Frank Zalot of Hadley depicted on stamp and in film about World War II in New Zealand
Frank Zalot holds a photo of himself and medals from World War II Wednesday at his Purchase photo reprints »
HADLEY — When Frank Zalot was the postmaster in Hadley from 1964 to 1984, he recognized the importance of commemorative stamps, but he never dreamed that he’d one day be pictured on one.
“It’s always a big event, but you usually have to be dead and famous, and I am neither,” he said.
Zalot appears on the stamp as an 18-year-old sailor in New Zealand in 1942. It is one of 10 stamps issued by New Zealand Post to mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of thousands of American servicemen who were stationed there from 1942 to 1944.
Zalot traveled to New Zealand in May for a commemoration of the American contribution to New Zealand’s security during the war. He also attended a remembrance of an incident in 1943 in which 10 sailors drowned. Zalot barely survived.
He is the subject of a 7-minute film made in New Zealand called “Frank Zalot: A Survivor’s Tale” that is viewable on YouTube.
Three weeks ago, Zalot received six copies of all 10 commemorative stamps. He is shown with sailor Joe Versakis on one stamp, while others depict the first American sailor arriving in New Zealand, a rugby match between Marine and Army teams, and an American sailor discussing with a woman the difference between a dollar and a New Zealand pound.
“The U.S. presence reassured New Zealanders that the war would end well, with our shores secure and our soldiers able to return home to rebuild our country,” reads brochure accompanying the stamps. “Some U.S. servicemen were here to train for the battles ahead. Others were recuperating before going back to fight. Many never returned from the Pacific and we remember and honour their sacrifices today.”
The stamps will be keepsakes, and Zalot couldn’t use them on letters posted in the U.S. anyway. Even in New Zealand, he doubts that anyone will use them for postage, because most commemorative stamps become collectibles, he said. They are on display at the New Zealand embassy in Washington, D.C.
The film, made by New Zealander Linda Niccol, had been viewed by 314 people on YouTube as of Wednesday. It shows Zalot on his visit last May, looking out at the waves at the site of the tragedy on June 19, 1943. Navy Signalman Zalot’s ship had picked up 1,600 Marines and was delivering them for training to prepare for an invasion of New Guinea. Zalot was on a landing craft that capsized in stormy weather, and he drifted out to sea before being rescued.
He was unconscious for several hours, but friends said he was talking during that time. When he came to, they asked about the conversation.
“I was talking to God on a white cloud,” he says in the film. “He was flanked by two angels. That image is as clear now as it was then.”
Zalot said Wednesday that he can still hear the wind and roar of the waves on that scary day and will never forget the experience.
“I think about it every single day,” he said. “It just won’t go away. It’s a nightmare you experience once in a lifetime. It’s as close to death as I’ve come.”