Robert F. Zahn
U. S. Navy
WWII US Military
Dates of Service: 01/29/1943 - 12/29/1945
Pilot, USS Salamaua
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A native of Dover, Delaware, Robert was the only child of Frank James Zahn and Jenny Louise Starkweather Zahn. His half sister, Gertrude Lobert, came from his father's first marriage. Soon the family was living in Ithaca, New York where Frank worked as a wholesale meat salesman, calling on butcher shops for his employer, Oscar Meyer Meat Company. He also worked for another meat company, Goble. Fortunately, Robert recalls, his father retained a steady job throughout the Depression. To contribute to the family finances, Robert ran morning and afternoon paper routes. He also delivered Liberty Magazine. On Sundays the family attended St. John's Episcopal Church. Robert loved big band music and saw famous bandleaders such as Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and others when they played at Cornell University. Robert meanwhile played tenor saxophone in the high school band, and even formed a band with students from Ithaca College Conservatory of Music. Robert completed Ithaca High School in January of 1942, and soon began work constructing Sampson Naval Base in Geneva, New York. He had to arise at 4 a.m. To be near his grandmother, he found work at Curtiss Wright in Buffalo, running a copy machine and a profiler. Hoping to be a pilot, Robert joined the navy in Buffalo. He took ground school at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, then completed flight training at Troy's Union College. At Bunker Hill Air Field in Peru, Indiana, he flew the bi-plane Stearman, soloing on January 1, 1944. Robert graduated flight training in August 1944 in Pensacola, Florida. Ensign Zahn took operational training in the Grumman F4F Wildcat in Sanford, Florida. He made his first carrier landings on the USS Sable in Lake Michigan in a snowstorm. In February of 1945 he was sent to Pearl Harbor, then by April was flying between Guam and Saipan. Once, while strafing the island of Rhoda, ground fire hit his plane, forcing him to land in the ocean, where a minesweeper picked him up. Robert was based aboard the USS Salamaua (CVE-96), the first jeep carrier to enter Tokyo Bay when the war ended. During the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, he was flying one of the planes circling above the historic ceremony. Back in San Francisco, he met his first wife, Marsha Lane, a WAVE. (They would have four children.) He was part of US Naval Reserve until October 1961. Robert returned with Marsha to Ithaca, where he worked as a draftsman for Allen Wales Adding Machines. In June of 1946 the couple moved to Chicago where he worked first for the city as a draftsman, then as a designer for Ford, Bacon & Davis. At Design Service Company he worked for a small petroleum-engineering corporation until the company went bankrupt. He then drove a Borden's milk truck in the Chicago suburbs. By 1951 he was with Brown & Root in Houston where he worked until 1968. For three years he worked as a power piping coordinator for Texas Pipe Bending in Houston. He then worked for Bernard & Burke in Baton Rouge as chief draftsman and design administrator. At Gibbs & Hill of Omaha, Nebraska he was a design manager from 1972 to 1975, then returned to Brown & Root as manager of piping for its San Francisco office. He retired from the company in 1992. After Marsha passed away in 1990 he married Juanita Earlynne Morris. They moved to Shreveport in 2005.