We lost a Great American this past Sunday...
A man I'm proud to have been able to call "Friend", Ernie Zayat.
I only had the pleasure of knowing Ernie for a little over four years.
I want to share this with you folks here because he REALLY REALLY was a good guy...(I'm tearing up a little right now)
Ernie was from a Lebanese family in Brooklyn and was drafted in 1943. "I didn't know what I was gonna do...", he told me on a couple of occasions, "I mean, I was a real Momma's Boy hanging onto her apron strings."
The self-described Lebanese Momma's Boy from Brooklyn, New York would become a man soon enough...
On June the 6th, 1944, Private Ernie Zayat found himself in the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 1st Inantry Division...going ashore on Omaha Beach in the first wave of the D-Day landings.
He nearly died as he was scrambling off of the landing craft. "I was carrying 90 pounds of TNT on my shoulders and wasn't balanced very well...my hobnail boots slipped on the wet ramp and I fell of off the side. The coxswain running the landing craft I was on had the engines gunned to hold her on the beach and it was making a big suction of water going towards the propeller. I was caught in the current and being sucked under...I thought I was going to get pulled into the propeller and get chewed up or drowned. Thank God my Lieutenant grabbed me and pulled me up on the beach. He saved my life."
Ernie later found out that his Lieutenant was killed by machine-gun fire shortly afterwards.
Ernie began to try to dig a hole to get into..."My Sergeant began yelling to get my attention. He had found a bit of a protected spot about 20 yards away and was yelling for me to come join him. I was about to run over there when he got hit by a mortar shell, I mean it was direct hit. I saw my Sergeant blown to bits right in front of me. A couple of little pieces hit me..."
Ernie saw action in the Battle of the Bulge, but he didn't talk too much about it. Mostly he said that it was cold and that he did what he had to do. I didn't ask too many questions about it.
He also fought in the battle of Aachen. He had become friends with another soldier who was from a few blocks away back in Brooklyn. "Boy, it was great to be able to talk to someone who knew some of the same places that I did."
During some of the more intense fighting, Ernie's friend was badly wounded in the leg.
"The calf of one of his legs was partially shot away...I mean it was just flappin' around."
Ernie and another soldier grabbed a couple of pieces of wood and ran over to where his buddy was laying. All this time they're being shot at by the enemy. They used they wood to carry his wounded buddy to some cover and got him some medical attention.
"When they took him away, I thought I'd never see him again. Was I ever wrong. A couple of years after the war, I was walking down the street in my old neighborhood and hear this voice yelling my name...I look around and it's my buddy I helped over in Aachen. He's walking with limp, but he's walking. He comes up to me and we start hugging and laughing and crying like a couple of little kids. He's thanking me for getting him out of there and saving his life. And I tell him that it's alright 'cause I know he'd have done the same thing for me."
Ernie made it almost the whole way through all of this without being wounded.
His unit was working on removing some mines from a bridge on the edge of some small town(I never did find out where) in Germany in early April of 1945.
"Some Germans came out of the woods of to the side of the bridge and started shooting. A few mortar shells started landing near us. We all panicked and ran. Some guys tried to run through a grassy area but it had been mined, too. We lost 3 or 4 guys to those damn mines. We kept running until we got back into town a bit. I was REALLY out of breath, but I wasn't in any pain. This medic was going from man to man looking us over and feeling us all over asking if we were alright. When he touched my lower stomach about where my appendix is, it felt like fire and by then I couldn't get a good breath."
They got him on a stretcher and to a Field Hospital.
"I remember that I wasn't quite all the way out and I could feel them begin to work on me down there. It started to hurt REAL BAD and then I was out and don't remember anything else."
Ernie was still recovering in a hospital near Paris, France when the war ended.
I got to know Ernie Zayat when he and my Mother-In-Law began dating a few years ago. It wasn't anything serious, just going out to dinner and to a club that played '40's Big Band Music for some dancing once in a while.
I just wanted to share this with you folks...
Rest easy Ernie, youve earned it... and how.
In full respect,