ONTONAGON, MI. - Francis (Fritz) Earl Zimmer, age 93, of Ontonagon, MI, passed away May 19, 2014 at the DJ Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette, MI.
He was born January 7, 1921 in Ontonagon, son of the late James and Anna (Chenette) Zimmer.
He graduated from Ontonagon High School with the class of 1939 and participated in band, football and track while a student. After graduation he was employed Callahan's Grocery, the Northern Lumber Company and the Ontonagon Fibre Corporation.
In August of 1942, when he felt the warm breath of the local draft board on his neck, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After acceptance, he was given the rank of Aviation Cadet and was then assigned to Big Spring, Texas for bombardier training. Upon graduation he was promoted to the rank of Flight Officer and was then assigned to a B-24 bomber crew for advanced training in Mountain Home, Idaho. Fritz married Ann Dokmanovich in Mountain Home on December 31, 1943. Further training took place in Tonapah, Nevada and the crew then served with the 454th Bomb Group in Italy. His plane was crippled by anti-aircraft fire while on a bombing mission over Austria on June 26, 1944 (his mother's birthday).
Later the aircraft was attacked by two fighter planes, both of which were shot down by the crew's gunners during the encounter. Eventually the crew had to bail out and all were captured by numerous search patrols in the area.
Fritz was a prisoner-of-war at Sagon (Stalag Luft 3), Poland, until January 28, 1945 when the POW's were given orders to evacuate the camp ahead of advancing Russian troops. The trip began with a 17km hike in stormy weather (not unlike that of midwinter in the U.P.). Ten days later, after more walking and some train travel, the POW's arrived in Stamlager 7A, Moosburg, Germany, where they remained until April 29, 1945 when General George Patton's armored forces freed them. Fritz was honorably discharged from the service on Christmas Day, 1945.
In 1946, he enrolled at Northern Michigan University where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and a Master of Arts degree in Education with an emphasis in biology. He taught in the middle grades in Turin, Michigan for one year and Mid-Pen (Rock) for one year, and then worked on construction at White Pine during its building phase. Fritz returned to teaching and was employed by the Ontonagon Area High School for 29 1/2 years. During off-teaching summer months, he was employed by the U.S. Soil Service for ten years as a Conservation Aide.
He was a member of the Holy Family Catholic Church, serving as an altar boy and reader in the earlier years, the MEA, MEA-Retired, MARSP and the Ontonagon County Historical Society. Leisure time activities included carpentry, gardening, photography, fishing and feeding songbirds.
He is survived by two daughters: Kristine (Willard) Martin of Marquette, MI and Jane (George) Muscott of Harrison, MI; two sisters: Betty of Ontonagon, MI and Darline Roden of Milwaukee, WI; two grandchildren: Ben (Amber) Muscott of Jackson, MI and Lela Muscott of Chicago, IL; great-grandchildren: Allison and Carter Muscott; and sisters-in-law Ruth Zimmer of Ontonagon, MI and Maxine Zimmer of Kalamazoo, MI. He is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
In addition to his wife, he was preceded in death by his parents; infant daughter Mary Gail; brothers Vernon, Jay and Gene; brother-in-law Ben Roden; sister-in-law Agnes (Polich) Zimmer; niece Patricia Zimmer and nephews James and John Zimmer.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Ontonagon, with Fr. Michael Jacobus as Celebrant. The family will receive relatives and friends from 10 a.m. until the time of the Mass. The rite of committal and interment will follow at the Holy Family Cemetery. a luncheon will take place at the Holy Family Catholic Church. The Cane Funeral Home is assisting the family.
Those wishing to express sympathy may direct memorials to the DJ Jacobetti Home for Veterans Activity Fund, 425 Fisher St., Marquette, MI 49855 or to Holy Family Catholic Church, 515 Pine St., Ontonagon, MI 49953.