Sunday, June 8, 2014
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Navy Veteran Jaime Ackles is trying to raise $6,000 for The Wounded Warrior Project by competing in what's called the Spartan Trifecta.
The Spartan Trifecta consists of a racer completing the following three races in a calendar year:
-The Spartan Sprints is a fast muddy run: 3+ MILES / 15+ OBSTACLES
-Super Spartan is battlefield of insane mud running: 8+ MILES / 20+ OBSTACLES
-Spartan Beast is an obstacle Race from Hell: 12+ MILES / 25+ OBSTACLES
Please Help Support Jaime's goal to raise these much needed funds for our wounded veterans. CLICK HERE to visit his fundraising page and make a donation.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
By: Rich Bergeron
Some of the area’s best fighters in just about every weight class were known for frequenting Goody Petronelli’s place of business at some point in their careers. Many of them were on those walls, frozen in time and staring perpetually at prospects and seasoned pros who kept the Brockton boxing tradition alive.
Petronelli spent nearly three decades in the United States Navy and retired as a Master Chief in 1969. As a former boxer himself, he was passionate about the Sweet Science and quickly put the pieces together to start a career as a trainer. His brother Pat would play a managerial role while Goody would train, corner, and serve as cut-man for all his fighters at the amateur and pro level.
I interviewed Goody on my weekly radio show in July of 2009, but when I first ducked my head into his office and introduced myself he shook my hand and promptly located a signed picture of “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler (62-3, 52 KOs) to give me. “He signed thousands of these back in the day,” Goody told me, asking me if I wanted a poster to go with it. Petronelli had the same poster looking over his shoulder every day as he sat at his desk in the corner office of the ratty gym.
“He was all business,” the trainer recalled about Hagler in our 2009 interview, which he graciously allowed to go more than an hour long. “He was one of the greatest middleweights of all time.” He went on to explain that Hagler “never got hurt, and he never complained.”
If it hadn’t been for Petronelli, the city of Brockton might not get all the glory and the bragging rights it enjoys today for being “The City of Champions.” Before Goody came along, Rocky Marciano (49-0, 43 KOs) was the only world champ to claim the working class city as his home. Petronelli’s gym enterprise might have actually been named Marciano’s Gym if the Former Heavyweight Champion of the world did not die far too early in a freak plane crash on August 31, 1969.
“Rocky was a good friend of mine,” recalled Goody. “Had he not been killed, he would have been my partner in the gym with my brother Pat and I. Before I retired out of the Navy I was up in Detroit, Michigan. We had a naval air station up there, and I was the coach of the Navy/Marine Boxing Team. And, I had Rocky come up from Brockton, and he flew up and he refereed all the matches for me and put out his posters all over the base, and it was real nice of him to do it. He didn’t charge me a dime.”
Marciano asked Petronelli back then what he planned to do next, and Petronelli told him he wanted to open a gym back home in Brockton. The “Brockton Blockbuster” immediately asked to join the effort, and Petronelli obliged him. The trainer was in California when he did ultimately retire, and he was driving across the country when he heard the news of the plane crash that killed Rocky.
“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said. “It was terrible, because Rocky was a great guy. Of course he was a great fighter, but he was also a great individual. He was really a down to earth guy, very honest, you know.”
Petronelli was ringside for Marciano’s greatest moment of glory against Jersey Joe Walcott in their famous title tilt back on September 23rd, 1952 at Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He remembered Marciano going down in the first round and looking terrible through most of the fight. “I wouldn’t bet you a plug nickel that he would even finish the fight,” he recalled. “Lo and behold in the 13th round, Joe Walcott goes against the ropes and turned to throw a right hand at Rocky, and Rocky threw an inside right and boy, he caught him right there on the chin. That’s that famous picture that’s worldwide, and you coulda counted to a hundred.”
Goody and his brother Pat Petronelli, who died last September, built and ran the gym without Rocky’s help, but not without his inspiration. Goody understood Rocky was no freak of nature and made it to the top through sheer hard work and determination, treating his road work and conditioning like a religion.
“We trained him like Rocky Marciano,” said Petronelli about preparing Hagler for his famous fight with Tommy Hearns back in April of 1985. That bout will go down in history as one of the greatest fights ever, and Hagler won by way of a stunning third round knockout.
“The thing is a trainer, we can’t give you a chin, and we can’t give you heart, but we can teach you how to fight,” Petronelli explained. “So, if a fighter’s got those two qualifications, we can make a good fighter out of you.” Goody recognized early on that Hagler had a heck of a chin and pointed out that the only time the former middleweight champion went down in a pro fight, it was actually a slip and not a legitimate knockdown. Hagler first came into Petronelli’s facility one day as a young teen from New Jersey convinced he could become a world champion. Goody recalled that Hagler was so cocky that he was already signing autographs proclaiming himself the future champ of the world when he was just 16 years old. Petronelli would run the beaches of Provincetown, Massachusetts with Hagler during his prime years just as Rocky’s trainer Allie Colombo ran alongside his champion throughout his pro career. Petronelli remembered those days running on the beach, pointing out the fact that Hagler always wore work boots during his runs and “was always in tip-top shape.” He added that running with Hagler “kept me in shape, too.” A good perspective on those days can be found in the following clip narrated by former Hagler Sparring Partner Tiger Moore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHNaFGv1VdQ
An article about the famed trainer’s Brockton gym published in the Boston Phoenix back in 2002 pointed out: “You get the sense that if every piece of duct tape were stripped away, the place would fall apart.” I trained there in the spring and summer months of 2009, and I can vouch for that characterization.
“Nothing fancy, but it’s a gym,” Goody said proudly about the spot where he taught so many capable pugilists over the years. Still, it was the kind of place any young and hungry boxer would want to be, a place where they could learn from the best in the business and work with folks who knew how to mold ordinary men into world championship material. It was better than being on the set of a Rocky movie, because this was real, this was gritty, and this was where any boxer could draw inspiration from knowing that so many great fighters had passed through the facility in their prime.
“I come from a family of 12. Five girls and seven boys, and you had to be tough in order to survive,” Petronelli explained about how he first got into boxing. “So, I was only about ten or eleven years old, and I was in the gym. Some kids take up football, baseball, you name it. I got into boxing when I was a young kid, and I fought in the amateurs and fought pro and boxed all through the Navy. When I got too old to box I trained, and that’s been my life. I’ve had great luck with it.”
My own boxing comeback would begin and end right there in Goody’s gym. Though my first sparring opportunity left me confident and proud of bloodying my opponent’s nose within the first thirty seconds, the next session left me with a broken rib. I didn’t feel so bad about being put down on one knee when I later heard my sparring partner, Sean Bettencourt, went on to win the New England Golden Gloves in 2010. Bettencourt is now in the process of trying to secure a slot in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“I like the kid that comes down the gym, and he gets a cut lip and a black eye, and he comes in the next day and says, ‘Hey, I wanna box him again.’ That’s the guy we’re looking for,” Petronelli said. “You know, they’re not as hungry today, as you know, as they were years ago. Today, they’ve got so many obstacles in their way.” I suppose I proved that statement to be correct by getting fat and out of shape after the rib fracture and a subsequent broken ankle, and I certainly was not the kind of kid Goody was looking for, but I still haven’t given up on getting back in the game at some point.
During the nights I frequented the Brockton gym, I watched countless young men like Sean Bettencourt hit the bags, skip rope, and spar in the two floor rings by the giant bay windows lining one side of the main gym area. As a boxer who relied on the jab more than any other punch, my favorite part of the gym was a small sign on the wall that read: “When in doubt, jab out.“
I was in the middle of a training session at Goody’s gym one night when Kevin McBride (35-10-1, 29 KOs) was in the ring hitting the mitts with Goody. Kevin’s young son saw me knocking around a heavy bag and confused me for his father at one point. I laughed it off and kept going, pointing at the ring to show the boy where his real father was.
McBride and Petronelli had a very close friendship, and even when the odds were heavily favoring McBride’s opponents during his own comeback, Goody was there every step of the way believing his protégé could beat those odds. McBride was older, more robust, and a few steps slower than he was when he retired Mike Tyson back in June of 2005, but with Goody working with him he had a real chance to get back into prime condition. “He’s back in the gym training, and hopefully we can get him a few tune-ups and go for the big one,” said Petronelli back in 2009. “I’ve had him from day one, right from Ireland. He came over here, and I worked with him, and he had a lot of talent.”
A few fights after he came back to work with Goody, McBride would be in the ring with Tomasz Adamek, who was 43-1 at the time of their April, 2011 bout for the IBF International Heavyweight Title and the WBO NABO Heavyweight Title. Though McBride lost a unanimous decision, Petronelli didn’t lose hope at any point in the fight, using every break in the action to coax his fighter to keep trying to close the gap and get within striking distance.
Pat Petronelli’s son Tony Petronelli (42-4-1, 22 KOs) had his own world championship hopes dashed by Wilfred Benitez as a young welterweight, but he went on to become a world class trainer after retiring in 1979. “He was our number one man. He was the North American Champion, and he fought for the title,” said Goody about his nephew. “He was a great little fighter, and he could box like you know what, but he wanted to fight like a Puerto Rican. He’d just walk in and bang. He was a tremendous fighter, and he did a great job.”
Tony was actually my own trainer until Bettencourt’s body blows derailed my short-lived comeback. His father Pat and his uncle Goody passed the family business and legacy onto Tony, who now trains boxers in a new Stoughton gym and remains very active in the boxing scene as a true ambassador of the sport.
There will never be another trainer quite like Goody, but there are countless young fighters and seasoned trainers who were influenced by him. They will be his greatest legacy at the end of the day. Just meeting and talking to him was an honor for me, and I’ll never forget knowing him for the short time I did and spending those nights in his gym developing my own boxing skills. As the boxing world mourns Goody and his colleague Angelo Dundee (who died just a few days after Goody), they will look back to their prime years as the golden age of the sport. And it’s a sport both men helped put on the map by mentoring some of the greatest fighters to ever enter a boxing ring.
Goody’s Obituary and Online Guest Book:
If there is any one man I could credit for keeping me out of trouble in high school, I'd have to say it was Lt. Colonel Joseph J. Ciampa. As a headstrong kid who liked to fight and spent a ton of time in the principal's office as a freshman, I needed the discipline junior ROTC provided for me. Ciampa ran Quincy High School's Air Force JROTC program and convinced me during an 8th grade tour of the school that I wanted to be involved. Little did I know when I first joined that I would end up being one of the highest ranking Quincy High School cadets in due time. Colonel Ciampa made that possible.
We called him Colonel and always gave him the utmost respect, and he saw our best and worst moments and still gave us the benefit of the doubt. He often told me stories about how he loved boxing in the Air Force because he'd get a nice steak served to him before every bout. He encouraged me to pursue writing and ushered me through the JROTC program to the point where I was able to attend the Air Force Academy upon graduation. With Sergeant Holland as his right hand man, Colonel Ciampa inspired us all to work hard and achieve whatever we desired. It was his leadership that led our school's JROTC program to the Honor Unit designation that allowed me to bypass a congressional appointment to the Academy. At our annual awards banquet, Ciampa arranged for a formal presentation of my acceptance certificate and wished me success, although initially he read the script wrong and said, "I wish Rich great sex at the Air Force Academy." He handled the gaffe with grace and humor, throwing his paperwork up in the air when someone alerted him to his mistaken utterance. The crowd roared with laughter.
Colonel Ciampa had such a gift for guiding teenagers like us to perform up to our potential. He took a small group of misfits and turned us into sharp little soldiers, and even if we didn't all go on to join the military, we never forgot the lessons he taught us. I never knew much about his life outside of the confines of the program, but it doesn't surprise me that he was also an extremely devoted and dedicated father, grandfather and family man.
I am very fortunate to be among those who can say I was once a student of Colonel Ciampa's, and I'm sure there are thousands of other students who feel the same. I only wish I kept in touch with him more over the years since graduation. I was very saddened to hear of his passing and would like to launch a formal campaign to honor him with an official memorial. Stay tuned to this site as plans for that effort come to fruition. Meanwhile, if you want to pay your respects you can visit Colonel Ciampa's online guestbook HERE.
Lt. Col. Joseph J. Ciampa Ret. formerly of 48 Snowhill St., Boston’s North End, died at home, surrounded by his family on Cape Cod. Joe transitioned on Jan. 7th afer a short battle with cancer. He is survived by his loving wife Mary of 57 years and five children, John, Donna, Michelle, Deena and Joe Jr., along with his fifteen grandchildren. He is also survived by brother John Ciampa of Coral Gables, FLA and sister Maria (Pidg) Ciampa of the North End.
Colonel Ciampa attended Northeastern University where he was a finalist in the 1955 Olympic Javelin Trials. He then went on to serve 21 years in the United States Air Force as a Master Navigator with the Strategic Air Command. In 1957 Col. Ciampa was the lead navigator in a mission refueling a B-52 that circumnavigated the globe nonstop, for the first time in history. He served several tours in Vietnam and, after retiring from the Air Force he received two Masters Degrees in Education. The Colonel taught Aerospace Science courses in the ROTC program at Quincy’s two high schools for 20 years. This “patriot” wore many hats as a teacher, mentor and coach to his children, grandchildren and many cadets that attended the Quincy and North Quincy ROTC programs. Thank you for your service and dedication to country & family!
The above videos feature US Navy Veterans Frank Zalot and Ted Picard detailing the experience of their World War II service on the USS American Legion, an attack transport. The ship played a crucial role in the invasions of Guadalcanal and Bougainville. The vessel was a civilian ship before being recruited for the war effort where it became an Army transport and then evolved into an impressive attack ship.
|Frank Zalot and his service medals from his U.S. Navy stint in the South Pacific during World War II|
By: Rich Bergeron
The bombing of Pearl Harbor happened on Frank Zalot’s 17th birthday in 1941. He signed up to serve his country the next day and wound up on a ship bound for the South Pacific.
“I was a Senior at Hopkins Academy in High School,” recalled Zalot. “I attended class in the morning, and at noon time my father--who knew I wanted to join--said, ‘If I were 20 years younger, I’d join the Navy.’ I turned the car around, drove to Springfield, and I enlisted. The recruiting officer said ‘When do you want to go on duty?’ And, I said, ‘Right now!’”
The Navy obliged the Hadley, Massachusetts native and sent him right to boot camp. “Three weeks later, New Year’s Eve, we were on the back of a ton and a half truck looking for a ship in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was The USS American Legion,” Zalot said.
The modified transport vessel was not at all what the young teen expected. “It was a big disappointment, because it was under repair,” he explained. “When you see a transport, you’re kind of disappointed to begin with, because it’s not what you had in mind. You know, you‘re picturing these fighting ships. I was just excited to be aboard ship. To me it didn‘t make any difference what kind of ship it was, as long as it was the United States Navy.”
The highest rank Zalot would receive was signalman first class, just before he left the Navy in 1944. He served the majority of his time in service aboard the USS American Legion and saw the mighty ship support landings and occupations at Guadalcanal and Bougainville. “My entire career was aboard the USS American Legion with the exception of boot camp and my discharge in Boston,” he recalled. “The USS American Legion is the only Navy ship named after the Veterans Organization. So, it’s a proud name, and we’re very proud to have served on it simply because it represents veterans of all wars.”
The USS American Legion would play a starring role in World War II in many ways: battling low-flying Japanese planes, delivering Marines to shore and sustaining Marines in combat, training landing parties, taking on stranded sailors from ships sunken in naval battle, transporting wounded troops to Australian hospitals, and ferrying thousands of United States servicemen like Frank Zalot into the war effort to pay the Japanese back for Pearl Harbor.
Beginning as a simple civilian transport owned by the federal government, the USS American Legion would grow into an imposing, seasoned warrior roaming the South Pacific for the U.S. Navy, bringing the guns and butter to the shores of crucial battleground islands in the war. The vessel evolved from a harmless cargo ship into an “attack transport” over the course of her battle-hardened time in the Navy. The Zidell Ship Dismantling Company would ultimately recycle the vessel in February of 1948.
One of the USS American Legion’s most striking contributions to the World War II allied naval theater was her role as a training platform teaching countless new troops how to storm beach heads across the battlefront. The steady drilling of maneuvers prepared them for the real thing. It was a fitting role for the ship that distinguished itself during the invasions of Guadalcanal and Bougainville. She sailed the South Pacific with men aboard who were highly durable and dependable. The sailors the USS American Legion dispatched on landing parties logged multiple hours of meticulous practice and simulated battle conditions before setting foot on real enemy shores with battle crews.
Zalot is actually the last living witness of one event that turned a typical rigorous training day into a horrible tragedy. The loss of ten of the American Legion’s crew on June 20th, 1943 was one of the worst disasters in New Zealand history, and it almost took Zalot‘s life, too. Among those lost were nine enlisted Navy men and one officer. The deaths came in extremely high and choppy seas off Paekakariki Beach in New, Zealand.
“The beach was actually a great recreational area. It still is. It’s a gradual beach the way a beach should be for swimming,” said Zalot. “But, if you have an LCVP (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) loaded with men, you want the water to be deep, so when you hit the beach your rear end is still in deep water and your bow is on dry land so they can gun it and get going. So this was the worst kind of conditions for an LCVP.”
A strong wind was whipping the waves into a frenzy and adding a different dynamic to the New Zealand surf on the evening of the accident. Multiple landing craft were stranded on the beach earlier that day at low tide. Zalot’s landing craft turned out to be one of the last ones plucked off the beach and plopped back into deeper surf by a civilian crane borrowed from the mainland.
It was well into the night by the time Zalot’s craft was able to get moving back to the ship. A dead motor followed by one towing mishap after another provided the backdrop for the disaster. The men aboard the LCVP had never seen such horrendous conditions. Just when it seemed they were well underway and through the worst the night could throw at them, the craft suddenly and violently capsized when it was dragged backward into a crushing breaker. All 25 passengers and their equipment emptied instantly into the cold, thrashing ocean. The tow boat crew didn’t even realize the craft flipped over until they made it back to the ship. Of the 15 survivors, nine made it to shore, and six were picked up by rescue boats.
The death of the ten sailors prompted new orders mandating every landing craft passenger be required to wear life vests, likely ensuring tens of thousands of lives would be saved throughout the rest of the war. Only a scant few men who tumbled into the water that night lived through the catastrophe. Zalot would never forget the sacrifice of the men who didn’t make it.
“Every night before I fell asleep, and I knew it was gonna happen, I would hear these men screaming. Not only women scream, but men scream when they’re dying, and it’s a kind of a scream that’s difficult to describe. It’s a death scream, a terrifying scream. And it became a nightmare,” he said. “Every single night I would hear them screaming. For 68 years it was happening, and then my daughter Googled Paekakariki, New Zealand, and the report she got back was that ten Marines drowned in heavy surf and their boat capsized and all this stuff. And when I read that I was really upset. I said, ‘Marines weren’t even involved in it.’ I said, ‘Where did you get that stuff?’ So, I wrote the story, and she emailed it down there, and the story just took off there because it was a piece of their history that was missing. ” Last year on Memorial Day, the names of the fallen were read for the first time in Kapiti, New Zealand, which is the closest town to Paekakariki Beach.
The fact that Zalot is even alive today to tell the tale of that fateful disaster is a miracle in itself. Before rescue crews snatched him out of the churning, angry, chilling sea, he blacked out and traveled in his unconscious mind to his hometown of Hadley, Massachusetts. Something he calls “supernatural” brought him back from the brink of death and kept him alive.
“When we capsized, I didn’t know we capsized. I don’t remember capsizing, hitting the water, because I was on top of the motor mount,” Zalot recalled about his last ditch effort to get the ship towing the LCVP to stop plowing through huge breakers. “The next moment I’m back in Hadley, Massachusetts, and it’s not like a dream, it was real. And I got onto the bus, drove up Russell Street, and the bus stopped in front of my home. I walked up the steps, had my handbag, was ready to knock on the door, when I felt a kick to my head. And that’s when I realized and said to myself, ‘I’m underwater.’ So I reached up and grabbed a sailor’s belt buckle. I don’t know who he was. I grabbed the belt buckle, and I pulled myself up.”
The seas were so rough that night that Frank feared he might actually drown in the very boat that eventually came to his rescue. Bosun’s Mate Mulcahy steered him to a life vest they shared until both were rescued, and he later received the Presidential Unit Citation for his heroism.
“Before the accident we’d already been together for 9 months,” Frank said about his fallen shipmates. “Of course I knew them all. We were friends. They were ordinary guys just like the rest of us, but they had a great, great sense of humor.”
Ted Picard also served on the USS American Legion and remembers the general alarm sounding on the ship the night of the tragedy. “It was cold and windy, and when we lowered the boat in the middle of the night there were waves about 14 feet high,” said Picard. “So, I had to travel up and down the beach in that storm and try to find anybody that survived that was out in the water with life jackets. It was a hell of a time, because we hit some pretty good waves. Even lowering the boat in the water in those conditions was bad.”
Frank would later find himself rewriting history of the accident to recognize the lives of those lost. He also solved the mystery of one of the most culpable men involved, the same lieutenant commander who ordered an inquiry into the incident and pressured Zalot to blame someone else.
“Lieutenant Commander Jensen held an inquiry into the accident two or three weeks later. And, he was putting a lot of pressure on me to blame Lieutenant Ackerman for causing the boat to capsize,” Zalot said. “I refused to do that, because he didn’t.”
50 years later, Zalot attended a navy reunion in Minneapolis. While having breakfast with Grady and Betty Brooks from Virginia, Betty said to him, “You know, Grady was the coxswain of the boat that pulled the boat off the beach in Paekakariki where those ten men drowned.”
Zalot perked up immediately, he recalled. “I said, ‘What? For 50 years I’ve been trying to find out who the coxswain was.’ And Grady said, ‘Frank’s blaming me for the death of those ten men.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not blaming you,’ I said, ‘I just want to ask you one question. Why didn‘t you stop when we hit the first breaker?’ And he said, “I did, but Lieutenant Commander Jensen was in the boat, and he ordered full speed ahead. And I had to obey orders.’ So, Ironically the man responsible for the disaster started the board of inquiry.” The conclusion of the investigation left out blame entirely, and there were no reprimands or charges handed down as a result of the tragic accident.
“To me, this whole thing is mind boggling, because for 68 years we didn’t talk about it because it was history and you figured they had a record of it down there, they knew all about it, and, you just don’t talk about these things,” said Zalot. “So, if my daughter hadn’t Googled the internet a year ago, we wouldn’t be here today. It would be a mystery forever. It would be lost forever.”
Zalot still knows a few local Massachusetts residents he served on the Legion with. Ray Plante of North Attleboro and Ted Picard of Easthampton will attend a special memorial for the accident victims with Frank on Memorial Day, 2012.
The accident’s always been difficult for Zalot to discuss. “I think I talked about it two or three times,” Zalot said. “It’s tough to talk about it, and why would you want to?” Once he finally set the record straight about how they passed away, the screams of his drowning, dying shipmates finally ceased.
Memorial Day, 2011 ceremonies in Kapiti, New Zealand centered around the drowned men. “Their names were read for the first time,” Zalot explained. “They didn’t even know the names of these guys ‘till I sent them in. That night I’m laying in bed thinking Mayor Jenny Rowan read their names for the first time. Then it dawned on me. The only reason I heard this screaming all these years was these guys were trying to communicate with me to ‘tell our story because we died without names. We died and we want people to know who we are. We didn’t die in vain.’ The minute their names were read, the screaming stopped, and I haven’t heard it since.”
The people of Kapiti, New Zealand will have another celebration on May 28th, 2012 featuring a sculpture of a Higgins boat and a plaque marking an official memorial. The names of the 10 sailors lost will be remembered forever thanks to Zalot‘s efforts to explain what really happened.
Frank’s daughter J.M. Stowe maintains contact with Allison Webber, who is the Executive Secretary for the Kapiti U.S.Marines Trust. Webber is gearing up for the Memorial Day festivities. She even set up a Web-site in support of the volunteer trust she created at: www.marinenz.com.
“We will start on the weekend before Memorial day with a series of 1940’s themed concerts and a bit of a festival in Paekakariki, then have a big event on May 28, with the Governor General, various local and national politicians and other dignitaries attending,” Webber explained in an email to Stowe. “At this ceremony, we expect to plant a memorial grove of trees and to open a new memorial to the U.S. sailors who lost their lives on our coast. This is where Frank and his buddies will certainly come into the picture. We are also planning a memorial dinner the following night, and are hoping the Government will host an event at Parliament for the veterans who come over.”
“I’m the only one alive who really knew them and who was in the boat with them when they died. So, to me it’s a big relief I guess to know that the story finally came out. I had no idea that they didn’t have a record there of what happened,” said Zalot. “I had the first eyewitness story to that event, and this is why they were thrilled to receive it.”
During the whole time Zalot fought for his life off the New Zealand coast, the mother of a woman he was dating on the mainland sat by her bedside praying furiously. Jean O’Brien woke from a terrible dream the night of the incident and sensed Zalot was in some kind of danger. She wrote him a letter after the accident explaining how she reached out for divine intervention until around midnight, just about the time Frank’s rescue ship plucked him from the water.
He’s not overtly religious, but Zalot admits, “I should be. I’m a believer. Was it just a coincidence that she had this dream when we capsized and was on her knees praying for 45 minutes until I was saved? That can’t be a coincidence. There had to be something to it. And I can still hear myself, even though I was unconscious, talking to God. And I can still see him on a cloud flanked by two angels. And we had a long conversation, so did the mind play tricks on you, or what? Is there something in the supernatural? I have no idea. And why were these guys screaming for 68 years if it wasn’t something from the supernatural?”
Zalot is a natural story teller who says he’s not overtly religious, but listening to his account of his life and times it’s easy to wonder if there’s a guardian angel looking out for the proud 87-year-old veteran. He survived epic battles in the South Pacific during his teen years, a fatal cancer diagnosis nearly 30 years ago, and even a heart valve replacement in 2005.
Talking to Zalot it’s clear there’s a reason he is still around to tell the tales of life sailing all around the world on the American Legion. Zalot seems born to pay attention to details. One of his chief duties at sea was to actually pass the signals from ship to ship and ship to shore. That task required him to be the messenger, and he took it seriously, studying and memorizing all the different configurations of semaphore and Morse Code. He volunteered to take on the signalman duties after the ship’s original signalman was injured in the Guadalcanal invasion.
Before that Frank also served as a trainer on the attack transport’s 3-inch 50mm cannon where he experienced his proudest moment of combat in shooting down a low -flying Japanese bomber trying to strafe the Legion off the shores of Guadalcanal. The ship also hosted War Correspondent Richard Tregaskis during the Guadalcanal invasion. Tregaskis wrote “Guadalcanal Diary” based on his war coverage. The resulting 1943 movie based on the book featured a strikingly accurate portrayal of life aboard ship and the battles waged to occupy the island.
Frank returned home to Hadley after the war and became very active in his community as a building inspector, selectman, school committee member, and restaurant operator with his father Frank, Senior. He was also the postmaster for the town he’s lived in nearly all his life and a past commander of his local American Legion post (Post 271).
Zalot spent more than four years in the Navy. He wanted to stay in the service longer, he insists, but the loss of his brother Edward put too much strain on his family. Ensign Edward Zalot perished in a plane crash while flying off the USS Cabot in the South Pacific just 13 days after his 20th birthday on September 18, 1943. Frank and his family took the loss hard, but he has mostly fond memories of his own wartime service.
“You join the Navy to see the world and you really do,” he recalled. “I mean, just about every island in the South Pacific, Wellington, Auckland (New Zealand), Brisbane, Melbourne (Australia), San Diego, Frisco, all those places, and it’s just, you’re moving, you‘re constantly moving. You’re at home, but your home is moving with you. It’s kind of exciting. For a young man it was exciting. I was very young and right off the farm. You never left home and all of a sudden you‘re traveling around the world. We had a lot of fun, because we were like McHale’s Navy, not battleship Navy.”
Frank also experienced painful casualties of war outside of the accident he survived. A good friend of his was just about cut in half by a strafing attack on a ship to shore boat in Bougainville. He stood right next to someone who had his jaw shot off in combat. He walked through fields where hundreds of enemy soldiers lay dead. He described going through the motions of combat himself as being similar to starring in an old “cowboy western” movie where bullets are flying but none of the main characters are really getting hit. Somehow he endured it all and lived to tell the story of what happened to those who died at sea, those who needed a narrator to describe their final tragic moments with a certain dedication to accuracy and honesty.
For Frank Zalot, death screams have turned to cheers of triumph and remembrance as he prepares to return to New Zealand one more time. The torment is gone. History stands corrected, and the 87-year-old signalman is coming out of retirement to hit the same Paekakariki shore he left so long ago.
“It will be a relief for me to go there and see the beach one more time, walk on the shore and look out,” Zalot said. “It’s not botherin’ me in any sense. I’m looking forward to it as a matter of fact.”
His two good friends and fellow USS American Legion ship mates Ray Plante and Ted Picard will be by his side to give one last salute to those sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice and died at the mercy of the unforgiving sea.
Names of Fallen:
H.C. Winfrey (Ensign)
Howard J. Britton (Seaman 1st Class)
Joseph P. Lorbietski (Seaman 1st Class)
William D. Roundtree (Seaman 1st Class)
Alva L. Skoog (Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class)
Kenneth G. Snow (Seaman 1st Class)
Alden P. Thatcher (Seaman 1st Class)
Charles F. Vetter (Seaman 1st Class)
Walter J. Yanghis (Seaman 1st Class)
Cox (first name & rank not available)
http://kiwiscots.blogspot.com/2011/05/day-to-remember.html (Memorial Day, 2011 story)
Thursday, November 17, 2011
"Iron" Mike Tyson appeared at Studio 54 on November 12, 2011 to sign autographs for a steady stream of fans. Fight News Unlimited was on hand to get a Muhammad Ali Signature Series Boxing Glove signed by Tyson. The glove will be raffled off in coordination with the 89th Birthday celebration for the late, great Rocky Marciano to be held in Brockton, Massachusetts on August 31 through September 2, 2012. The official date and time of the raffle drawing will be announced at a later date. The dedication of a larger than life statue of the only heavyweight champion to ever retire undefeated will be part of next year's festivities. The proceeds of the raffle ticket sales will benefit a memorial plaque for Brockton's own Mike Pusateri, considered by his friends and fans as "The Original Iron Mike."
Pusateri was a middleweight boxer in the late 60s and early 70s. Fight News Unlimited put up a tribute piece in his honor not long after his recent untimely death. The raffle's proceeds will go to a decorative memorial plaque to be placed somewhere special in Brockton to honor Pusateri's boxing career and support of the local boxing scene over the years. Pusateri not only fought himself, he also trained countless young fighters in retirement, including famed world-class Trainer Freddie Roach. The plaque will likely cost over $2,500 and will be commissioned by the same company used to give tribute to Rocky Marciano Trainer Allie Colombo:
We will be holding official events in the Brockton area to raise additional funds for both the Pusateri memorial and a project to produce a documentary film on Brockton's contribution to the sport of boxing over the years. Stay tuned for more information, and thank you for your support. If you were a friend of Mike's or knew him well, please leave a comment on this story about what you remember and miss most about "The Original Iron Mike."
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