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Harold Lee Zimmerman video Interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

View at Kansas Memory

Creator: Zimmerman, Harold Lee

Date: November 2, 2007

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: World War II Oral Histories Project

Unit ID: 218233

Biographical sketch: Lee Zimmerman graduated from Eudora, KS high school in 1943 and then went to Wichita and worked for Boeing for a few months before joining the Merchant Marines. Along with about forty others he got on a train in Union Station in Kansas City and headed to Catalina Island. The island had previously been owned by the Wrigley family, owners of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and had been taken over by the federal government for a training station. Basic training was the same as regular Army or Navy; learning discipline, marching, etc. Then he was assigned to the engine department, whose duty is to repair engines and take care of things on deck. They also had weapons training on twenty millimeter cannons. A standard Merchant Marine ship had 44 men on board and the life expectancy was forty percent, they were losing six men out of ten. Food was great and once he got his commission he had his own room with a bath. They ate in the officers' mess hall or the crew's mess hall and had family style served meals. Working in the engine room their typical shift was four hours on, eight hours off. There was plenty of recreation time and being an avid reader he spent his time off reading. In the Merchant Marines you sign articles for one year, which is your assignment and if you aren't on the ship that long then you have to break articles. It is different from the Navy because after one year they have to make an honest effort to bring you back. Being it was war time, Zimmerman was on one ship for over a year, and they have a right to do that, he said. The Joseph Simon had five cargo holds, full of cargo with plates over the holds and two P-38 bombers sitting on top of them. In the beginning when they sailed out they had no idea where they were going but by reading the codes on the cargo they soon figured it out. 31 days after leaving San Francisco, they landed in Brisbane, Australia, having seen nothing but ocean. They returned empty to Los Angeles on April 25th 1944 and he came back to Lawrence for two weeks. When he returned to Los Angeles he signed onto the Alcoa Pennant, this time sailing all over the Pacific to Eniwetok, Majuro, etc. unloading mostly ammo. They left in March and came back in September, crossing the equator almost every day. "The average temperature up on deck was 120 degrees in the daytime and the engine room was 130 to 135 degrees." Because all the docks had been wiped out in the war their cargo was unloaded onto barges and it usually took 30 days to unload a ship. On September 7, 1944 he was discharged off of the Alcoa Pennant and came back to Lawrence for a couple of weeks. On his return to Los Angeles he joined the Skagway Victory and was on it from October 28th until April of 1945. Their destination was Saipan and though the invasion had already occurred, there was still a lot of fighting going on. He saw more war there than any other place he had been; "long trenches and thousands of dead Japanese lined up like cord wood." Other cargo and Navy ships came into the harbor and they just sat there waiting until they took off in a convoy of about two hundred ships. Word was that they were getting ready to invade Okinawa and he said that there were just thousands of ships all over. They anchored close to Naha City and every night the sirens would start and one night their number one hold was hit by a Kamikaze plane. They were taken to a new anchorage and a Navy repair ship converted them from a victory ship to a barge. Since their ship was loaded with ammunition it was a wonder they weren't blown up. But in other holds they had Schlitz Beer, all donated by the Teamster's Union, and it didn't blow up. When he came home this time he spent about a month as he had accumulated time. It cost about 65 dollars for a round trip train ticket, because as a civilian he didn't get to travel free like regular military did. He returned to San Francisco and was put on a tanker, the Marin Hills, a brand-new ship that wasn't out of the shipyards yet. They took a couple of shakedown cruises and then loaded up with aviation gas and went Yokohama, Japan. He said it was a nice trip, much faster at 22 knots, and he loved the tanker because it was so clean. The trip to Yokohama was uneventful except for a tragedy that occurred during a storm about fifteen days out. It wasn't a typhoon but there were lots of big waves and their skipper and little dog were washed off a catwalk and lost. They returned to the United States at Christmas time and he and a buddy of his from Denver decided that wanted to go to Europe so they went to New York to catch a ship. Some of the ships he was on were the Yale Victory and the Citadel Victory, bringing troops home from Le Havre and Antwerp. He also went to Rio and Buenos Aires, bringing back coffee beans to the U.S. From 1946 to 1948 he attended Kansas University at Lawrence and when the Korean War came along he had a commission in the Naval Reserve. He returned and served on the Santa Paula for about two years, all over the Pacific and Asia, and also served on the Collier, hauling crude oil up the coast. In 1953 he got out for good and has been in business, the Zimmerman Steel Company in Lawrence, since that time. He was married for 32 years but he said that he was once told that there were two things a merchant seamen did not need. One of them was an automobile and the other was a wife.

Summary: Harold Zimmerman enlisted in the Merchant Marine in 1943 and served on the Joseph Simon, Alcoa Pennant, Scagway Victory , Marin Hills. Interviewed by Nancy L. Porter on Nov 2, 2007, Zimmerman talked about military experiences in the Second World War. Zimmerman, usually called Lee, was born in Eudora Kansas on November 30, 1925. He graduated from Eudora High School in 1943. He provides good descriptions of life on his various ships. He also served during the Korean War. He is involved in the Zimmerman Steel Company, Lawrence. The 2005 Kansas Legislature passed a bill funding the WWII Veterans Oral History grant program. This transcript is from one of the community institutions receiving grants. The transcript of the interview is presented here; the original video copy of the interview is available through the Watkins Community Museum of History (Lawrence) and through the Kansas State Historical Society.

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Title (Main title): Harold Lee Zimmerman video Interview on experiences in World War II (transcript)

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019-14-05-06  Mini DV Tape 

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