, Newburyport, MA

November 12, 2012

A lively soul lost

'Flash' Zabriskie's show biz dreams cut short by WWII

Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The name Zabriskie is well-known in this community, through the service of a former mayor, Al Zabriskie (1960-63); the presence of a well-populated thoroughfare, Zabriskie Drive; and numerous prominent family members.

But few people today know of Howard “Flash” Zabriskie, among the liveliest and most popular graduates of Newburyport High School, class of 1940.

He wanted to sing, to dance, to write musicals.

But none of that happened.

He was killed in World War II, dying in action before he was 22.

His photo is displayed on a wall of honor in City Hall, a noble collection of haunting photos that takes on an added significance on Veterans Day.

Howard, known as Flash, looks out from the past with a dazzling smile and an aura of confidence that suggests he will live a full and useful life.

But he has been gone — though not forgotten — for almost 70 years.

“Everything I’ve heard suggests he was an active, likable guy,” said Howard Zabriskie, 57, a nephew of the late Marine who was named after him. “He played football, which is why he was nicknamed Flash, and loved the theater, too.

“Years ago, in 1987, when his (Marine) unit was having a reunion, they had a choice between San Diego and here in Flash’s hometown. They chose Newburyport, in memory of their friend.”

Flash Zabriskie graduated from Immaculate Conception School in 1936 and from Newburyport High School in 1940.

In notes in his NHS yearbook, he was named “most talkative” and “peppiest.”

The handsome high-schooler, who lived at 37 Kent St., played football, basketball and baseball.

In his junior year, he was a member of the Mt. Rural Players, the high school’s theater group.

As a senior, he was in charge of publicity for the senior play.

“He liked the writing part of theater,” his nephew said. “When he was in the South Pacific, he wrote skits that were performed by the soldiers.

“They had a little theater, probably to give the guys something to do.”

In his high school yearbook, it was written of him, “He’s a flash at anything he does; even beating the 8:15 bell.”

His motto, as registered in the yearbook, was, “Be on time, study hard — and it’s OK.”

Seniors graduating in 1940 were asked what they would be doing deep into the future — 1965. Flash responded, “singing and dancing for Universal pictures.”

He “predicted” his home would be in Beverly Hills, Calif.

But the war broke out in 1941, and Flash Zabriskie joined the Marines. He was sent to the South Pacific.

He was killed in November 1943. Because of the impact he had made at the high school, city officials dedicated a plaque to him at Newburyport’s World War Memorial Stadium.

Retired veteran Daily News editor Bill Plante, who knew Flash Zabriskie, wrote of him about a half-dozen years ago: “As engaging as all the Zabriskies, he had a personable grin and an easy style.

“It was like him to join the Marines, and I know he must have been moving forward at Bougainville where he was killed ... because that was the kind of guy he was.”

In a speech to members of Zabriskie’s unit who came here for the reunion years ago, Plante said, “He, and all those we knew who didn’t make it, have this going for them.

“For us, they will remain young forever.”