Veterans Memorial Overpass and the Veterans Memorial Plaza, built in 2005, are named in honor of all veterans.
As Memorial Day approaches, Street Smarts will share the stories of four local veterans. Here is the second in the series:
Werner S. Zimmt and his twin brother, Gerry, were born on Sept. 21, 1921, to Hugo and Lotte Zimmt in Berlin. Their father owned a factory that produced camel-hair slippers but it went bankrupt around 1924, during Germany’s period of hyperinflation.
Around 1934, a coalition of Jewish groups from New York formed the German-Jewish Children’s Aid to rescue Jewish children from Germany (and later, Austria). The group secured immigrant visas that guaranteed members would provide for the well-being and financial security of the children. About 1,000 children were quietly admitted to the U.S. between 1934 and 1942, and were placed with relatives or foster families.
Zimmt and his brother were among them. They arrived by ship on Jan. 31, 1935, and stayed at an orphanage in New York for a week before being sent to the Jewish Home Finding Society in Chicago. From February to August, they lived at a facility outside Chicago that was used as a summer camp.
During that time, Zimmt attended public schools and learned English. He also recalled first hearing about Babe Ruth, who was in the final season of his stint with the Boston Braves (now the Atlanta Braves).
From late 1935 to 1937, the twins lived with a foster family in Chicago. Their mother immigrated to the U.S. in 1937 and settled in Chicago, where her sons joined her and continued to attend high school. In 1939, the brothers graduated, and soon after their father came to this country.
Zimmt’s first job was delivering laundry for $5 plus tips per week. Next he got a job in a factory, earning the minimum wage of 25 cents per hour to make tables, chairs and lamps. During this period, he began evening school. One course he took — chemistry — led to his future occupation as a chemist.
In January 1942, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marines during World War II, but was rejected because he was considered an enemy alien due to his German heritage. By March 1943, the government’s viewpoint had changed, and he received a draft notice from the U.S. Army.
He arrived for basic training at Camp Fannin outside of Tyler, Texas, and within a couple of weeks, was taken to the courthouse and made a U.S. citizen. After basic training he was sent to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, through the Army Specialized Training Program.
He took courses in math and science, and in 1944, he was transferred to the University of Iowa, where he studied applied physics such as optics and acoustics. That April, the U.S. expanded its territorial involvement into North Africa, and the nation decided it needed foot soldiers more than instrument technicians.
Zimmt was transferred to the 44th Infantry Division, which at the time was in Alexandria, Louisiana. From there he went to Salina, Kansas, until August 1944, when he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion Intelligence Group and shipped to Cherbourg, France, arriving on Sept. 15, 1944.
After about a month, he was moved to the front line in eastern France and fought against the Nazis for the next six months. He also served as a scout and interrogator. He had the dangerous job of manning listening posts in front of the main line and sending back intelligence to headquarters or going on reconnaissance patrols. He also served as the interrogator of German prisoners of war.
He recalls that in early 1945, while in the area of Alsace-Lorraine (then part of Germany, now part of France), he came upon a small synagogue that had been used by the Nazis as a horse stable.
Lying in the dirt, mostly covered with mud, was a shofar, a musical instrument, usually made of ram horn, that is used for Jewish religious purposes. He picked it up and saved it for many years, until he felt it needed a proper home and donated it to the Jewish History Museum, 564 S. Stone Ave. It is on display there now.
He fell ill in April 1945, while stationed in Germany, and was discharged later that year. Two years later he married Marianne Scheuer, and in 1951 he graduated from the University of Chicago with a doctorate in chemistry. He spent the next 34 years working for DuPont, mostly in Philadelphia.
He retired in 1985, and after spending a few winters in Tucson, moved here in 1994. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona Department of Agriculture and a volunteer at the Arizona State Museum’s conservation lab. He also volunteers at the Tucson Visitor Center (Visit Tucson) at La Placita.
Zimmt did the translations for the recently released book, “A Jesuit Missionary in Eighteenth-Century Sonora: The Family Correspondence of Philipp Segesser.”