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A Postscript to World War II: My Dad's Experience in Trieste

Kathi excelled at teaching writing and natural sciences as a classroom teacher. Today, she combines her research, knowledge and photography!

Post WWII 1947-50 American Soldiers Amazing Coincidence - Trieste, Italy

Post WWII 1947-50 American Soldiers Amazing Coincidence - Trieste, Italy

The photo above tells an army story my dad, Kingsley Zerbel, loved to tell during family gatherings and whatnot because it impacted him that much . . . and he was a great storyteller. This uplifting and outrageously coincidental story happened when he was stationed in Trieste, Italy after WWII between 1947-50. He had joined the army after his junior year of high school at the age of 17 with signed permission from his mother, Hilda, my loving grandmother, who raised him as a single mother. With the war over, she agreed with the knowledge he would be able to complete his high school education with a GED while in the service.

My dad recently passed away at the age of 91, February 24, 2021, but I know he's watching over us and is quite likely super tickled I'm retelling his story to the world at large.

The photo above is Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, far left. (All photos posted in this photo-essay are taken from his personal army photo album, which has survived over 70 years.)

Basic Training Aberdeen, Maryland 1947 (Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, center front)

Basic Training Aberdeen, Maryland 1947 (Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, center front)

Basic Training Fort Sheridan, Highwood, Illinois 1947 (Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, front row far left)

Basic Training Fort Sheridan, Highwood, Illinois 1947 (Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, front row far left)

So after basic training in Aberdeen, Maryland and Fort Sheridan in Highwood, Illinois, my dad and his fellow soldiers were shipped across the ocean from the east coast. Overseas, the troops were put on a train and were prepared to be stationed in Germany. But to their surprise, the train passed by Germany and instead headed for Trieste, Italy! At the time, they didn't know what was going on! Can you imagine? Nevertheless, all that is a side note from the story he always told, yet important background information!

Kingsley Zerbel (my dad) in uniform posing for photo in Italy 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Kingsley Zerbel (my dad) in uniform posing for photo in Italy 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Why Some American Troops Landed in Trieste, Italy instead of Germany in 1947

After WWII, the Free Territory of Trieste was created by the United Nations Security Council Resolution adopted, January 10, 1947, and established by the signature of the Treaty of Peace with Italy, February 10, 1947, then entered into force the following September.

According to the protocol, when the Italian peace treaty came into force, the United Kingdom, the United States and Yugoslavia were each authorized to station 5,000 troops in the Free Territory of Trieste.

Julian (Julius Caesar) Alps Border Outpost After WWII Between Italy and Yugoslavia

Julian (Julius Caesar) Alps Border Outpost After WWII Between Italy and Yugoslavia

New Free Territory of Trieste Established Post WWII

New Free Territory of Trieste Established Post WWII

The historical situation at the Italian/Yugoslavian border established a division into two administration areas: Zone A (including the capital of Trieste and the Free Port of Trieste) was assigned to Anglo-Americans, and Zone B (in the east) was assigned to Yugoslavs. US and UK troops manned a series of 16 border outposts. American soldiers manned Outposts 1 through 6. British troops manned Outposts 7 through 16.

American troops - post WWII Zone A border outpost between Italy and Yugoslavia 1947-50

American troops - post WWII Zone A border outpost between Italy and Yugoslavia 1947-50

Harry Truman formed a special unit, Trieste United States Troops, TRUST, and assigned it a difficult task: stopping Yugoslav, Tito's Red army from seizing the city of Trieste in order to annex it as well as a big chunk of northern Italy to the then budding Evil Empire.

As planned, the United States 351st Infantry Regiment and supporting units assumed TRUST responsibilities in Zone A of the Free Territory of Trieste.

Post WWII 1947-50 American soldiers Free Territory of Trieste, Zone A, Italian border outpost protection from Yugoslav aggressions

Post WWII 1947-50 American soldiers Free Territory of Trieste, Zone A, Italian border outpost protection from Yugoslav aggressions

Many may recall during WWII, Italy's fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, invaded former Yugoslavia along with several other countries. With Italy defeated, he was captured trying to escape to Switzerland along with his mistress and both were executed in the streets of Italy. The country was in a vulnerable state and relations with Yugoslavia remained tense.

Undermining the peace treaty after WWII, Tito's Reds threatened, harassed and, on one occasion, tried to move a large force through the American lines. The men of TRUST held their positions like a stone wall.

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General Eisenhower visits Trieste, Italy 1948-49 during tensions with Yugoslavia

General Eisenhower visits Trieste, Italy 1948-49 during tensions with Yugoslavia

"War and peace at times hung in the balance," wrote General Dwight Eisenhower, concerning the high-stake mission the soldiers of TRUST had been assigned.

1947-50 Post WWII Border Outpost in Italy against Yugoslav Aggression

1947-50 Post WWII Border Outpost in Italy against Yugoslav Aggression

Finally, in 1954, the city of Trieste, Italy and a narrow coastal strip to its north came under direct Italian rule, while the remainder of the region was ceded to Yugoslavia.

Many of the combat actions were poorly reported, lost over the passage of time or overshadowed by other Cold War hot spots in Berlin, Greece and Korea.

These men remain unsung soldiers by everybody except the people of Trieste, who to this day, still consider them to be their liberators and saviors.

American Soldiers Border Outpost 1947-50 between Italy and Yugoslavia

American Soldiers Border Outpost 1947-50 between Italy and Yugoslavia

Border Outpost 1947-50 between Italy and Yugoslavia ( Right; Kingsley Zerbel, my dad)

Border Outpost 1947-50 between Italy and Yugoslavia ( Right; Kingsley Zerbel, my dad)

Back to the Story My Dad Used to Tell

So, while stationed in the Free Territory of Trieste, other than combat exercises, patrol duties, or work as a mechanic, my dad had some time for rest and relaxation R&R! One of his off duty activities was playing basketball.

Off duty activities during TRUST, Tieste, Italy, military service

Off duty activities during TRUST, Tieste, Italy, military service

Off duty activities during TRUST, Tieste, Italy, military service

Off duty activities during TRUST, Tieste, Italy, military service

From these news clipping, having survived over 70 years, I was able to figure out that my dad, Kingsley Zerbel, was in Company C, 1st Battalion of the United States TRUST occupation in the Free Territory of Trieste, Italy. I also learned he was often one of the the top basketball scorers and later discovered he played forward. Unfortunately, the newspaper always spelled his name wrong, "Zerbal".

The Hanger, Trieste, Italy 1947-50

The Hanger, Trieste, Italy 1947-50

So anyway, the various companies and/or regiments of soldiers played and practiced basketball at the Hanger, a huge pavilion, but sometimes there were other activities going on at the same time in other areas of the Hanger. One of these particular instances, there happened to be an American Red Cross sponsored dance underway and apparently, the place was packed. Well, when my dad's Company C team was finished with b-ball practice, the men had to walk through the packed dancehall in order to exit the building.

Left: Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, with one of his best army buddies, Wilbur

Left: Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, with one of his best army buddies, Wilbur

Making their way through the crowded dancehall, my dad was with one of his best army buddies and basketball teammate, Wilbur, whose last name I don't know. If you'll recall from the very first photo, it included two army and two navy soldiers. My dad and Wilbur were the two dressed in their army uniforms.

Anyway, while Wilbur and my dad were making there way through the crowded dancehall, my dad accidently stepped on somebody's foot and turned around to say, "Excuse me". He was literally stopped in his tracks when he recognized a past high school friend from Hastings, Michigan dressed in navy fatigues, Eddy Freeland! Eddy and my dad went way back and they even rode on the bus together to the east coast after basic training to be transported overseas where they went their separate ways being in separate divisions of the armed forces.

My dad on the right with army buddy Wilbur during 1947-50 Trieste, Italy post WWII TRUST

My dad on the right with army buddy Wilbur during 1947-50 Trieste, Italy post WWII TRUST

But that's not the end of this happy, improbable occasion. While my dad and his old high school friend enlisted in the navy, Eddy, were embraced in a passionate hug, they were amazed at what they saw over each other's shoulders. Wilbur and Eddy's best buddy from the navy (name not known) were also embraced in a hug with the same passion and excitement as were my dad and Eddy! As it turned out, Wilbur and Eddy's navy buddy had a close past connection much like my dad and Eddy. It was such a mind boggling, meant to be, special moment for the four of them, they had to stop and have a photo taken to commemorate the occasion! Luckily, stationed in the building was a professional photographer, Pietro Genovi stamped in the corner of the photo.

Italy post WWII 1947-50 Trieste United States Troops TRUST  Front: Eddy Freeland, my dad's high school friend Left: Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, Top: Wilbur, my dad's army buddy Right: Wilbur's hometown friend and navy buddy to Eddy

Italy post WWII 1947-50 Trieste United States Troops TRUST Front: Eddy Freeland, my dad's high school friend Left: Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, Top: Wilbur, my dad's army buddy Right: Wilbur's hometown friend and navy buddy to Eddy

So, I ask you, was this a coincidence or divine intervention? I lean toward divine intervention because of the miracle it truly was and by the way it made them feel. It provided them much joy and needed comfort with a brief moment of home away from home!

I only wish I knew the name of Wilbur's old pal who was Eddy's best navy buddy sitting on the right, and of course, Wilbur's last name! If anybody who happens to see this, knows anything, please contact me through my hubpages.com email found under my "fossillady" profile.

Two more of my dad's army buddies post WWII 1947-50 (Another example of the fun loving kinship and admiration  fellow soldiers felt for one another)

Two more of my dad's army buddies post WWII 1947-50 (Another example of the fun loving kinship and admiration fellow soldiers felt for one another)

Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, Free Port of Trieste, Italy, Adriatic Sea, Post WWII 1947-50

Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, Free Port of Trieste, Italy, Adriatic Sea, Post WWII 1947-50

In case you were curious why my dad and Wilbur's navy buddies showed up at the army base in Trieste, is because there was a much needed navy presence in the Free Port of Trieste. There was no heavy artillery with the land combat units of TRUST, but some fighting ships of the British and American navies were always in the Trieste harbor in the Adriatic Sea and their long-range guns could command the roads into the city.

Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, trained as a sharp shooter during TRUST, 1947-50 in Trieste, Italy, post WWII keep the peace with Yugoslavia

Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, trained as a sharp shooter during TRUST, 1947-50 in Trieste, Italy, post WWII keep the peace with Yugoslavia

Well, that's the end of the army story my dad used to tell with great delight and expression! Obviously, he went on to live a full life marrying my mom, Marylou Gattner, and raising 6 kids. We lived in Portage, Michigan during my early childhood and moved to St. Joe, Michigan where my folks resided some 30 years, retiring to the Florida Keys after my dad closed Zerbel GMC truck dealership which he co-owned with my grandfather and was head of operations.

I will post more of his army photos from his album below. If anybody sees somebody they happen to recognize, please contact me through my hubpages.com email found under my "fossillady" profile. Enjoy!

Some R&R 1947-50, my dad, Kingsley Zerbel far right. Blue scarves and the TRUST patch were added to uniforms.

Some R&R 1947-50, my dad, Kingsley Zerbel far right. Blue scarves and the TRUST patch were added to uniforms.

TRUST patch were added to uniforms

TRUST patch were added to uniforms

From its outset, TRUST gained a reputation as a spit and polish command. It started with the first commander, Major General Bryant E. Moore, who was quoted in his obituary as having whipped a sloppy occupation force into a spit and polish outfit.

Uniforms were altered for better appearance. Troops wore blue scarves and lacquered helmet liners with decals of the TRUST patch. Web pistol belts were dyed black and brass fittings shined. Some bayonets and mess kits were chrome plated.

Kingsley Zerbel 1949, Trieste, Italy, American occupation post WWII

Kingsley Zerbel 1949, Trieste, Italy, American occupation post WWII

Kingsley Zerbel, right, mechanic in the service, stationed in Trieste, Italy post WWII occupation 1947-50

Kingsley Zerbel, right, mechanic in the service, stationed in Trieste, Italy post WWII occupation 1947-50

Neil Nachanko played basketball with my dad during the post WWII occupation in Trieste, Italy. The back of photo is written, "With all my love to Brother Zerbel," signed, Chunkhead.

Neil Nachanko played basketball with my dad during the post WWII occupation in Trieste, Italy. The back of photo is written, "With all my love to Brother Zerbel," signed, Chunkhead.

R&R Trieste, Italy Post WWII Occupation 1947-50, Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, center

R&R Trieste, Italy Post WWII Occupation 1947-50, Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, center

R&R Trieste, Italy Post WWII Occupation 1947-50, Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, far left with all the hair

R&R Trieste, Italy Post WWII Occupation 1947-50, Kingsley Zerbel, my dad, far left with all the hair

Right: Rosie did my dad's laundry shown here holding her son Sylvestrie - Trieste, Italy 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Right: Rosie did my dad's laundry shown here holding her son Sylvestrie - Trieste, Italy 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Nicolini, resident of Trieste, Italy and husband of Rosie who did my dad's laundry 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Nicolini, resident of Trieste, Italy and husband of Rosie who did my dad's laundry 1947-50 post WWII occupation

Also from my dad's, Kingsley Zerbel, army album - Written on back, "Twins Dick and Bill Tischafer and Poppy Wiles" American Soldiers, Post WWII 1947-50

Also from my dad's, Kingsley Zerbel, army album - Written on back, "Twins Dick and Bill Tischafer and Poppy Wiles" American Soldiers, Post WWII 1947-50

Camp Kilmer 1947 two of Kingsley Zerbel's army buddies

Camp Kilmer 1947 two of Kingsley Zerbel's army buddies

Located in New Jersey, troops were quartered at the1600 acre Camp Kilmer in preparation for transport to Europe during WWII and post war. It became the largest processing center for troops heading overseas and returning from World War II, processing over 2.5 million soldiers. It officially closed in 2009. I have to assume this is where my dad was transported from headed overseas in the army, 1947.

Kelly Barracks post WWII occupation  Trieste, Italy, 1947-50

Kelly Barracks post WWII occupation Trieste, Italy, 1947-50

Kelly Barracks post WWII occupation Trieste, Italy, 1947-50

Kelly Barracks post WWII occupation Trieste, Italy, 1947-50

American Red Cross post WWII occupation, Italy 1947-50

American Red Cross post WWII occupation, Italy 1947-50

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

Italy, Post WWII 1947-50 Occupation

I am not 100% that the last three photos of buildings are from Trieste, Italy where my dad was stationed from 1947-50 post WWII occupation. They could be from somewhere else in Italy. He seldom talked about his experience there, mainly just his favorite story about him and Wilbur bumping into their their then navy buddies from high school at the same time. I have tried to identify them, but came up short. If anyone can name them, please email me provided in my hubpages.com "fossillady" profile. The same goes for people you may recognize, let me know!

© 2021 Kathi Mirto

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