Kathi excelled at teaching writing and natural sciences as a classroom teacher. Today, she combines her research, knowledge and photography!
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
From its outset, TRUST Blue Devils 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 as insignia for the Blue Devils 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.
Additional Army Photos From Kingsley Zerbel's Album - Post WWII 1947-50 Trieste, Italy
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.
Update: Thank you Don Smail Jr. whose dad was also a mechanic during the TRUST occupation for helping me identify several photos located in Italy. Our dads liked to travel when on leave and who can blame them. If there are any people you recognize from the photos, please email me provided in my hubpages.com "fossillady" profile.
Update: A huge thanks you to FF who desires to remain incognito for identifying quite a few locations, some that were mislabeled. His father was in Trieste between 1947-49 and he's been there three times himself.
© 2021 Kathi Mirto