Moving around in an old submarine requires grace and flexibility. Plus it helps to have a purpose, an aim, a goal. All these qualities combine in the energetic form of Captain Ernest “Zeke” Zellmer, ret., a board member of the American Undersea Warfare Center in Galveston, Texas. Zeke has a special passion for AUWC because it is the home of USS Cavalla, the Gato Class submarine he served aboard during its commission and first five war patrols. And even though Zeke is on the interesting side of ninety, he moved through the small passageways with phenomenal grace and agility. Plus he had a purpose: to help me get the story right.
On behalf of Q Media, I found myself at AUWC to help craft an audio tour for the USS Cavalla (SS-244) and its companion the USS Stewart (DE-238), a glorious WWII destroyer escort (more on it later). Seeing these two beautiful naval vessels side by side is fairly overwhelming. Stepping aboard them and moving through the passages and compartments is deeply moving and a whole lot of fun. Oh, the stories that lay within these two vessels… the revelations of courage, teamwork, discipline, and humanity they contain.
Even before Zeke arrived, I recognized there were experiences here I would never find in the textbooks or the websites. And then Zeke and his bride Beverly arrived and ushered me into the forward torpedo room and throughout the sub. Having Zeke show me around the Cavalla is roughly the equivalent of having Betsy Ross describe the basics of flag making. I had hit the audio tour research lottery: an expert source who not only has seemingly limitless technical knowledge of the artifact, but also one who understood its beating heart during the most trying times.
This you can never get from Wikipedia.
So now I’m back home in Florida, replete with notes and data. Now I must find the voice of these vessels and deliver it to the visitors. I will endeavor to get it right. I know Zeke would have it no other way.
Our Cavalla Prayer
by Zeke Zellmer
We pray for our comrades on eternal patrol,
May you remain in our hearts, ever young.
We pray for our shipmates still sailing,
May you grow old, gracefully.
We pray for our loved ones, with us or gone,
May our love and adoration be with you, forever.
We pray for the Rescuers, who mend our weary Cavalla,
May all give you their gratitude and support.
We pray for our boat, our Cavalla,
May you be restored with honor and pride.
We pray for our country, God’s country,
May we love you and serve you now, as then.
We pray to our God, our Preserver,
May we give You thanks and praise forever.
(“Our Cavalla Prayer” shared with Zeke’s permission. All rights belong to him.)