May 27, 2001
A Son's Memorial
By Heather Shelton
EUREKA -- Joe Ormond was 53 years old before he truly began to appreciate the meaning of Memorial Day.
"Most of my adult life, Memorial Day was not any different than it is for most of the population -- a big
holiday of summer. You'd go to Trinity Lake and do those kinds of things," said Ormond, a Eureka resident.
The 1998 Steven Spielberg film, "Saving Private Ryan" -- which chronicles the journey of a GI squad on a
dangerous mission behind enemy lines during World War II -- changed his outlook.
After seeing the movie, he began to wonder about his father, Clarence "Bud" Zieske, and his uncle, Vernon
Zieske -- who were both killed in the war -- as well as the countless other American military personnel
who had lost their lives.
"I remember being moved to tears by the theme and the realism of the carnage," he said. "The theme of
'brothers' in the movie and my Uncle Vernon being KIA (killed in action) within months of my father struck
home with a devastating force."
Clarence "Bud" Zieske
The experience led him on a quest to discover for first time the facts about the lives and deaths of his
father and uncle. To do this, he has delved through family documents and letters, talked with numerous
World War II veterans and has met with others who lost their fathers during the war. What he has uncovered
is a compelling story of brotherly love and patriotic loyalty.
Vernon and Bud Zieske were close indeed, Ormond notes. They were born a year apart in 1920 and 1921,
respectively. Both went to Ohio State University. Vernon graduated in 1941 with a degree in microbiology.
Bud received his diploma a year later in chemical engineering.
After college, Vernon joined the Army. Bud, who had been active in ROTC at Ohio State, did the same in
July 1942. Vernon transferred to the Army Air Corps, earning his wings in October 1942. After working as a
demolition instructor at a Tank Destroyer School in Camp Hood, Texas, Bud followed his brother into the Army
Air Corps in February 1943. He graduated from flying school at Eagle Pass, Texas, in January 1944.
Vernon briefly dated a young co-ed named Jeanne while at Ohio State. Through Vernon, Jeanne met Bud and the
two fell in love. They wrote often while Bud was stationed at Camp Hood and other locales. In 1943, Jeanne
took a train to San Antonio, Texas, where she and Bud were married on May 22 of that year.
Jeanne followed her new husband to each of his flight training bases. After he graduated from Eagle Pass,
they were stationed in Florida where the first lieutenant went through fighter training. By May 1944,
Jeanne was pregnant and returned home to Ohio. Bud shipped out for England.
Vernon, who was an excellent skeet shooter, was an instructor at a gunnery school in Naples, Fla., for a
good part of the war. In June 1944 -- with a shortage of fighter pilots overseas -- he was transferred to
a P-47 replacement fighter training program.
Bud -- who was flying P-51s -- arrived in England shortly after D-Day. He was assigned to the 361st Fighter
Group on July 12, 1944. He participated in nine combat missions with the 361st. Eight were as a fighter escort
over Germany, flying at 20,000 feet guarding bombers below.
On his first dive bombing mission on Aug. 12, 1944, Bud's plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and crashed near
Rosieres Airfield near Amiens, France.
"The missing air crew report states that he was seen to bail out of his plane about 100 feet above the ground
and hit the ground slightly behind his plane," Ormond said. "His chute never opened."
Bud was reported missing in action. On Oct. 9 of that year, Jeanne received official notification that Bud had
been killed. Their son, Joe, was born that same day.
"My father's death and my birth appear in the same newspaper article," said Ormond, now 56.
Vernon was given a short leave after his brother's death. By late October 1944, he was shipped out again and in
November joined the 36th Fighter Group. He flew P-47s through December 1944 and January 1945.
"The P-47 guys their job was to support ground troops," Ormond said. "They were low-fliers. This P-47 my uncle
flew could take so much damage. It was a flying tank."
On Jan. 26, 1945, Vernon was flying from Belgium on a mission to destroy an ammunition dump in Germany. Returning
in heavy cloud-cover, he came down through the clouds and his plane ran into a mountain. He was killed instantly.
"It was devastating for my grandparents to lose both their sons," Ormond said. "They were bright. They would have
made an incredible contribution. It was a great loss."
Ormond's mother moved to California in 1947 and married a former Marine Corps pilot. Ormond was soon adopted by
his stepfather and took his last name. He had no contact with his birth father's parents or sister until he was
a young man. Up until then, much of what he knew about Bud came from his mother.
"Most of my mother's stories were about following my father around from flight school to flight school," he said.
"She was a young woman in a very exciting time of her life."
In November 1980, Jeanne gave her son a suitcase filled with his father's possessions -- his father's letters
to his mother from June 1941 to August 1944, letters from the War Department, his wallet, Aviator Wings,
Lieutenant Bars, a silk scarf with an Army Air Corps emblem, some photographs, a Purple Heart, an American
flag and more.
Ormond briefly went through it, then set it aside.
"The vision of my father bailing out of his plane and hitting the ground with an unopened parachute haunted me
for years," he said. "The suitcase went in the back of the closet for another 18 years."
About the same time Ormond saw "Saving Private Ryan," he came across a Newsweek article that talked about
World War II orphans -- children who had lost their fathers in the war. He connected with the American WWII
Orphans Network (e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org) which was mentioned in the article.
"I suddenly realized there were many other war orphans dealing with the same emotional dilemmas," he said. "Within
a week, I made reservations and was going to their national convention. It was great to go and meet all these
other orphans. We'd all outlived our fathers by 30 years."
Next, he contacted the local North Coast Vintage Aviation Society and was put in touch with Tom Glenn of
McKinleyville, a fighter pilot in the war and author of "P-47 Pilots: The Fighter-Bomber Boys." As the two
talked, Ormond discovered Glenn had been in his Uncle Vernon's fighter group.
"Tom said, 'I also know some guys in the 361st,' which is my father's group," Ormond said. "Quickly he put me
in touch with them and within a short period of time, I was on my way going to two fighter group reunions --
one was my Uncle Vernon's and one was my father's fighter group reunion."
© 1999-2001 MediaNews Group, Inc.
At the 1999 reunions, Ormond met many men who had fought in World War II.
"To hear these guys' stories, I got experience for what my father's life was like and what he'd gone through.
I've had some incredible experiences meeting these guys and talking with them," said Ormond, who also attended
the 2000 reunions and plans to go this fall as well to both gatherings.
There have been some special connections along the way. Chuck Greenhill of Illinois brought his P-51 to one
reunion and gave Ormond an unforgettable ride in the plane -- the same kind Ormond's father had piloted. It was,
he said, "an incredible experience."
Another World War II veteran, James Darnley of Florida, sent him an English flight helmet that Vernon had
picked up in England years before on his way to Belgium.
"Him and this guy had traded helmets," Ormond said. "Shortly after that, my uncle was killed. I came home from
the 36th fighter reunion and this box was waiting with a note saying this was the helmet (my uncle had got in
Ormond has had the chance to tape record talks with numerous other veterans -- like Haylon Wood of Louisiana,
Willie Friend of Colorado and Bob Volkman of Delaware -- all who served alongside his father or uncle.
He also reopened that suitcase of so long ago, which carried myriad memories of his father and uncle and their
harrowing experiences during World War II.
"That old suitcase no longer holds my father as a prisoner, is no longer dusty nor a source of grief," he said.
"My father and uncle did not die in vain and their memory is no longer shrouded in gloom ... Their memory is
now a living brightness in the world they sacrificed their lives to preserve."
One of Ormond's most memorable moments took place in May 1999 when he and his wife drove to Virginia to attend
Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery, where Bud and Vernon are buried side-by-side.
"It was the first Memorial Day that I did Memorial Day things," he said. "I had an understanding of the
sacrifice my father and all those young men made during World War II."
In Memory of 1LT Clarence Eugene (Bud) Zieske
KIA 12 August, 1944 near Amiens, France
And In Memory of 1LT Vernon Zieske
KIA 26 January, 1945 in Germany