Brotherly love: Hadley veteran shares story about sibling’s death in WWII 

  • Frank Zalot of Hadley talks about his memories of his time fighting in World War II. The 91-year-old also tells the story of his brother Edward, who was killed in battle in 1943 at the age of 20. “To me, there’s no such thing as a live hero,” Zalot said. “All of us who came back are survivors. We’re not heroes. People who died are the ony heroes.” GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Frank Zalot of Hadley talks about his memories of his time fighting in WWII. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A picture of Edward Zalot that his brother, Frank, displays in his Hadley home. Edward Zalot was killed during World War II. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2016 8:55:39 PM

HADLEY — When they were growing up, the two brothers fought like brothers do. Edward Zalot was the popular one, a great athlete. Frank, a year younger, was more reserved, and an average athlete.

Edward enlisted in the Navy in September 1941. On Dec. 7 that year, Frank’s 17th birthday, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was a Sunday. On Monday, Frank enlisted in the Navy.

The two traded letters. Frank was stationed in the Pacific. Edward piloted a torpedo bomber from an U.S.S. Cabot aircraft carrier in the south Atlantic.

In August 1943, Frank received a letter from Edward. Edward wrote that his carrier would be heading to the Pacific. He said he would buzz Frank, a signalman, as soon as he saw his ship, the U.S.S. American Legion.

A month passed. He didn’t hear from his brother. And then he got a letter from his sister. Edward had died.

“I just fell apart,” Frank said. He tried to get transferred home, but couldn’t. In January 1944, he finally made it back to Hadley after his ship came into San Francisco for repairs.

“When I came home I was sitting on a couch in a living room and my mother took his picture from the shelf,” Frank said. “She held it to her heart, and we just sat there and cried.”

Edward would never make it back to Hadley. A friend of Frank’s said he saw Edward die. When Edward took off from an aircraft carrier on Sept. 18, 1943, his plane couldn’t gain altitude, and he crashed among the waves. As the carrier sped by, Edward pulled the canopy of the plane back. His face was bloody.

In those situations, Frank said, a destroyer would generally stop to pick up the wounded men.

“But because the plane was sucked under by the screws (of the ship), they never found him,” Frank said.

Edward was 20. Frank is now 91 years old and lives in Hadley. He married Marian Kokoski in October 1946, raised four children, has nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He’s lived a long life.

He and his family didn’t talk about Edward for a long time. But every Veterans Day he reads about survivors. Frank has told his war stories to reporters before. But Frank’s brother deserves attention, perhaps more than he does, he said.

“I think it’s important to know what these people were like,” Frank said. “To me, there’s no such thing as a live hero. All of us who came back are survivors. We’re not heroes. People who died are the only heroes.”

The men who didn’t come back couldn’t tell their stories. Of the men who did, some chose not to.

Guadalcanal campaign

Frank Zalot didn’t talk about his time in the Pacific for 68 years, until his daughter started asking questions. There was no need to talk about it, he said.

One story sticks out from the Guadalcanal campaign, which lasted from August 1942 until February 1943. Zalot said he had a “front row seat” to the action in Guadalcanal, saying he was a trainer on a 3-inch anti-aircraft gun on the ship. Trainers move the gun left and right; pointers move the gun up and down and pull the trigger.

Zalot said a wave of Japanese planes buzzed toward his flotilla at about 9 a.m. on Aug. 7 in a high-altitude bombing attack.

“It was a complete surprise,” Zalot said. “They dropped their bombs and we were firing. No ships were sunk and no planes were shot down. … Shortly after we were warned that there were 40 Japanese Betty torpedo bombers on their way to attack.”

The men braced themselves. One plane approached the boat from the starboard side, flying in low, about 20 feet above the water. 

“I actually saw the whites of his eyes as he was firing and I could see the bullets coming at me because every seventh shell is a tracer. …”

“He must’ve just missed me because the guy behind me got hit. I tried to swallow and it felt like I had a ball of cotton in my mouth. It was a shock.”

Zalot and a crew member took aim as the plane flew off.

“I didn’t even need the sights; we just used the barrel,” he said. “We just put one shell into him and it just blew up.”

American sailors shook their fists and cursed at two Japanese who were throwed up against the ship.

“Come on, Tojo!” they shouted. “You want more? Come on!”

What’s it like to kill a man in war?

“You’re not killing a man; you’re killing an enemy,” Zalot said. “And when someone is shooting at you, you’re shooting back.”

During the Great Depression, Zalot was an avid hunter.

“If we wanted meat on the table, you had to go shoot a rabbit or something,” Zalot said. “So naturally after the war I took a 4-10 shotgun and went around the river. I shot a rabbit.”

The rabbit didn’t go silently. When it was dying, it was breathing heavily, its guts spilled on the ground.

“It was laying on the ground,” Zalot said. “It was still looking at me, like ‘Why? Why?’

“I got so mad I smashed that 4-10 against the tree,” he said. “And I never killed again.”


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