Reunions of the Zamzam Survivors and their Families

   1  50  July 20-21  1991  St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota
   2  52  June 19-20  1993  Fatima Retreat Center, Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
   3  55  July 27-28  1996  Fatima Retreat Center, Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
   4  60  August 17-19  2001  Fatima Retreat Center, Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
   5  62  August 15-17  2003  Fatima Retreat Center, Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana
   6  65  August 4-6  2006  Keswick Conference grounds, Whiting, New Jersey
   7  69  July 30-August 1  2010  Mennonite Central Committee Welcoming Place, Akron, Pennsylvania
   8  75  April 15-17  2016  Messiah Lutheran Church, Lindsborg, Kansas

At the Zamzam reunions, survivors often erupt in laughter and tears as they recount memories from the day of the sinking and the weeks as prisoners. Words are not really needed to express the bond that unites the survivors, but they enjoy hearing again and again each other's stories from 1941.

  • For example, survivors chuckle with Alice as, with seriousness, she tells why she chose to take her umbrella with her as she left the sinking Zamzam:  the umbrella would give relief from the hot tropical sun and it could capture rain water. (Alice gave up her place in a lifeboat and, with the umbrella under one arm, she swam to a raft. She no longer has the umbrella, and she is not sure where she might have left it during the decades spent in Kenya as a missionary wife and nurse.)
  • Rhodie recalls that, as she climbed down the rope ladder, she mistakenly stood on Vida's helmet and, for a few moments, wondered why Vida was urgently calling her name.
  • Chuckles come too, as two young missionary couples, the Barnetts and the McCallisters, remember that they had played the board game "Battleship" the evening before the sinking.
  • Tears also come. At the first reunion, Dave was overcome with emotion as he held the New Testament given to him by missionary Gene on the Dresden.
  • And who can forget the 1991 embrace by Frank Vicovari and Dr. Paul O'Neil, the first time these two men had seen each other since Frank lay bleeding on the deck of the Zamzam and Dr. O'Neil had administered life-saving morphine to Frank.
  • Little toddler Gordon had been a major concern on the prison ship as he cried and cried unconsolably. In addition to his mother, other passengers took turns carrying Gordon, trying to quiet him. One who often "walked the floor" with Gordon was Dorothy. At the 1996 reunion survivors cheered when Gordon picked up Dorothy and carried her, returning the long-ago favor.
  • It has become common at reunions to adjust easily to inconveniences, saying, "We can handle this. After all, we survived the Zamzam."
  • "Show and Tell" brings together a few memorable items, such as a rivet from the Zamzam, found in a survivor's trombone case. Most items at reunions, however, are toys which were hand-made by fathers while on the Dresden. Except for visiting hours two hours per day, men were not allowed to be with their wives and children; making toys helped bridge the gap created by separation.
  • Devotional times were common on the Dresden, uniting most of the survivors as one big family. Thus, devotions are central at reunions. Perhaps the Zamzamers' all-time favorite hymn is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness", while child survivors still enjoy singing the chorus : "Safe Am I".
  • Reunions seem to stimulate the telling of the Zamzam Story, even in unusual circumstances. On their way home from the 1993 Zamzam reunion, because of a traffic accident, Doris and her family had a three-hour wait at a rest stop on the I-65 expressway in Indiana. As they waited, Doris told the Zamzam story to about fifty enthralled listeners. (Doris had been a young bride on the Zamzam. At the reunion she had recalled that her loving husband had to step on her fingers to make her let go of the rope ladder and drop into the ocean. They were among those without a lifeboat, bobbing in the ocean.)

If anyone knows of a Zamzam survivor or family member not known to the survivor group, please send an email to Lois at loiscarlson@cox.net. Thank you.