Special Reports

Army buddy reaches out across 24 years

Military life is a bonding experience that can last a lifetime as this story demonstrates.

One phone call locates Army buddy missing 24 years

By Charles LambHerald staff reporter

Published on Oct 4, 1965

Either mental telepathy exists, or Ernie Thackham, 619 S. Garfield St., Kennewick, and a pre-World War II army buddy have experienced a chance-in-a-million coincidence.

Thackham, now 56, was stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines in early 1941, with the Army Air Corps. He said his best buddy was Carmelo Zipeto, and Italian-American lad from Philadelphia.

“I called him Zip and he called me Blackie," recalls Thackham. He said he had not seen Zipeto since about four months before the war, when he was transferred back to Hickam Field in Hawaii and had not heard from him since Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Hickam and followed through with landings on Luzon Island. He presumed Zipeto had been captured in the Philippines, and perhaps died as a prisoner-of-war.

“I've thought of him a lot of times, and wondered if he made it through the war," said Thackham. One night last week he had an irresistible impulse to try to find out.

The ex-GI picked up the telephone and called Philadelphia, person-to-person for Carmelo Zipeto. “The operator told me there were two Zipetos listed in Philly -- Mary and Cosmo, I asked for Cosmo."

The best Thackham hoped for on the first call was to find a relative of his long-lost friend. He heard the phone ring on the other end and tensed as the receiver was lifted and the operator asked for Carmelo Zipeto.

His excitement reached a peak when a voice that still sounded familiar after 24 years replied, “Yes, this is Carmelo." Thackham shouted, “Hey Zip. Remember me?"

And with no hesitation, Zipeto replied, “Blackie, you old son-of-a-gun. How are you?" he told Thackham he was sitting in his father's living room thinking about him when the phone rang.

The fact that Zipeto was thinking about Thackham turned out to be more a sign that it's a small world than a coincidence. Although Thackham had heard nothing of Zipeto since 1941, his old pal had been keeping track of him.

Zipeto lives in Blackwood, N.J., where he studied under a Dr. George Swanson to become a radiology technician. “Doc Swanson and I came from the same town in Michigan and he knew my family," Thackham explained.

But the odds of Zipeto answering Thackham's call were extremely small, one factor was that Zipeto was one of the few members of his outfit that survived 3 1/2 years in prison camp.

The remaining odds were cut in half by the other Zipeto, who was no relation to Zip, being listed in the Philadelphia directory. The facts that Zipeto had not lived in Philadelphia for more than a decade and usually didn't visit his father more than one or two days a year, whittled the chances down further.

“For Zip to be sitting there within an arms' reach of the telephone is unbelievable. We couldn't have arranged it if we'd tried," said Thackham.

The Kennewick man works by day as a carpenter, and plays a violin in the evening for entertainment. He said he read about mental telepathy several years ago at Michigan University where he completed 3 1/2 years of pre-law.

“I didn't take much stock in mental telepathy before, but that ‘long shot' telephone call has made me a believer," observed Thackham. He wonders if a little practice might enable he and “Ol' Zip" to send thought messages without using the phone.

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