Lifelong Novato resident sailed high seas during World War II and Korean War.
Occupation: Rancher, retired roofing contractor
Resident of Novato since: 1927
Branch of military: Merchant Marine, U.S. Navy Reserves
Highest rank: E-3, U.S. Navy
Years of service: 1945-47, 1950-55
Primary assignment: Deck hand
Locations deployed: Philippines, China, Japan, Okinawa, North Africa, Canada, Mexico.
Combat injuries: None.
Active with veterans groups: Meets about six times a year with fellow Merchant Marine veterans at Ristorante La Toscana in San Rafael, as well as a group that supports the liberty ship S.S. Jeremiah O’Brien.
Bill Mazzoleni, former owner of DeMello Roofing in San Rafael, is a lifelong Novato resident who worked as a hod carrier and plasterer as a young man in addition to serving in the U.S. Merchant Marines during World War II and the Korean War. He helped deliver all sorts of supplies to ports worldwide and is proud of his service although he acknowledges that many veterans called Merchant Mariners “draft dodgers.”
How did you get involved in the service? I quit high school in 1944 when things were getting heated up for the invasion of Japan. I was only 17. I knew that a lot of Merchant Mariners had lost their lives in the North Pacific making runs to England. The German subs were picking them off. I joined with Merchant Marines because I didn’t want to be in the infantry. I trained to be a sailor and got to see the world.
What’s your favorite memory of your service? My favorite memory was probably just that everyone was involved in the war effort, everyone was striving for the same thing. Everything was new to me. There was so much going on at the ports, on the waterfront, and it was pretty exciting. I turned 18 on my second trip back, on the way home from Manila. That’s when we heard the war was over.
What was the scariest time? There was really no fear at that point although you always knew Japanese submarines were out there. As soon as we left, San Francisco, we were vulnerable. We had Navy gunners aboard the ships. We had a few planes come down over us. It was a wiley feeling because you can’t see them until they’re right over you.
Is patriotism what it used to be? The only time I really got that feeling we had back then was when the 9/11 happened. Everybody got on edge and you could feel the whole country behind it, sort of like when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor. Now, you don’t even know who’s over there (serving on active duty). I don’t think our services get enough credit. I know that’s true of the Merchant Marines. It never got much attention. You didn’t even have a uniform. It was nice when (in 2003) the monument was put up at the Civic Center to honor the Merchant Marines. That meant a lot to us.”
Interview by: Brent Ainsworth, Novato Patch, on 11/27/2010
“Are the “merchies” underrated and undervalued – darn straight – check their casualty rates against the other sea services. Took them years to get veterans status – when the WWII Monument was built at the Civic Center a number of the veterans objected to the Merchant Marine being on the monument and instead substituted the USAF which was not even in existence during WWII. It so hurt and offended the Merchant Mariners in the county that they built their own monument behind the WWII monument. Check it out.” – JS, 11/ 28/2010