West Point, 1944
Be Thou At Peace
Posted by Eric A. Zillmer on January 21, 2013:
David Zillmer was born on August 2, 1919, in Lisbon, Wisconsin, a son of William C. and Agnes White Zillmer. Upon graduating from Waukesha High School, Dave enlisted in the 127th Infantry regiment of the 32nd Infantry Division, Wisconsin National Guard. On October 15, 1940, the division was called to active duty. It was subsequently stationed at Camp Livingston, Louisiana, where Dave served in G Company of his regiment. He was promoted to corporal, then to sergeant. Upon receiving a National Guard appointment, he entered the United States Military Academy in July 1941. At USMA he participated in freshman football, varsity baseball, and club boxing. He also won the Academy's 1-mile track championship. The wartime curriculum having been shortened to three years, Dave graduated from USMA on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and commissioned in the infantry.
Three months of branch instruction at Fort Benning were followed by Dave's assignment to the 42nd Infantry Division at Camp Gruber, OK. When he arrived in October 1944, the division had completed its training and was preparing to move to a port of embarkation. Dave became a platoon leader in K Company, 242nd Infantry. The three infantry regiments of the division sailed to France, arriving in Marseille on December 8 and 9. They were immediately formed into a task force under the assistant division commander. Under VI Corps, the task force entered combat at Strasbourg on December 24, committed to defensive fighting. After a month the task force returned to Seventh Army in reserve and the regiments trained with the remainder of the division.
On February 14, 1945, the 42nd Infantry Division as a whole entered combat. By now Dave was commanding K Company. After a month of patrolling and defense the division went on the offensive. It broke through the Siegfried Line, crossed the Rhine, took Wertheim am Main and Warzburg, then Schweinfurt, Farth, and finally Donauworth on the Danube. On April 29, along with the 45th infantry division, the division liberated some 30,000 inmates at the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Passing through Munich further south David's responsibility was to secure the Brown House, Hitler's regional headquarters (Adolf Hitler's cutlery retained by David's staff, namely Pete Pettus, was donated and is on display at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond). On April 30 Dave crossed the Austrian border and the war ended in Salzburg. One of the last KIA of WWII was David's classmate 1st Lieutenant Edward C. Christl Jr. '44, a former basketball captain at USMA and whom the Christl Arena is named after at West Point. Related to his service in WWII Dave had earned two battle stars and a Combat Infantryman Badge.
Dave then stayed with the 242nd Infantry in Austria as it performed occupation duty. He served as regimental adjutant and assistant operations officer and for a while in the division G-3 section. Dave met Madeleine Mueller in Zell-am-See, Austria, where "Madi" was completing her dissertation in Physics for the University of Vienna and Dave was teaching at the Rainbow University. Promoted to captain in 1946, he had stints in the 16th and the 5th Infantry regiments. In 1947, Dave married Madi in Vienna and returned stateside where he became an instructor at the Fort Benning, GA, Infantry School.
The USMA then sponsored two student years for Dave in Heidelberg where he studied German. Between 1950 to1953 he became part of the faculty at West Point in the Department of Foreign Languages. He was promoted to major in 1952 while at USMA and also had a daughter Eileen Christina.
A year at Fort Benning's infantry officers advanced course was followed by assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division in Japan. Dave's family joined him while he served as a battalion executive officer and in the division intelligence section in Hokkaido, Ichikawa, and Sendei. Dave's last Japan year was in Tokyo. In Encore '44, the Class 20-year book, he writes: "Eric is born. 1957-59 reassigned Fifth Army, Chicago. Return by freighter to Europe visiting Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Penang, Colombo, Djibouti, Assab, Port Sudan, Suez, Cairo, Port Said, and Genoa (then to) Chicago via Vienna."
Dave and his family then moved to Hamburg, Germany were he was part of German Army Staff College from 1959-1961. In 1961 Dave completed a hardship tour with MAAG in Eastern Turkey. In 1962, promoted to lieutenant colonel, Dave was assigned as the U.S. Army liaison officer at the German Army Staff College. The family moved to Hamburg. That would be his last active duty tour. Dave retired September 30, 1964.
While Dave was stationed in Turkey and subsequently from 1964 on, Madi and the children lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Of note is that David's daughter Eileen "Bibi" continued to pursue figure skating in Garmisch. Under the coaching of Madi, a former world-class skater herself, Bibi became the three-time German champion in women's figure skating in 1969 (Cologne), 1970 (Oberstdorf), and 1971 (West-Berlin). Bibi Zillmer also represented West Germany in the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble France and in 1969 she placed 9th at the World Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Both of Dave's children, Bibi and Eric would complete their education in German schools in Garmisch, both being bilingual in German and English.
After his military service Dave entered the civilian work force. The first ten years of his "retired career" were with the BF Goodrich tire company in Koblenz, Germany, where he was involved in manufacturing. His final employment came with Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) in Frankfurt. In 1976 he was reassigned to the CSC headquarters in Moorestown, NJ, where he assisted with developing computer software for the U.S. Navy. He retired from CSC in 1981 at the age of 72.
Dave and Madi lived in nearby Cherry Hill throughout their retirement. They enjoyed swimming almost daily at the nearby Cherry Valley Swim Club. In addition, Dave valued his community of neighbors and kept in touch with his USMA classmates as well as his friends from the 42nd Rainbow Division. He also enjoyed his two grandchildren, Kanya and Christopher. Both Madi and Dave had a very rich and active retirement filled with love and friends.
Starting in 2011 Dave's health became more fragile and by 2012 he had difficulty ambulating. During the night of Tuesday 16th, October, Dave passed away peacefully with his wife and son at his bedside.
He is survived by Madi, who continues to live in the Cherry Hill residence, his son Eric, who is the athletic director and a professor of psychology at Drexel University, his daughter Eileen "Bibi" who continues to coach figure skating, his granddaughter Kanya, who works in the digital media industry in Portland, Maine, his grandson Christopher, and his son-in-law Chris.
Dave lived a life full of vitality and purpose. He will be remembered as a loyal husband, a kind father, a loving grandfather, a loyal friend, a gifted athlete, a dedicated patriot, an exemplary officer, and a world-class gentleman.
On Thursday, October 25th, 2012, a Memorial Service was held at
Moorestown Friends Meetinghouse in Moorestown and on November 5th Dave was interned with full military honors at USMA Cemetery after a service at the Old Cadet Chapel.
Memorial donations can be made in memory of Lt. Col. David Zillmer (USMA '44) to the U.S. Military Academy Library at West Point. Send to West Point Association of Graduates, 698 Mills Road, West Point, NY 10996. For comments please contact Zillmer@Drexel.edu
His son, Eric