January 11, 2003

Zenas Herbert James Williamson, Lt USN

Here's Zenas' public biography. (Incidentally, 150 Nerd Points to anyone who knows where I got the name 'Zenas' from.)

Born September 23, 1912, Boston, Massachusetts, to Herbert and Mary Williamson, a Boston Brahmin family of some wealth and distinction. The family firm dates back to 1837 and owns, among other interests, a regional bank, a successful, medium-sized shipping line, and a great deal of real estate. Captain Williamson commanded a destroyer in the Great War, USS Gardner, on anti-submarine patrol in the Mediterranean. Zenas' grandfather, Col. Thaddeus Williamson, USMC, received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his part in the defence of the foreigners' compound in Peking in the Boxer Rebellion, 1900.

Siblings are: Thaddeus Harold Williamson (b. 1909), Mary Emily Williamson (b. 1911), and Louella Jean Williamson (b. 1915).

Zenas' childhood was divided between the family townhouse on Beacon Hill, the country house in Hyannisport, and the Northhampton boarding school in New Hampshire. In 1923, the Williamsons sailed on the Cunard liner Aquitania to Britain, and spent most of a year in London and the Lakes District.

In 1930, in the first years of the Great Depression, Zenas graduated from high school. The Depression did not particularly touch him: his living allowance was not as high as it might have been, but the Williamsons' holdings rode out the crash better than most. Zenas took most of his nineteenth year to do the Grand Tour of Europe and the Middle East, and discovered a love for adventurous travel.

In 1931, he entered Princeton University, and began study of modern European history. In the summer of 1933, he visited China and Australia.

Upon graduation from Princeton in 1935, he enrolled in the Navy and, through family connections, received a choice assignment to the battleship USS New York, eventually receiving command of an anti-aircraft turret. New York cruised in training missions to Europe, Canada, and the Caribbean; in 1937 she was the sole USN representative to the Grand Naval review for the coronation of Britain's King George VI.

Zenas served as a battleship officer with diligence, but not with distinction, not being particularly cut out to be a leader of men. In the fall of 1937, he put in for a transfer to the Office of Naval Intelligence, believing it to be better suited to his talents, though it is rumoured his father opposed the move. Nonetheless, in early 1938 the transfer was approved, and Zenas was sent to Paris as naval attache, another plum assignment.

In this capacity, he has earned significantly better reviews, including a commendation for a report on French readiness along the Maginot Line. He also toured French North Africa, and prepared another widely distributed report on its defences and vulnerabilities.

In November of 1939, in the lull after the German conquest of Poland, Williamson was recalled to Washington for a new assignment and consideration for promotion. In the first week of 1940, he was reassigned to P4 division.


[Trivia: USS New York, commissioned 1914, survived WWII more or less unscathed, until being used as a target ship in Operation "Crossroads", the Bikini atomic tests, in July 1946.]

Posted by colin at January 11, 2003 12:43 PM
Post a comment