by Patria Baradi Pacis
Detlev Wilhelm Zimmermann was a man of few words. A man who didn’t say much…but when he did, people listened. I met Detlev through his lovely wife, Ruth, fifteen years ago, when my husband and I went to their Montauk home to buy Ruth’s sewing machine for my mom, who’s Singer machine broke. Ruth worked the Montauk Community Church (MCC) Rummage Sale and I heard that she was selling one. I got to know Detlev at the Montauk’s Senior Nutrition Center, where I accompanied Mom for lunch.
“Detlev would often sit at the “Boys” table, next to my late husband, Gene Beckwith, because they had a lot in common,” recalled Ann Petersen, who married Gene in 2007, four years after his wife Ethel passed. She shared memories of Detlev in front of fifty relatives and friends, at the MCC’s memorial service, on October 23rd.
In reading both men’s bios, this reporter was amazed by how much their lives paralleled each other, even though, Detlev was born in Germany and Gene was born in the U.S. Both joined the Navy in their teens. Both fought in WWII and survived to talk about it. Both loved Montauk and the sea. Both were married for at least 50 years, until they were widowed, had at least 3 children, 6 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
As a contributing writer and photographer for this paper of the column “At The Senior Nutrition Center,” I remember inviting Detlev, pre-Covid days, to come to the end of the month’s birthday cake celebration. His answer was: “Yes,” but added: “Make sure that my name is spelled correctly.” I assured Detlev that I always double and triple check my work, so there was no chance of misspelling his name. The next time I saw Detlev, I asked him: “How did you like your picture in the paper?” He replied: “ I liked it, but you misspelled my name.” I told him, that I couldn’t have done that, but when I reread the paper, Detlev was right. I was missing the extra “N” at the end of his name. Needless to say, this reporter apologized.
At the memorial service, Pastor William Hoffmann, confessed: “I didn’t know Detlev Zimmermann well. Whenever I visited Ruth in their Montauk home when she was ill, I often saw Detlev watching German television in the living room, while Ruth and I sat in the kitchen and talked. Eventually, Detlev warmed up to me when he found out that we both had something in common.” “My first name happens to be Wilhelm in German and my last name was also spelled with two “N’s.” The congregation laughed.
Pastor Bill looked out towards the empty, back row and called Ruth’s name as if she were there. I felt she was there. Teary-eyed, daughter Ursula recalled fond memories of her beloved Papi, who owned a trucking business in New Jersey. “At the age of 8, my papi would pick me up after school and we would both go for a nice ride in Ramsey.” She also, remembered, the day she got her driver’s license…Papi let her drive the truck. She closed by apologizing to Papi for disobeying his wishes of not giving him a memorial service. She continued by saying: “I’m sorry Papi, but your family and friends needed to say good-bye to you and needed to tell you how much you are loved.” Son, Rowland also said a few words, followed by a next door neighbor and myself.
“Edelweiss” a song from the “The Sound of Music”, Detlev’s favorite, was sung by Debbie Coen with her guitar, followed by the MCC’s version that was sung, by the congregation, in previous years, at the end of each service, while holding hands. After the service the guests were invited to the church’s auditorium, for refreshments and eats and to continue Detlev’s full and exciting celebration of life.
Detlev died peacefully on March 13, 2022 at the age of 95. Born in Krolow, Pomarania, Germany on June 21, 1926 from the son of Otto Friedrich Zimmermann and Charlotte Elisabeth Margarete Zimmermann (b.Pagel). His wife Ruth, daughter Helga Gray, sister Gisela Hager and grandson Kevin Zimmermann predeceased him. He is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Roland and Laura Zimmermann, his daughter and son-in-law Ursula and Van Dang, his son-in-law Joseph Gray, his 6 grandchildren, Jason (and wife Jamie) Zimmermann, Tristan and Alex Gray, and Emerson, Aaron and Beatrice Dang and great-grand daughter Phoenix Zimmermann.
Detlev served and survived two submarine mishaps during WWII as a Lieutenant and Second Lieutenant. The U-boat he was on was destroyed by the British. He was one of the four survivors, out of a crew of more than 50. He earned the Iron Cross on a mission to the Port of Murmansk in Russia where his submarine was entangled in an anti-netting and he was part of the team that freed the sub. After the war, he spent two years as a POW in France and rescued his mother from communist East Germany. In 1951, he immigrated to the U.S. and was later joined by Ruth, a year later.
Detlev worked in the trucking industry for 30 years and was an owner-operator of an auto transport carrier. He also volunteered in the Coast Guard Auxiliary for another 30 years. Six days after his passing, on March 19 of this year, Detlev’s family and friends gathered at Edwards Funeral Chapel in Suffern, N.Y.
Detlev loved Montauk and the sea because it reminded him of his childhood years, near the Baltic Sea. Montauk loved you too, Detlev. We will always remember your million dollar smile and your piercing, blue eyes. Our pain is lessened knowing that you and Ruth are together again. May you rest in peace.