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#castrovalley#news#fyi – Sad to hear of the passing of US Navy Veteran and Castro Valley resident John Zebratski. Mr. Zebratski turned 105 in May and served our country in World War II and the Korean War.
If you have a few minutes, one of his friends sent in the following history and timeline of John’s life. Its an interesting and inspiring read –
Serving in the United States Navy. Growing up in Western Pennsylvania with three brothers and three sisters was not easy, especially since his father was killed in a mine cave-in when was John was only four years old. Times were tough in those days without in house running water, no heat and the outhouse being 30 yards from the house with the traditional Sears Catalog doubling as toilet tissue. He knew the good times of the ‘20s and the Depression of the ‘30s. Money was always short with few prospects to improve the situation. In June 1934 John graduated from high school in a class of 14 girls and 5 boys. The National and International World future of the late thirties did not look rosy.
Opportunities to help support the family were scarce. The Navy was one of those opportunities but they chose you, you did not choose them. It was not like today’s recruiting competition. Nineteen boys applied and only five were picked with John as one of the “lucky” ones. The three months of boot camp were like three months in hell. Boy, that DI was mean! Pay was a big $21 a month and he sent $10 home to help support the home front.
John’s first assignment was aboard the minesweeper USS Woodscock. As an Ordinary Seaman, with no special training and no experience on a ship, he learned everything on the job. OJT was really the Navy way in those days with lots of Wholly Stoning the deck. “If it moves salute it, if it stands still paint it.” Watch words of the day.
Stationed at Guantanamo, Cuba, John soon became dissatisfied and requested an assignment to submarine school in New London, CT. In six weeks he graduated as a qualified Storekeeper/Paymaster. The assignment out of school was on a Sub base in Panama but he couldn’t serve on a submarine. There is no storekeeper on a sub. As a result he spent four years in Panama as a paymaster learning the ins and outs of Navy procurement. He took great pride in making sure that the Navy did not get cheated by local suppliers. They liked to deliver less than the contracts specified.
1940: It started to get nasty about this time, especially in the North Atlantic. John’s next assignment was on the Destroyer Tender USS Prairie in the North Atlantic. Luckily they made no Nazi U-Boat contacts but did see a merchantman go down. He heard about Pearl Harbor while at sea on the USS Prairie via “Now Hear This.”
The war years were spent in the Pacific on the Essex, a CV9 Aircraft Carrier. The Essex was involved in several campaigns including Okinawa and the Philippines. During a kamikaze attack, an enemy aircraft flew in over a port side gun mount where John was and hit the starboard side of the deck. John missed being hit by about a yard as the plane flew directly over his head. As the plane exploded, it ended up on the hanger deck. He probably carried the memory of his near-death experience with him all the time. While on the Essex John achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer and was a battery commander with responsibility for 120 men.
After the war the Essex along with the Hornet, Wasp, and Enterprise were involved in Atomic Bomb tests on the Eniwetok and Bikini atolls. Unfortunately John suffered some radiation poising as a result.
John retired from the United States Navy, March 1955. Joining Coca-Cola for a 20 year career, he managed the Hayward distribution center responsible for all of Northern California. During those years he naturally asked for a raise several times. Unfortunately his boss did not understand what is earned by a military retiree. John was told “you don’t need a raise; you have a Navy pension.”
John and his wife Mary were introduced by a Navy buddy while on leave in Warren, Ohio. After another year in Panama and lots of letters to Mary, he came back to Ohio and married her in 1938. They moved to the west coast where Mary had her first view of the ocean. Mary worked for the Red Cross in San Francisco during the war. They were happily married for 76 years until Mary’s death in 2014. They had one son William and two grandchildren.
Congratulations John, for having such a long and successful life. We are all proud to say we know you. Thank you for your service to our country and community.