John T. Zubeck
323rd, 344th Bomb Groups
|John Zubeck, 85; Veteran, Voting Rights Monitor
By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
John T. Zubeck, 85, a World War II pilot who later monitored voter registration and elections in the rural South as a federal investigator with the Civil Service Commission, died Dec. 18 at his home in Annandale of complications from hernia surgery.
Mr. Zubeck, son of Polish parents who had migrated to the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania in the 1900s, was born in Beaver Meadows, Pa., and grew up in Hazleton. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces, where his aptitude for flying and navigation brought him notice.
After training in Oklahoma and Texas, he was stationed in Paris and Marseilles, France, as the Allies pushed the Germans back across the Rhine. He flew bombing missions hundreds of miles into Germany from Luxembourg.
He mastered the Martin B-26 Marauder, the twin-engine, medium-range bomber nicknamed "The Widowmaker" because of the early models' high rate of crashes during takeoffs and landings. One of his secrets to landing the plane was to slide it into a gentle spin at the end of runways that were too short for the heavy aircraft, he told his family.
"He said his crew trusted his landing skill. Even returning from Germany after heavy damage from antiaircraft fire, he said his crew would refuse to bail out by parachute, trusting he could get the plane down safely," his daughter, Patty Zubeck Means, recounted.
After the German surrender, Mr. Zubeck continued to fly throughout Western Europe in smaller aircraft, delivering military mail and cargo. During and after the war, he used his Slavic-language skills.
After returning to the United States, he attended George Washington University, graduating in 1952 with a political science degree. He spent two years in law school before joining the Civil Service Commission, now the Office of Personnel Management.
During the mid-1960s, another battle was brewing that would engage Mr. Zubeck's skills and his imposing bearing. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, wanted to make sure the latter act was enforced in the Deep South. The act outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes that had been used to block black voters from voting.
When some election officials resisted complying with the act and continued to intimidate blacks who tried to vote, the Johnson administration sent in hand-picked federal observers, including Mr. Zubeck, to monitor polling places.
Mr. Zubeck, who was 6-foot-2 and weighed almost 200 pounds, recalled for his family several examples of officials misinforming or turning away potential black voters.
He also witnessed more than one local election official trying to take a ballot box into a back room. "I would be in the corner and say, 'What are you doing?' and they would put it down," he recalled.
"He said, 'I didn't have to do much, just stand up when they were fooling around,' " his daughter said. But, she added, there were confrontations when officials would "go toe-to-toe with him."
The intervention provided by Mr. Zubeck and other federal observers and examiners in rural Southern counties proved effective in some areas. By the late '60s, thousands of African Americans in Southern states had registered to vote.
Mr. Zubeck retired as an investigator in the late 1980s but continued to work as a consultant until the 1990s. He was active in local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
His wife, Carolyn Stockwell Zubeck, died in 1992.
Survivors include four children, Linda S. Zubeck, John C. Zubeck and Patty Zubeck Means, and Robert Paul Zubeck of Frederick; and a granddaughter.