Thursday, December 6, 2018

Walter Zeeb: Immigrant, American hero KIA World War II

Walter Zeeb
High School Yearbook

A casual mention in a World War II letter led me to the story of an unsung hero from America’s “Greatest Generation.” Walter Zeeb came to the United States as a child from Germany in 1928. He enlisted in the Army in 1943 and was killed in action in Italy in 1944 at age 22, less than a year after becoming a U.S. citizen.

I learned of Walter Zeeb through a letter I found on eBay that was written from North Africa in 1943 by Private Frederick C. Warren to his friend Pearl Naylor in his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. There’s nothing remarkable in the letter; it’s just chit chat about their time together before the war. Among other things, he wrote about how they used to roller skate at a local rink.

In the letter, Private Warren wrote, “Walt Zeeb has not written to me in quite a while now, but I understand he was featured in the national skating revue. Boy, what a break!”
Gladys Till
High School Yearbook

When I find a letter like this, I usually try to return it to the family of the man who wrote it, but I struck out on finding Private Warren’s family, so I decided to check out “Walt Zeeb.”

My research found that Walter Zeeb was a roller-skating instructor at the Morris and Essex Rollerdrome in Springfield,  New Jersey before going into the Army, and the “national skating revue” was some type of big showcase for skaters. I then learned that he died a hero in Italy on June 4, 1944. Sergeant Zeeb’s Silver Star citation says he single-handedly manned an exposed machine gun nest after the gunner had been killed and fired on the enemy to protect other men in his unit despite coming under heavy fire. A War Department news release about his Silver Star award says, "He was wounded, but he maintained his gun position until he was killed by sniper fire later the same day.

A news article in the West Essex Tribune June 24, 1944 said flags were flown at half-staff for a day to honor him in his hometown of Livingston, New Jersey. The article also reported that news of his death came on the first anniversary of his marriage to the former Gladys Till of East Orange. Records indicate he enlisted in the Army in March 1943 and married Gladys in June, probably just before he shipped out for Europe.

Immigration records show that Walter’s parents, Ludwig and Ernestine Zeeb, came to the United States from Germany in 1928 with their six children, the youngest of whom was seven-year-old Walter. He joined the Army in March 1943 and almost immediately filed a petition for citizenship. He became a U.S. citizen on June 19, 1943, and less than a year later was killed in action. Two of Walter’s brothers also served in the Army during WWII, and both came back alive.

Walter and his wife, Gladys, both
attended West Orange High School.
Walter Zeeb's profile from the 1940 West Orange High School yearbook.
In his profile in his senior yearbook, his “weakness” is listed as “Gladys.” They did not have children from their brief marriage. Gladys remarried in 1950 and honeymooned in Bermuda. She died in Florida in 1999 at the age of 79.

Sergeant Walter Zeeb is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy, and his name is inscribed on a WWII memorial in Livingston, New Jersey.
I doubt those of us who didn’t live through World War II can fully appreciate how it impacted the lives of almost everyone in America. Here’s Walter, a handsome young man who came to America, got an education, met a pretty young girl and married her. He likely had a fun life being a skating instructor. Then he was thrown into war and died in a foreign country. Gladys married her high school sweetheart, lived with her parents while he went overseas, learned of his death on their first anniversary, and never had the closure of his remains being returned to the United States for burial. The day these two young people were married they probably thought they’d have a long, happy life together. Instead, he died in the service of his adopted country, and she had to find the strength to go on with her life, Greatest Generation, indeed.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

'What a lucky man I am to have a girl like you'

I often come across World War II postcards and letters written by lonely soldiers to their sweetheart back home. Sometimes they mention that the girl sent the soldier a picture of herself. Such is the case with a postcard I recently found on eBay, and the story behind it is particularly interesting.

Back in those days, taking photos and having them developed was a bit of an undertaking. It was not cheap and not very fast, nothing like today when digital photos can be transmitted instantly.

The card is from James, an Army Private First Class stationed in Alaska, to Marjorie in New York City, (I’m omitting last names for privacy). It's dated 10 July 1944. In the postcard, James gushes about the wonderful photographs he received from Marjorie, and concludes by saying, “Your coiffure is stunningly, enormously attractive. What a wonderful, lucky man I am to have a girl like you.”

Ah, young love. But it turns out they weren’t
Front side of James' postcard.
so young, at least Marjorie wasn’t. She was 44 years old, a schoolteacher doing graduate work at Columbia University in New York City. She lived in Laureate Hall, Columbia's on-campus graduate student housing on West 119th Street in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. The building is still there.

Marjorie was a native of Portland, Maine, held an undergraduate degree from Wellesley, went on to earn a master’s from Columbia, and maybe even a doctorate. Records on indicate she was a teacher in Maine, Connecticut, and New York City from the 1930s through the 1950s, and was later a state personnel officer in Albany, NY.

James is something of a mystery. His Army Service Number appears on the postcard. Usually, that number allows me to find the soldier’s hometown and year of birth in the National Archives' database of WWII enlistments, narrowing down the search, but not so with James. There are gaps in the database, and his record is apparently missing. There were dozens of men with his name in the Army during WWII, so he’s a needle in a haystack.

Marjorie's photo from Wellesley College
1922 yearbook
A bit of luck from a Google search gave me hope of finding more about James, but it was another dead end. The University of Alaska Anchorage / Alaska Pacific UniversityConsortium Library has four letters James wrote to Marjorie, and I was able to obtain copies thanks to their very helpful staff. It’s obvious from the letters that James was well-educated. He had an extensive vocabulary and used perfect grammar. It’s also obvious he was smitten with Marjorie; at least that’s what he wrote. (Who knows, maybe he was like the sailor who had a girl in every port.) Nonetheless, the letters are full of praise for Marjorie’s brains and beauty, chit chat about friends and relatives, and admonitions for her to not work too hard at school. But in all his flowery prose there was not a word that would help identify James.

I don’t know what happened to James and Marjorie after the war, but I do know they didn’t marry each other. She died in 1995 at age 94, still with her maiden name. As for James, he’ll be one of those mysteries I’ll probably never solve.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Finally Found the Randle Family!

For more than five years I’ve been searching for relatives of the four Randle brothers from Neosho, Missouri, all of whom served in World War II. I had just about given up on finding them when out of the blue came an email that solved the mystery.

It all started around 2012 when I bought a postcard written by Ensign Bob Randle, a Navy pilot, to his parents in Neosho. It didn’t take long to find information online about Bob and his brothers, Bill, Durant, and Jack, but I couldn’t locate any family members.

In April 2012 I wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Neosho Daily News, asking if anyone had information about the Randles. I got several helpful replies, but they all led to dead ends. During 2016 I contacted a few people on who had ties to the family, but hit more dead ends. I searched all manner of online records, and even though I could identify several family members and tried locating them, nothing worked. I wrote about my fruitless search on this blog in 2013.

In July 2016 I was searching postcards on eBay and, much to my surprise, found one written by Bob’s brother, Durant, in 1944. In the card, Durant mentioned that he had just had a visit from Bob. I bought it. Now I had two Randle cards, but still couldn’t find the family. A few months ago I put the Randle cards in my “too tough” file and gave up. The “too tough” file has a dozen or so postcards where I’ve been unable to find family members.

I’m an early riser. As soon as I get up I make coffee and check email. A few weeks ago, I had just sat down at my computer when this message popped up at 4:55 a.m.:

“John: My children are the grandchildren of Robert (Bob) Randle, Jr. If you're still monitoring this blog I would love to chat with you.”

The message was from Debbie Randle, whose ex-husband (also named Bob Randle) is the son of the Bob Randle who wrote one of the postcards. Debbie lives in Florida.

I fired off a response and asked Debbie to call me. When we talked, she explained that she and a relative had been working on family history. The relative was searching the web and stumbled across my blog post from 2013. She told Debbie about it, and Debbie was able to contact me through the blog. I put the postcards in the mail to her the same day, and sent her a large batch of Randle family information I had gathered during my search. All four Randle brothers have passed away.

Debbie sent me some photos of Bob, including a couple in his pilot’s gear. My wife commented that he looks like a movie star. Those photos are attached.

Guess it’s time to dig out my “too tough” file and take another look. Maybe they’re not so tough, after all.

Durant Randle's postcard (above and below)

Bob Randle's postcard (above and below)

Bob Randle

Bob Randle Looking Like a Movie Star

Bob Randle in the Cockpit

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ardath and Kenneth Moore -- the remarkable couple behind a WWII telegram

Sometimes I find an item from WWII that could become a valued family memento, but there is no family left. Such was the case with a telegram I found today on eBay. It led me to the story of a remarkable couple from the Greatest Generation.

The telegram is dated May 15, 1944; sent from Camp Shelby, Mississippi; addressed to P.H. Diles in  Groveport, Ohio; and signed “Ardath” (no last name). The message read:

Arrived safely – have room close to camp bus line – possibility of working and living on post – tired but happy – letters soon – don’t worry – love – Ardath.”

It took a little sleuthing, but I figured out who “Ardath” was. Here is the rest of the story.

Ardath was Ardath Adale Adams Moore. She was 20 at the time she sent the telegram. Her husband was a soldier, Kenneth F. Moore, 22. They had been married a little less than two years at the time of the telegram. Her obituary says she earned a B.S. degree in animal husbandry, but that wasn't the end of her education, as we shall see. 

Ardath and Kenneth Moore

The telegram was addressed to a man named Pearl Diles in Ardath’s hometown of Groveport, Ohio. Pearl and his wife, Lucy, were in their late sixties. Lucy was Ardath's grandmother, and Pearl was her step-grandfather. The young wife was letting the folks back home know she had arrived safely to be with her husband.

Ardath and Kenneth were married August 16, 1942, and he entered the Army 13 days later. I suspect he had received his draft notice and they got married before he reported to the Army. At the time of his enlistment he had one year of college. After the war he earned a doctorate in agronomy from Ohio State and taught at Ohio State and Clemson University. He fought in Europe during the war, and his obituary said he was awarded a Bronze Star medal. Ardath's telegram was sent three weeks before D-Day.It's likely Kenneth shipped out for Europe not too long afterward.

But that’s just the beginning of their story. Ardath died August 5, 2014, and Kenneth on September 28, 2015, in Ormond Beach, Florida. His obituary in a Daytona Beach newspaper recounts their remarkable career together after he retired from teaching:

He returned to Springfield, Ohio where he became CEO for an agricultural trade school at Clark County Technical Institute. While he was there, he met a pastor, Mr. Edgar Aleshire. Mr. Aleshire hired them to tend his afflicted daughter, Bobbie. After some time the winters got too hard on them so they moved to Daytona Beach in 1971. After Mr. Aleshire and Bobbi passed away, Kenneth and Ardath went back to school and each earned A.S. degrees in nursing and as registered nurses they worked with several doctors in this area. Kenneth and Ardath provided a Christian Clinic for more than 10 years, helping indigent people with medical needs. Ken's caring for others began early in his life as he and Ardath took in many needy students when they were in college.

Kenneth and Ardath were married on Aug. 16, 1942 and at her passing in August, 2014 they were eleven days shy of their 72nd anniversary. Kenny and Ardath served Daytona Beach First Baptist Church in the Baptist Ministry for more than 20 years. He is now a charter member and Deacon Emeritus of Providence Church in Ormond Beach.

Ardath and Kenneth were honored in 2005 with a Points of Light Award, given by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in honor of their work with the free clinic. In addition to running their free clinic, they reared seven foster children. They also survived a terrible ordeal in 2001. They were attacked and robbed while visiting Tampa, and both were severely beaten. According to a newspaper report: “Kenneth Moore, 79, suffered a dislodged eardrum, some hearing loss, seven fractures on his face, jaw, and collar bone, and damaged teeth. Mrs. Moore, 77, had damaged teeth and a severely bruised face that required surgery.”

They forgave their attackers. After they recovered from their injuries, the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau coordinated a free return visit to Tampa, including Busch Gardens and other attractions.

Although they reared seven foster children, Ardath and Kenneth had no children of their own. Their only survivors were his sister and a niece. Her obituary is here and his is here.