“I was 19 when I joined. I wanted to be in on the battles,” World War II veteran Lazer Tarzan recalled. “The admiral in his speech to us said, ‘A lot of you guys won’t come back.’ I didn’t care. I was young. It wasn’t going to happen to me.”
Lazer Tarzan joined the Navy before Pearl Harbor and served the U.S. at sea until peace was signed with the Japanese.
While serving aboard the U.S.S. Russell — it earned 16 battle stars — and two other destroyer escorts, it seemed he saw the entire war in the Pacific.
Educated at Lehman, McKinley and Timken high schools, Tarzan enlisted in the Navy in 1939. Aboard a destroyer escort, he was patrolling in the northern Atlantic when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With his ship quickly ordered to the Pacific, Tarzan turned 21 while going through the Panama Canal.
“Today,” a journal he kept during the war notes on Dec. 19, 1941, “I am a man.”
Aboard a ship whose duty it was to protect such fighting ships as aircraft carriers, Tarzan still thought and fought with the courage that comes with youth.
“I was 19 when I joined. I wanted to be in on the battles,” he recalled. “The admiral in his speech to us said, ‘A lot of you guys won’t come back.’ I didn’t care. I was young. It wasn’t going to happen to me.”
Certainly there were close calls for the seaman, whose job as a radioman was to receive and send coded messages. Although his journal at one point in September 1941 notes that “We are not at war yet,” the Navy ships he sailed with near Iceland were in constant battle with the weather.
During one storm, Tarzan’s ship “rolled over 90 degrees.”
“I was sleeping in the sack and I rolled over a couple of guys and landed on the third one,” he remembered, turning serious as he recalled seeing ships sink in the storms from rolling too far in the waves. “We saw ships go down. I felt so sorry for the guys. We went around to see if there was anyone to pick up. What a horrible death.”
Later, in battle, the foes became torpedoes and kamikaze pilots. Along with dumping depth charges to sink the submarines that might attack Allied ships, destroyer escorts were charged with taking a hit from a torpedo, if it would save an aircraft carrier, Tarzan noted.
“I saw kamikaze pilots fly right down the smokestack of ships and sink them,” Tarzan said.
In a way, Tarzan’s closest call was an attack on a ship when he wasn’t even aboard the vessel. Not long after he was transferred from one destroyer escort to another, a shell hit the bridge of the first ship, destroying the radio room in which he would have been working.
“The guy who took my place, a buddy, was on the bridge and the shell hit him and about 18 other guys,” said Tarzan.
Page 2 of 2 - “I think now about surviving,” he said, “how lucky I am that I made it through.”
AFTER THE WAR
Tarzan was docked at Okinawa when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He was aboard one of the ships in Tokyo Bay at the moment of the signing of the Japanese surrender. Finally, after six years, he would be coming home.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, who worked in the Hoover plant during the war making war material, were married in September 1946.
“I met her in church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. She was playing the organ.”
For a time, Tarzan worked in the Linotype department of The Repository, traveling to work in newspapers in California at other times during more than a decade. A talented artist since he was young, during one stay in California he was offered a job by the Disney corporation to draw cartoons, he said, but he turned it down to return to Canton.
Tarzan studied portrait painting in New York City, then opened the family art gallery, a business that his son, Lazar Tarzan Jr. (who goes by an alternative spelling), still operates as Lazar’s Art Gallery. Two other children also operate art galleries in the area, he said. Son John Tarzan runs Maple Street Gallery in Hartville and daughter Nancy Tarzan owns two galleries in Berlin — Blue River and Berlin Creek.
The elder Tarzan figures he has painted at least 500 portraits over the years, as well as numerous other oil paintings — many with a western theme.
“Everybody likes cowboys,” he says with a smile.
He still paints in the basement of his home at Glenmoor Country Club in Jackson Township, most recently completing a multi-panel series of large paintings he plans to hang on a tall wall in his living room.
“I like challenges,” he said. “It gives me motivation.”