A Storied Career

From reporting for The Post-Journal, acting as staff sergeant in the Army reserves during Vietnam, to a decade of serving as director of communication for Chautauqua Institution, many years working in higher education and a retirement from Northwest Savings Bank after nearly 20 years of serving as a financial adviser, the history of Jamestown-native Phil Zimmer might be as interesting as his recent writings for nationally circulated magazines.

Although his earliest dabbles in writing occurred during a three-year reporting stint at The Post-Journal, which he called a “wonderful capstone to four years of college,” Zimmer didn’t return to the field until he retired from Northwest Savings Bank in 2011. Retirement did nothing to balk Zimmer’s penchant for hard work, and he soon began authoring articles at such length and depth that a newspaper editor would throw it out the window. Sovereign Media’s editors however, specifically those of “Military Heritage” and “WWII History” magazines, couldn’t get enough of Zimmer’s uncanny ability to create in-depth features that have breathed new life into the stories of the past.

Most recently, Zimmer’s work has appeared in the September issue of “Military Heritage,” for which he earned a spot on the magazine’s cover. The article takes a look at a 1939 battle between Soviet and Japanese forces at Nomonhan, which is located along the Mongolia-Manchuria border.

According to Zimmer, the Soviet forces, under the command of Gen. Georgi Zhukov, forced the Japanese to turn south toward the East Indies, where America had interest in the oil-rich lands. As a result, the conflict may have contributed to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. But, also may have provided Zhukov, who had been named head of the military effort to succeed Nikolai Feklenko, with the know-how that played a role in Russia’s future struggle with Nazi Germany during WWII.

“In an undeclared war on the Mongolia-Manchukuo border in 1939, the Soviets unleashed a combined arms assault on the Japanese that foreshadowed the weapons and tactics of World War II,” Zimmer wrote in the eight-page, 6,500-word “Military Heritage” article entitled “Armored Strike At Nomonhan.”

In addition to Zimmer’s writing, the article also features images from the battles at Nomonhan, artwork and a map illustrating the locations of troops, weapons and tactics.

The September edition of “Military Heritage” can be found at Wegmans, as well as newsstands across the country. For more information, call 800-219-1187 or visit www.militaryheritagemagazine.com.

SELECTED WORKS

Although it has not yet hit the shelves, Zimmer’s next article to be released will be featured in “WWII History” magazine’s October edition.

The piece, a 3,000-word profile about a tank leader who according to Zimmer often clashed with Adolf Hitler over tactics, is entitled “Blitzkrieg Author: Gen. Heinz Guderian.”

According to Zimmer, he is particularly proud of the piece, which focuses on the person, Gen. Heinz Guderian, and shows his dimensions.

“He was a very complicated individual – he wasn’t a cardboard figure – he was quite a character,” Zimmer said. “Not necessarily a loveable one, but a character that both the Germans and the Allies had respect for – kind of in awe of actually.”

Zimmer has also had a number of other articles released this year. In January, “Military Heritage” magazine published Zimmer’s 3,000-word article entitled, “Outdated Swordfish Contributes Greatly To The British War Effort,” which focused on Britain’s use of the Fairey Swordfish, an outdated biplane, to help sink Hitler’s Bismarck. And, in April, “WWII History” magazine published Zimmer’s “Hidden Keys To Soviet Victory,” another 3,000-word piece which dealt with the Soviet’s military deception techniques, known as maskirovka, that were used to thwart German planners.

But, Zimmer won’t stop there, as he has had three additional articles accepted for use by Sovereign Media. He is also currently putting the finishing touches on a 6,000-word feature on the Aleutian Islands campaign for “Military Heritage,” and has two other story ideas in what he calls the “noodling stage.”

Plus, for his work in assisting historian Stanley Weintraub, author of “Final Victory,” in finding local Korean War Veteran contacts for his upcoming book, Weintraub has decided to dedicate the book to Zimmer. According to Zimmer, Weintraub credits him for providing the impetus for the book, and for assisting in interviewing the veterans.

“I’ve never met the guy, but we talk via email about three times a week, and in one of our first email communications he outfoxed me,” Zimmer said. “Weintraub, who is 82 years old, still grinds out a book a year, and I really like reading his work.”

THE MAN BEHIND THE PEN

Zimmer attributes some of his success as a writer to the use of a certain technique, which he calls the PHD approach, but he also won’t write about anything which he doesn’t first have interest in himself, and that he feels he can garner the interest of others in, he said.

“I fell away from writing once I left higher education, but the ability to take complex ideas and terms, put them into English so most people can understand and act on them is something that I’ve fortunately had the time to develop and maintain,” Zimmer stated when discussing whether he regretted his time away from writing. “I learned a long time ago that you play basketball forward – you can’t play backward. Yesterday’s missed shot is yesterday’s missed shot – I’m happy with today,” he continued.

He first heard of the PHD approach, which stands for personalize, humanize and dramatize, from another writer who made a casual comment about it. But, Zimmer felt that the approach reaffirmed the Chinese belief that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” he said in an email as a followup to an in-person interview.

“There is much around us that we can learn – and potentially use – every day, as long as we are open and receptive,” Zimmer continued.

Zimmer, a 1965 graduate of Jamestown High School, holds a bachelor’s in history from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s in communications from Penn State University. Although his traditional form of studying stopped there, he continued working in the field of higher education by spending time working as director of university relations for the University of Akron, as well as with the College of Polymer Science and Engineering and the University of Vermont.

Zimmer’s wife, Mary Ann (Caprino) Zimmer, is a retired Pine Valley Central School librarian. Zimmer and Mary Ann have two children, Janine and David. David is a security specialist who works for a firm out of Washington and Janine owns and operates The Villager newspaper of Ellicottville and also produces a Chautauqua Lake edition. During his free time, Zimmer involves himself with the Boy Scouts, which he was a member of in his youth, and is a troop leader for Troop 137 of Bemus Point.

According to Zimmer, although he always had an interest in writing, he feels as if he backed into the history field.

“I never saw it coming,” Zimmer said. “In college I was interested in the ‘Red Scare’ of the early 1950s (Joseph) McCarthy era, and I can still remember some of that as a kid. As I read more and more, I realized I couldn’t understand the ‘Red Scare’ unless I backed into World War II, and the minute I did I was captured – the chaos, the blood and the pathos.

“There were 65 million people killed in World War II, and it was the major to-do of the last century,” he continued. “It’s stunning how the United States transformed itself in such a short period of time, from the isolationist nation to top dog in the pile – a lot of what we have today is a direct result of what transpired in World War II.”

Including Zimmer himself, who as an aging baby boomer, is also a product of the war.

For more information, email Zimmer at pzimmer@windstream.net.