This is a tribute to my father, Simon Zayon, a Navy veteran of WWII and a very proud American. Simon learned at a very young age to give back to the country that has given him and his family so many possibilities. He had just completed 11th grade in 1944 when he enlisted in the Navy. His four older brothers were in the military and he wanted to be a part of the war efforts.
Simon was able to go to so many parts of the world and learn a lot of life lessons before he was 20. Although he only served for two years in the Navy, the Navy never left him. He has always carried his loyalty of country close many small flags to people throughout the years. It was very important to him. He put the large flag out on every patriotic holiday. He has given him, and still is. He sang patriotic songs on day trips to amusement parks, the swim club and the beach. He has a great respect for America. He knew at a young age, from his immigrant parents, how privileged he is to be an American.
Simon’s first night aboard (and getting aboard) the ship he was assigned to, USS Savannah, was a memorable one. After getting hit with high winds and rain on the tugboat taking him to his ship in the Chesapeake Bay, he was anxious to get onboard, eat dinner and get a good night’s sleep. It was very rough seas and he had to transfer to his ship in the storm. As they approached the Savannah, crew members threw him a Jacob’s ladder to climb onto the ship. Fighting the fierce winds and hard rain as he climbed onto the Savannah, Simon and another sailor made it safely onboard. They were tired, wet and hungry. All Simon could think about was getting dry and eating dinner. It was late and there wasn’t any food available. They were offered green juice and given a hammock.
After settling on his hammock and getting some sleep, Simon was up at the crack of dawn. He was about to launch his new life in the United States Navy. He was given a mop and told to scrub the deck. He was among a crew of 1,300. This was all very adventurous for Simon. The war was on and they were going to be part of defending their country.
The Savannah went to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. The first week at sea they traveled to Trinidad on a shakedown cruise. Not bad, Simon thought. The furthest he had been before this journey was a 12-mile trolley ride in Philadelphia.
Simon’s most historic tour of duty was when the Savannah escorted President Roosevelt on USS Quincy to Malta in January-February 1945. The president was going to the Argonaut (Cricket) Conference to meet with Winston Churchill. After that he went to Yalta for the Argonaut (Magneto) Conference to meet with Joseph Stalin and Churchill. The Savannah waited in Alexandria, Egypt, to escort the president back to the U.S. on the Quincy.
Simon signed up for underwater demolition toward the end of his first year in the Navy. In June 1945 he went down to Fort Pierce, Fla., for training. Unfortunately the training was interrupted when the sailors had to leave to go to war with Japan. They all boarded a train and went across the country to San Francisco. There were 300 sailors going west so they had to add a Pullman car to accommodate them. Simon was fortunate enough to get to sleep in a bed in the Pullman car after sleeping on a hammock for almost a year.
Upon arriving in San Francisco Simon was assigned to USS LST 275. He was a coxswain and assigned to the deck force. There were 100 sailors on this ship. They were headed to Japan. The bomb was dropped as they were on their way. The war ended. They changed course and headed back to Pearl Harbor and picked up cargo. They went to New Caledonia and then to New Zealand to pick up 400 Japanese prisoners of war. After returning the prisoners to Okinawa they made their way back to the U.S. Simon left San Francisco to return home to Philadelphia. His tour of duty was completed in August 1946.
Simon cherishes the memories of his time in the Navy. Over the last three years he was able to share some of his experiences in two documentaries. Rutgers University produced a documentary detailing the military experiences of six WWII veterans, told firsthand by five men and one woman. “The Voices of Camden County’s Veterans: World War II in the Pacific” is an informative and entertaining feature-length documentary that gives an insightful account of six veterans who served our country. All who see it gain a great sense of duty, honor and sacrifice.
The other documentary, “Kaddish,” is about Simon’s desire to go back to Malta to say the Mourner’s Kaddish for his fellow sailors who did not return home. After meeting a woman who was going to visit family in Malta with her son, they decided to tell the story in a documentary. Antony, a 15-year old high school student and filmmaker, went to Malta with his mother in 2016. Antony captured the story with great compassion. He sang the Mourner’s Kaddish at sea in memory of the sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice. “Kaddish” is a short documentary that is currently viewable on YouTube.
Simon has been a guest speaker at several military and community organizations as well as schools showing his documentaries. He is able to pass on firsthand accounts of WWII. He always likes to talk about his military service and historical events of WWII. Currently, he has the opportunity to share valuable mini history lessons. There is always an interesting take-away from Simon’s talks.
Simon is from a very patriotic family. The Zayon family of Philadelphia has served in the United States Armed Forces since 1917. This service and sacrifice was recently recognized and written in the Congressional Record in Philadelphia. Simon’s father, Louis, used to say, “The Zayon family’s blood is red, white and blue.” Simon takes great pride in being an American, his upbringing in South Philadelphia and time spent in the United States Navy.
Simon’s parents gave their children, their children’s children, and so on the great opportunities of living in America. Over the last 100 years their offspring gave, and continue to give back, to serve their country. Currently there are two great-grandchildren of Louis and Sadie serving in the United States military. Their great grandson is an officer in the United States Army who has completed five tours in the Middle East. Their great-granddaughter is a nurse stateside. Louis and Sadie Zayon had a great life in America, as they had hoped. They also provided America with many offspring who contributed to the hope of keeping life great in America.