Jackson Township resident Lazer Tarzan’s World War II journal captures the experience of the battle at sea.
“Course still due East and kinda rough. Bismark sunk today.”
Such was the entry for a day in May 1941 in the journal kept by Navy sailor Lazer Tarzan during World War II. Tarzan hailed from Canton but he was sailing the north Atlantic in the days before the United States entered World War II.
Since Tarzan enlisted in the Navy in 1939 and was not discharged until after the peace was signed with Japan in 1945, his journal documents much of the war at sea over the course of six years.
“THE BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC,” Tarzan printed in upper-case emphasis on a page of the journal for early September 1941. “WE ARE NOT AT WAR YET,” he added over entries later in that month.
Those words in Tarzan’s journal would ring true for only a few more weeks.
“Japan declares war,” he wrote on Dec. 7, 1941, the Pearl Harbor was attacked. “Headed to the war in the Pacific,” he added a few days later.
KEPT IN SECRET
Keeping a journal aboard a war vessel wasn’t condoned by his superiors.
“A lot of guys kept diaries. When the war started, they ordered us to throw them overboard, but I didn’t. Very few of the guys did,” said Tarzan. “I kept mine because I had a brother and a sister and wanted them to know what happened to me.”
Men hid their words in lockers or other out-of-the-way places aboard ship. Tarzan maintained his journal “when I felt like it,” he said. A radioman aboard a destroyer escort, he often wrote between taking messages or while watching battles unfold in the sea around his radio room.
“I was in just about every engagement in the South Pacific,” he said.
READS LIKE HISTORY
Such involvement in so many sea battles makes Tarzan’s journal read like a history book.
“Headed for the Battle of the Pacific,” he wrote on his birthday, Dec. 19, 1941.
“A terrific toll was (taken) on Pearl Harbor,” he wrote upon his arrival there in February 1942. “Was in evidence every foot of the way.”
“Three bombs dropped about 15 feet from us, knocking all loose objects and personnel on deck,” he wrote during the “Battle of Coral Sea.”
Tarzan sketched a map of that battle, as he did for other conflicts at sea. Already thinking as the portrait and landscape artist he would become after the war, he sketched — sometimes in colored pencil — such scenes as ships, waves, palm trees, fish, sunsets and letters with wings.
WAR SPEEDS UP
Entries in Tarzan’s journal became shorter as the war heated up. “Rough sea” and “routine stuff” were typical. But, important wartime incidents were chronicled, as when the carrier Wasp was hit by a torpedo from an enemy submarine in September 1942.
Page 2 of 2 - “Wasp is blowing to bits. The planes can be seen blowing one after the other. Ship’s now sinking by her stern.”
During the later years of the war, Tarzan’s duties and no doubt a deterioration of his morale further curtailed his writing. Dates of entries were eliminated and only spaces between the lines determined that they were different entries.
“Christmas in the Pacific. I wonder what the folks are doing,” he wrote at one point.
“I remember back home when I used to wish for war and my brother said I was nuts,” he wrote on another occasion. “By God, he was right. It’s just hell.”
Perhaps the most telling entry in the journal is one written in Greek and intended as a “final” message.
“In case of death, would someone please deliver this message to my dad,” Tarzan simply wrote.
The request never needed to be satisfied. Tarzan’s ship survived the war. An entry late on its pages notes that it “went into Tokyo Bay with the Missouri and all the brass to sign the peace.”
The final entry in the journal touches upon the incomprehensible nature of the war that Tarzan experienced.
“There is a lot more I could tell you, but I can’t remember a lot of it,” he explains.
Years later, Tarzan and his son, Lazar Tarzan Jr. (who uses an alternate spelling of his first name), preserved the World War II journal.
Spiral-bound copies of the writing were published, with related poems and a few pictures included with the text. The books were given to friends and relatives.
“Everything in here is stuff you don’t read in history books or even see in movies,” said friend Brian Morgan.
Morgan, whose daughter is in the Navy, helped deliver a copy of the journal to the captain of the U.S.S. George Washington a few years ago.
“He said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ ” recalled Morgan. “I said, ‘Yes, it’s the whole history of the war in the South Pacific, written by one lone sailor.’”
Tarzan’s journal subsequently was placed in the ship’s library and a letter of thanks was sent to its author, six decades after he had written his words.
A letter of explanation was included on the inside of the back cover of the journal when it was published in 2008.
“May God bless every one of our brave soldiers and marines,” Tarzan wrote, “who gave their lives for a great cause.”