Mason City World War II Navy Veteran Recalls Service | Mason City and Northern Iowa
About 3.4% of World War II veterans are still living in the United States today. As that number continues to decrease each year, it becomes increasingly important to share the stories of those who have served.
Karl Zimmerman, best known today for the handcrafted wooden pens he gives to communities and politicians, is a World War II veteran living in present-day Mason City.
Zimmerman attended Iowa State College shortly after graduating from high school at the age of 16. He only attended college for a year, and was also in ROTC with the Army.
Zimmerman did not like the army. His father fought in the Navy during World War I, shoveling coal for naval ships. Wanting to follow in his footsteps, Zimmerman was reluctantly signed by his parents to join the Navy at the age of 17.
From there, Zimmerman went to training camp at Great Lakes in Michigan for six weeks. Bootcamp trained people to be firefighters and marines. Zimmerman was trained in diesel and steam engines.
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While Zimmerman was at the naval base, he recalled an outbreak of scarlet fever. Penicillin had not yet been invented, and the pills that all men were given to help fight disease eventually caused blisters on many men.
Zimmerman is still healthy. He remembers taking the same pills when he was sick a while back, and the doctors told him to be careful with this drug, as it is harmful to the kidneys and requires a lot of water.
Even so, the men on the premises were not informed of it, and they took the pills for days. Zimmerman started tossing the pills after the first few days, and when everyone around him started getting sick of the pills, he was spared.
“There was a room full of useless thousands of dollars worth of pills,” he recalls.
After training, Zimmerman was sent to San Francisco to board the ship he called home until the end of World War II.
“The ships are all steam, superheated steam. It’s so hot you can’t see it and you don’t want to run your hand along the pipe to check for a leak because it could cut your finger.” Zimmerman recalls his time on the train.
Zimmerman was stationed on an amphibious dock, or LSD. His is the first or second ever made. It wasn’t meant to last beyond a few battles, but this ship had been on the great beaches of Africa, spending time in English and Normandy ports.
This was all before Zimmerman boarded the ship, as it was sent back to America after a bomb damaged the ship. When Zimmerman boarded the ship, the ship had already reached the Pacific Ocean.
Zimmerman remembered how thin the ship was, only half an inch of steel holding it together. He said it was thin enough to not hold up bullets, and remembered leaks in the seams that had to be mended.
During Zimmerman’s time in LSD, they went to New Caledonia to collect items. The ship then sailed to an atoll in the Pacific Ocean, a reef that provides a natural barrier against predators. They will be there for a while, Zimmerman working on the engine, preparing for an invasion of Japan.
“A cruise ship comes in every three days and we get a barrel of beer. They were nice to us before the carnage,” joked Zimmerman.
But Zimmerman never saw action. The entire crew was there, waiting, when the atomic bomb was dropped.
“We didn’t know what it would be like. They said they had an atomic bomb and saved us. They calculated that they would lose a million of us without it.” Zimmerman said.
Karl Zimmerman then returned home, moved back to the Pacific, and back home to Iowa, eventually settling in Aredale to become a farmer and craftsman.
Today, Karl Zimmerman shares his stories, about crafting wooden pens and spending time with his friends and family. He will soon be making a trip to Hawaii to reunite with the surviving crew members he has befriended during his service. The first time he saw Hawaii was on his way home from World War II.
“I’ve never flown first class. I think I’ve gotten to this point.”
Rae Burnette is a GA and Crime & Court Correspondent at the Globe Gazette. You can contact her at 641.421.0523 or at Rae.Burnette@GlobeGazette.com