fringed leather jacket. He hugged me and my brother and walked out of our lives, leaving a void that took fifty years to fill. As I grew up, my mother continued to relate the stories of my father and how he had served in the Navy during World War II. He left a few treasures behind, two being, scale model balsa-wood Hellcat and Helldiver airplanes, that to my great regret became kindling after my brother and I conducted a mock dogfight one day when our mother was next door. It took me a long time to understand why she wept so, after scolding us for our transgression. She never told us until years later, that Dad had just left us. I was raised on the notion that he had been recalled to duty in the Korean War and never returned. This led to me devoting much of my interest in learning everything I could about the war in the Pacific and the Korean War, in an effort to honor the memory of my father. A fews years later, a school-mate unintentionally outed me in class, after I had given a much repeated show and tell story about my dad, the “Dead War Hero.” I confronted my mother and she revealed the truth. I was left with an even deeper void of wondering who my father was, and why he never returned.
Decades passed and I went off to my own war, and returned to get on with my life. A turn of events led me to get the chance to return to school and with it came the key to unlock the mystery of what had happened to my father. The Internet and research techniques learned when I returned to college, led me to discover the true history of my Dad’s service in the war, and perhaps understand why he just walked away that day, back in 1952. I learned he had joined the Navy December 8, 1941, and shipped out on the USS Zeilin AP-3 just in time to carry the 3rd Marine Defense Battalion to Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. His ship then continued to support operation “Watchtower” until after being attacked and nearly sunk during a bombing raid on November 11, 1942; they retired to the states for repairs. My father continued to serve in the Zeilin’s Second Division manning the 20mm’s and the boats and participating in four more invasions; Attu, Kiska, Bloody Red Beach at Tarawa, and Kwajalein, before returning stateside for a 30 day leave, during which he married my mom. He was then sent East to become a plank owner on the new carrier Bonhomme Richard CV-31. The notations on the final page of his Enlisted Man’s Jacket, list participation in fifteen carrier air strikes and operations from June 8, 1945 to the final strike that was recalled on 15, August, 45, due to Japan’s surrender.
The search for my father also led to the discovery that I had three other brothers, two of which I was able to connect with. My new-found brother Vince was able to fill in many of the blanks of our father’s life and relate how much he loved the Navy and never for a second, forgot his shipmates and the devotion to duty that they all shared. Perhaps the best illustration of that love, occurred when Vince returned from boot camp dressed in his “Cracker Jacks” and how Dad’s eyes welled up with pride and recognition that his son was following in his footsteps. He sat him down and shared many of the stories that he had held closed in his heart for forty years. His greatest regret as related to Vince was not getting back together with his two older sons and saying how sorry he was for not being there for them. I realize now, after learning myself of what my father experienced during the war, that the experience of war sometimes drives the strongest of men away, to suffer the memories alone.
I am not writing this as a personal self-serving homage to my dad, but to let the readers of this blog understand how honored I am to be invited to symbolically join the Navy and honor the memory of all who have served, by writing about the history of this indispensable branch of military service. Naval history is more than the ships and the great captains; it is the everyman, the seaman, and the marine who manned those ships and did their duty and honored the commitment to service and country.
With that, I ask your permission to come onboard.