Hagerstown Submarine Vet Honored in Fargo
Hagerstown Submarine Vet Honored in Fargo
He's the last surviving USS Robalo crewman
by Jennifer LB Leese
July 1st was given to the last surviving USS Robalo crewmen and is now officially known as "David P. Zier Day". This was the day Hagerstown resident, David Zier, 85, was honored by local leaders and veterans at the USS Robalo memorial, which is located in Fargo, North Dakota's Lindenwood Park.
David served as Fireman First Class aboard the USS Robalo, a 1525-ton Gato class submarine built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She was one of 52 submarines lost during World War II. She went into commission in late September 1943 and transited to the Pacific during the last part of that year. Her first war patrol, during the first months of 1944, began at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
June 1944, the captain of the USS Robalo asked if several of his crewmen wanted to stay back in port as the submarine went out on its third mission. David was one of those men. "I can't thank the captain enough," David said.
On the night of July 26, 1944, while passing through the Balabac Strait near Palawan, she apparently struck a Japanese mine and quickly sank.
A chance encounter would eventually lead to knowledge about what happened to the Robalo. The Puerto Princesa Prison Camp, which was located on an island of the Philippines, was a Prisoner of War camp operated by the Japanese. This prison camp would later be known for one of the most horrific atrocities of the Second World War. Concerned that the United States was planning an attack on the island, the guards rounded the prisoners up, and directed them into below-ground air raid shelters. They tossed gasoline into the shelters and set them on fire. Any of the men that made it out of the shelters was gunned down. Of the approximately 150 men who were prisoners in the camp, 11 survived. A tragic side note to this story is that while the United States did eventually take over the island, at the time of the massacre, there were no plans by the United States to do so.
A prisoner of the camp dropped a note from a window in his cell. An American soldier, H.D. Hough, Yeoman Second Class, who was on work detail, picked up the note. This man contacted Trinidad Mendosa, wife of guerilla leader Dr. Mendosa who furnished further information of the survivors.
The note confirmed that four men escaped as the Robalo sunk and swam to shore. They landed in enemy territory, and were promptly picked up by the Japanese. They were held for some time at the Princesa Camp. Eventually the prisoners were removed from the camp and put on a Japanese destroyer. These men were never heard from again. It is believed that two destroyers were sunk during the same time frame and these men were aboard one of these ships.
Over the years, each state has "adopted" one of the submarines to memorialize from World War II. North Dakota got the USS Robalo.
Finished in 2004, the Robalo Memorial holds the story of the submarine and is forever engraved with those who lost their lives on her.
David traveled to Fargo, North Dakota with his four children, Terri Black, David Zier, Dan Zier, and Pete Zier, from his home in Hagerstown, Maryland to be a very special guest at the ceremony to honor the USS Robalo and her crew. "I can't tell you how grateful I am to be here with all of these people at this memorial," David said.
"Memorials like this are very important to each and every one of us," Mayor Dennis Walaker said to as he welcomed David and his family to Fargo.
Thanking David for his service was commander of the Submarine Veterans of North Dakota, Duane Sand. Mr. Sand spoke of the camaraderie shared by many of the submarine veterans. "We have a brotherhood of people...who want to keep the submarine tradition alive," Sand said. At that time, David then presented Sand with a memorial plaque that he made for the captain and the crewmen.
David's favorite part of the memorial was the picture of a surfacing submarine engraved in the stone monument. "This has always been my favorite picture," he said.
July 1, 2009 will always be a special day in the hearts and minds of David's family and friends ... including mine, as he is my grandfather.
Resources: HistoryCentral.com, FleetSubmarine.com, and History.Navy.Mil