In July I wrote a post about my great-uncle Floyd Zobel’s service during World War II and promised I would do the same for his brother, my Grandpa Butch, Stanley Marvin Zobel (1920-1996). Unfortunately, Butch didn’t leave any interviews or journals about his time in the U.S. Navy during the war, so I’ll tell you what I know (or think I know) from family stories and the few official papers I’ve seen.
Butch enlisted September 10, 1942, as a 22 year-old married man with one child and another on the way (my mom). He attended Naval Training Schools in Illinois, Virginia, Ohio and Florida before his departure for foreign service on August 1, 1943. For Butch, foreign service was a PC461, a ship known as a submarine chaser.
In March of 1944 the ship was off the coast of Italy. There was an air raid and the sailors quickly reported to their duty stations. Butch was a Machine Mate 1st Class, and headed to the engine room where a boiler exploded. Now, there’s a story that the men were washing clothes when the air raid started, but I’m not sure if that is mentioned to explain why they were away from their stations, or if it had something to do with the explosion.
I didn’t find any information that mentioned the explosion, possibly because it was not the result of enemy action. But I am also confused about which ship he was on.
I have a copy of a picture from a reunion Butch attended sometime after the war, and there is a cake with the number USS PC-1235 on it. So I searched for information and discovered that particular patrol boat was commissioned July 28, 1943 and decommissioned October 26, 1945. The dates match his foreign service and his crew would have been the first on board.
But it’s not that easy. On www.Ancestry.com there is a copy of Butch’s Application to State of Iowa for World War II Service Compensation. (If my cousin Emily Hope is the one who attached that, thanks Emily!) On this form, his ship is listed as USS PC-1232. I thought that might be a typo, but it’s listed that way in two separate places on the form.
But that almost doesn’t matter for this post, because I couldn’t find out much about that ship either. The USS PC-1232 was commissioned August 18, 1943 and decommissioned August 15, 1946. It also participated in the invasion of Normandy, but no mention of a boiler explosion three months before the invasion.
So I don’t have any official information about the explosion. What I know is that my grandfather was badly injured. I believe his injuries were caused by steam rather than fire. I know his upper body was burned and that he spent months in hospitals in Naples, Italy and Tunisia in North Africa before returning to the U.S. to a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina. He was injured badly enough that he was in the hospital for months.
Butch was also completely blind for 40 days due to his injuries. The family story is that hospital personnel tried to convince him to learn Braille, but he stubbornly, and rightly, believed that he would be able to see again. I was always told that he was legally blind the rest of his life, but that really doesn’t explain what he was doing driving around for all those years after the explosion.
Butch was officially returned from foreign service on May 20, 1944 and discharged from the military on September 30, 1944. After the war he returned to his family in Iowa and worked with AMVETS for a while, with one of his duties being writing articles. In the early 50s, he moved his growing family to a farm he purchased in Minnesota. There he farmed and ran a business until his death in February 1996. He is buried, along with my grandmother, Hazel Lorraine Johnson Zobel, at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I don’t remember ever speaking to my grandfather about his service. I’m not sure why I never asked him. As a military brat living on Air Force bases around the globe, I didn’t grow up with him in my daily life. When I did see him, we did fun things instead of serious stuff. I don’t know if he was like many veterans and didn’t like to talk about his service. He had three brothers who also served in World War II, so maybe he was able to talk to them.
Whether Butch was on the USS PC-1235 or the USS PC-1232 doesn’t really affect my life or this post. I’m sure the answers are available through the U.S. Navy, but I found it interesting that considering all the research and records available regarding World War II, I couldn’t easily find this information online. I would like to know if anyone else was injured, or if he was the only casualty.
While all this information is interesting, it doesn’t change anything. The grandpa I remember could see well enough to run a farm and then own a business running a backhoe. He could still play with his grandkids and sometimes his great-grandkids. It seems that he lived a perfectly normal life.
He was Grandpa.
Please help me out here. If the family stories I remember are completely mistaken, or if you have information that I am missing, please feel free to share in the comments below. I love to learn new stuff!
I have one other request for action on your part. Please check out the website at www.wargen.org. This group is aware that we are rapidly losing the last of the 16 million American veterans that fought in World War II more than 70 years ago. Like Butch, many of them have not widely shared their stories. If you are interested, please sign up to help them collect these stories before it’s too late.