Jack Zaven Noorigian, World War II veteran
Published: Thursday August 20, 2009
Jack Zaven Noorigian died on June 21, 2009, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
Born in New York City on February 14, 1921, Zaven Noorigian was one of four brothers – Lazarus, George, Zaven, and Harry. He was an avid lifelong lover of the movies and the beach. Zaven was also a great Lincoln buff.
Brothers George, Zaven, and Harry served with distinction in World War II and were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on May 9, 2001 (Daphne Abeel, "The Noorigian Brothers: Heroes at War and at Home," The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, December 1, 2001). Enlisting in the Navy at 21, Zaven received his boot training in Newport, R.I., where he was able to meet up with his cousin Charles Nakshian, who was already in army uniform (their photo remains).
Charlie, a brilliant painter accepted at the Rhode Island School of Design, would be killed in action in February 1944 in Italy, one week before his twentieth birthday, but eight Noorigian cousins (brothers James, Leon, and Aram; and brothers Edward and Everet Mushegh) would heroically survive the war.
Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, Zaven served on the USS Hamul, the USS Altair (both destroyer tenders) and the USS Hayter (destroyer escort). Zaven was deployed on shake-down cruises in Cuba and along the east coast of the United States. He also served as a secretary and chief petty officer in Washington.
While stationed near Bermuda, Zaven met Dr. and Mrs. Munro, who had been searching for an Armenian to translate the certificate awarded to Mrs. Munro's deceased missionary sister Catherine Fraser. Zaven sent a photocopy to his parents, and eminent writer and editor Penyamin Noorigian promptly returned the translation.
It was a blessing (Gontag) dated February 15, 1897, from Constantinople's Archbishop Malachia Ormanian for Catherine's help to 9,000 Armenian refugees in Bulgaria in the 1890s following the Turkish massacres of Armenians from 1894-96. Zaven wrote about her in "The Remarkable Catherine Fraser (1869–1899)" in The Armenian Observer, April, 25, 1979.
After the war and his discharge in November, 1945, Zaven joined the Foreign Service in 1949 for 5 years where he served at the American embassies in Moscow and Belgrade. While abroad, thanks to the access provided by his American diplomatic passport, Zaven made two trips to Kharpert in 1950 and 1953.
Because the first time he had not been able to visit Husenig, the birthplace of both his parents, he made a second trip with his mother Takouhi and even managed to shoot a clandestine film of current-day Husenig, which he screened in the Boston area and Providence. His riveting story "Journeys to the Land of Our Ancestors" was published in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.
Zaven's marriage to a Yugoslav woman ended in divorce.
Under the G. I. Bill, Zaven Noorigian earned his B.S. (1957) and M.A. (1962) degrees from Columbia University in New York City. Movie connoisseur that he was, Zaven worked as a personal secretary to movie producer Mike Todd before the latter's fateful plane crash in 1958, and helped promote the film Around the World in Eighty Days.
He then went on to work as a high-school Spanish teacher in northern New Jersey and subsequently as a school social worker in the Browns Mills School District, in southern New Jersey, from which he retired in 1989. Zaven was handsome, personable, sanguine, caring, warm, intelligent, and efficient, so he was perfect for the job.
His memory was phenomenal; he could relate the distant past in vivid detail, such as delivering as an adolescent to the publisher the manuscript of the first issue of Penyamin Noorigian's acclaimed literary and political journal Nor Kir (in Armenian). Conversations with Zaven were always informative, lively, fun, and a big treat, as were his treasured letters to this writer.
Zaven Noorigian leaves his brother Harry and sister-in-law Rosine, many nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews, and loving cousins, among whom Philip P. Ketchian and this writer are but two.