World War II was nearly over when the yearbook for Wilmington High School’s Class of 1944 and 45 was published. Germany surrendered in late April, but Japan would fight on for nearly another four months.
The yearbook included brief stories of previous graduates, telling what many of them were doing. A significant number were in the military, fighting or serving their country in other ways. Among those listed were the Melzar brothers, Frederic, Class of 1938 and Elliott, Class of 1941.
“Lt. Frederic Melzar is serving on board the submarine USS Sea Robin, and it is somewhere in the South Pacific.”
His brother Elliott was also in the South Pacific as chief engineer on the USS Stag, a water purifying ship.
Harold and Edna Melzar lived on Lake Street in a large white house facing Silver Lake. Harold was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 1921, and served the town in many capacities. They had two sons and three daughters. Fred graduated from Wilmington High School in 1938 and the Massachusetts Nautical School in 1940, where he sailed on the SS Nantucket, a square-rigged vessel. As an officer in the Naval Reserve, he was quickly pressed into service when the U.S. entered World War II.
By 1945, Fred Melzar was already a decorated torpedo and gunnery officer, with a Bronze Medal for his service on the USS Gunnel in the Mediterranean, off North Africa. The commanding officer of the Gunnel was Lt. Cdr. John S. McCain, later Admiral, whose son became a U.S. Senator and presidential candidate. The Sea Robin was his third vessel, launched at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine in 1944. Lt. Melzar put the ship in commission and trained the crew at Groton, CT. Once in service, it was home ported at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
The Sea Robin made three patrols in early 1945. On her initial patrol, she torpedoed and sank a 5,000-ton Japanese tanker near the Luzon Strait. In early March, the Sea Robin sank four Japanese vessels in the Java Sea. After replenishing her torpedo supply at Subic Bay in the Philippines, she resumed patrol in the South China Sea.
On March 30, she found herself in the midst of a group of six Japanese destroyers. Torpedoes fired at one were evaded. A second destroyer bore down on the Sea Robin, and she dove, managing to escape the depth charges.
On her third patrol in June 1945, the Sea Robin sank a patrol vessel and a cargo ship in the Yellow and Chinese seas. Then, while attempting to sink a sampan, she was caught on the surface by a Japanese plane. As the sub dove, two bombs were dropped, causing some damage. The sub was able to continue its patrol, but once the patrol was finished, it was discovered that the bombs had damaged the torpedo tubes, rendering them useless.
For his service aboard the Sea Robin, Melzar was promoted to Lt. Commander and was awarded a Silver Star, the nation’s third-highest military award.
After the war, Melzar served as executive officer on the USS Skate a submarine that was later used as a target in atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll. By then, Melzar, a reserve officer, had shifted to inactive status, but retained his commission in the Naval Reserve. He later became the Officer in Charge at the Salem station, training reservists in a weekly meeting. He retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander, equivalant to colonel in the Army.
In the late 1940s, he attended Harvard Business School, earning a Master’s degree in financial management.
In 1948, he was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Wilmington Public Library. Two years later, he was elected to the Board of Selectmen.
In 1950, he married Jean Jolly and settled on Salem Street. The couple raised four children.
Melzar became associated with the Amoskeag Company as an investment analyst. Amoskeag, originally a textile firm, established the mills that became the city of Manchester, N.H.
In the 1930s, with the textile industry heading south, the Dumaine family divested, transferring its liquid assets into a holding company. Harold Melzar had gone to work for the company in 1928 as treasurer of Eastern Steamship Line. Fred Melzar did well with the company.
After Amoskeag bought Avis Rent-A-Car, he became comptroller of the firm. That position lasted a couple of years, until Amoskeag sold Avis. Melzar remained with Amoskeag in executive and board positions for another quarter-century.
He ran for School Committee in Wilmington in 1957 on a platform of fiscal conservatism. He was not elected. He was appointed to the School Committee after the death of Dr. Dudley Buck in 1959. He resigned, though, after one year, when he moved to Boxford.
In 1987, he wrote a letter to the Town Crier about his being descended from Rebecca Blake Eames, who had been charged as a witch. She was not executed, and later sought a pardon from the governor. She was not of the Eames family of Wilmington, but lived in Boxford, where, ironically, he had settled.
Fred Melzar died in 1989.