My father was born in 1926 in Montreal, Canada and lived there for 11 years. His parents were Leon and Edna Zareski. He was the oldest of three children, the other two being– a sister, Audrey, and brother, Norman.
What I would like to do now is tell you about my father. I want you to walk away from here with a better understanding and appreciation of his life and who he was. And I am going to acquaint you with some aspects of his life with which you may not be familiar – the soldier, the geologist, and the sports fan… but first…
My father as a young boy – the ketchup story.
The setting for the ketchup story is my father’s boyhood home in 1931 in Montreal, Canada. He is 5 years old. Most of you knew my father as a man who was unassuming, judicious with words, and diplomatic. [Smile. . ] But he wasn’t always like that…
My father’s father (my grandfather) came home from work one evening to find a bottle of homemade ketchup that the lady next door had made and brought over. (Apparently this was not the first such bottle of ketchup. ) My grandfather uttered a few choice words, grabbed the ketchup bottle, opened the back door, and threw the bottle into the cow pasture.
Several days later, the lady, who made the ketchup, came over and asked how they liked it. My father (the young boy) gleefully exclaimed, “Oh! Dad threw the ketchup out back to the cows!"
Needless to say, that was the last bottle of ketchup that women ever made for the family! [Pause…]
My father was a Soldier
Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the generation of unassuming men and woman who went off to fight in WWII – the name of the book is “The Greatest Generation. " I am proud to state my father was a participating member of this “greatest generation. " [Pause…]
For years – in fact decades – after the War he did not talk about his involvement. Only after the movie, ‘Saving Private Ryan, " which came out 50 years after the War, did he begin to open up about some of his experiences.
Whatever plans he had for college as an 18-year old were placed on hold as he went off to boot camp. He said he almost lost the ring finger on his right hand during hand-to-hand combat drills in boot camp when a bootlace of the soldier he was fighting got caught in his ring. After that experience, he was never too fond of wearing rings. His parents had given him that ring in 1944 as a high school graduation present.
This is the ring, and I am proud to wear it now.
He was in the Army’s 78th Infantry Division (known as the ‘Lightning" Division), 311th Regiment.
After completing boot camp, he was literally shipped to the front lines of the European Theater, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Winter of 1944/45. Rain and mud of December gave way to the snow and bitter cold of January, 1945. Thick snow draped the hills and valleys, and hung from fir trees in a picture-card beauty that belied the horror of war.
That winter was the coldest winter in Europe in 50 years. The infantry dug holes in the snow each night and did their best to keep warm and get some sleep. He told of how he would go without bathing for two to three weeks at a time. He explained that his most precious article of clothing was his socks – the only article of clothing of which he carried two pair. He would wash one pair as often as possible, so that his feet would not rot. You see, when you are in the infantry and constantly on the move, your feet become your most important asset.
Throughout that winter, the 78th Infantry held the area it had taken from the Siegfried Line against the violent German attacks. In the march toward the Rhine River, the 78th engaged in bitter, painful fighting. From town to town, foxhole to foxhole, hedgerow to hedgerow, from cellar to cellar, rubble heap to rubble heap, the Germans resisted the advance but were methodically killed or captured.
Another famous battle, in which he saw action, was the Bridge at Remagen. On March 8, 1945, just 4 days after his 19th birthday, he was among the first troops to embark on the nightmare crossing of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. The Germans were firing down upon the bridge from the opposite hillside. Try to imagine what it was like crossing this bridge on foot and under heavy fire. Bullets were flying everywhere…flying metal ricocheted against steel girders. He exclaimed that he never ran so fast in his life, so as to get to the other side. [Pause…]
He told me of how afterwards, when the bridge was secured, his battalion sat on the hillside for several hours and watched in amazement as the Allied Forces literally shoved everything they had across the bridge - soldiers, vehicles, supplies, and artillery. He noted recently that it was one of the most remarkable sights of his entire life.
This battle has been the subject of many books and movies due to its historical significance. The spectacular crossing at Remagen and the securing of the first Rhine River bridgehead marked an important turning point in the war, and marked the beginning of the final phase in the Allied annihilation of Nazi Germany.
At 19 years of age, he was promoted to Sergeant. He was the only member of his original squad who was left standing – the others were either killed or wounded in battle. [Pause…] He once told Sharon he believed it was meant for him to live, because everyone else around him was killed. [Pause…]
On April 17th, after 128 days of continuous front-line duty and intense fighting, - 128 days of continuous fighting - the Lightning Division was taken off the front line and put into reserve for a well-earned rest. [Pause…]
In 2000, he and Sharon went back to Remagen for a 55-year reunion of this battle. When he and Sharon came upon a corner of a particular building in town, he pointed to a window across the street and told Sharon of how 55 years earlier, a German soldier had fired at him from that window and had him pinned down. [Pause…]
My father was a Geologist
After the War, in 1952, he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology from Brooklyn College in N. Y. That same year he married my mother, Eleanor Zareski, and they moved to Tuscon, Arizona. He was in the process of taking courses towards a Master’s Degree at the University of Arizona, when I came along. My parents also had two daughters – my sisters, Carol and Lisa. [Smile…]
My father was intelligent, hard working, and enjoyed a successful professional career.
He began as a field geologist and surveyor in Utah and out West in the early 1950s, where he and a small band of surveyors set out to discover uranium deposits for the Atomic Energy Commission, a branch of the US Government.
Can anyone guess what the Government was doing with this uranium? It was used in the development of Atomic bombs. [Pause…]
For several decades – 1960s, 70s and 80s – a sample of uranium from one of his discoveries was on display in Washington, D. C.in the Museum of Natural History. [Pause…]
Over the years, he rose through the Government ranks to the level of GS15 and when he retired, he was the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Natural Gas and Director of the Oil and Gas information System within the Department of Energy.
After he retired from the Government in the early 1980s, he joined a consulting firm, Zinder Associates, as Senior Vice President.
In 1981, my father married Sharon. Words cannot express how grateful I am to Sharon for the unconditional love, dedication and absolute devotion that Sharon bestowed on my father, especially in his last months and weeks.
My father was a Sports Fan
He loved to play golf. He was skillful (and lucky) enough to score two holes in one in his lifetime.
He was an avid Redskins fan – he watched the Redskins games just about every week since the mid 1960s – that is more than 40 years!
He was a huge Baseball fan – In his youth, he played sandlot baseball in New York – he was a pitcher. He threw a great slider, and tried to teach me that pitch, when I was younger, but I never could master it like him.
Closing… It’s funny the stories that you remember…
My sisters and I used to enjoy playing a unique game with my Dad. It was called ‘Dad takes off his belt and chases the three of us around the main floor of the house. ’ We would even initiate this game. We would run around laughing and screaming in fear of being whacked across the legs by his belt. Getting hit did not occur too frequently, but the thought of it made the game both exciting and terrorizing. Sometimes he would even make it scarier by turning off the lights.
The year is 1971, my first year at W&M. If it were not for my father, I would not have passed Freshman English, a writing course that was mandatory for graduation. For those of you who are too young to remember, in 1971 there were no desktop computers, no Internet, email, or word processing capability. The typewriter was it. After I failed my first several writing assignments, I sent a draft copy of each new assignment by mail to my father, who corrected and rewrote my papers, as necessary, and mailed them back to me. I, or should I say we, raised my final grade up to a C.
My father was a man of few words and not easily angered or perturbed. We used to play golf every Sunday in Front Royal. He would do the driving to the course in the early morning, and I would drive us home in the early afternoon. On one particular Sunday afternoon in the early 1970s, while I was driving us home, my father took his usual nap. Well, I must have dozed off at the wheel, because the next thing I know the car was traversing side ways [Hands] down the grassy median strip on Route 50 in Chantilly. We hit a road sign and flipped it across the hood of the car. Grass and hay were flying through the open windows and pass our heads. Onlookers were watching in amazement from the nearby fruit stand. Finally, I gained control of the car and stopped, then got back onto the highway. My father, who was now awake and holding onto the seat for dear life [Hands] exclaimed in bewilderment, “What the hell are you doing!?" I replied, “I am trying to get us back on the road!" He never said another word.
[Pause…] My father and I had a great relationship. I respected and admired him. He is the man who had the most influence on the man I became. He is the man who had the most influence on the man I became. He is my hero.
And our relationship extended beyond just father and son. We were close friends. We had similar interests and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. Whether spending long weekends together at Nags Head or Williamsburg, or dining in our favorite restaurants with Sharon and Sandi, or just quiet times at home, we enjoyed many quality times together.
I love him and shall miss him dearly.
I thank all of you for coming here to lend support to Sharon, my sisters and their families, and my family - and to pay respect to my beloved father.
My name is Steve Zareski, proud son of Gordon K. Zareski.