The steel-hulled, twin-screw passenger and cargo vessel Silver State was launched on 11 December 1920 at Newport News, Virginia, by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. and delivered on 16 May 1921. During the 1920's and 1930's, she served on the West Coast-to-Far East circuit, first with the Pacific Steamship Line, then with the Admiral Orient Line, and finally with the Dollar Line. Renamed President Jackson on 23 June 1922, she served under that name until acquired by the Navy in July 1940. Renamed Zeilin and designated AP-9, she was converted to a troop transport at Todd-Seattle Dry Docks, Inc. and was commissioned on 3 January 1942, Capt. Pat Buchanan in command.
Following shakedown training along the west coast, Zeilin made a round-trip voyage from San Diego, Calif., to Samoa and back between 13 April and 17 June 1942 to carry garrison troops to those islands. On 8 July, she again departed the west coast and steamed via Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, to the Fiji Islands. At Suva, she prepared for the invasion of the Solomon Islands, Operation Watchtower.
Early on the morning of 7 August 1942, she arrived off Guadalcanal with Task Force (TF) 62, the South Pacific Amphibious Force. However, her troops did not land on the first day of the invasion; and, when they did, it was not on Guadalcanal. On the 8th, she sent the Marines of the 3rd Defense Battalion ashore to help the 2nd Marines root out small, but stubborn, enemy defense forces from Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo. Upon completing her disembarkation, the transport got underway for Noumea, New Caledonia.
For the next two months, she made the circuit between Noumea, New Caledonia; Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides; and Wellington, New Zealand. On 9 October 1942, she departed Noumea to carry troops and supplies to the Solomons. Arriving off Guadalcanal on the 11th, Zeilin began unloading off Lunga Point. Still there on the 13th, she witnessed successive enemy air raids on Henderson Field, but she and the other transports escaped attack because the Japanese airmen seemed to feel that the airfield was the only important target. However, the enemy ashore thought otherwise; for, that same day, a shore battery dropped several salvoes around Zeilin; but she escaped damage. She returned to Noumea on 17 October and proceeded from there to Espiritu Santo. From the latter port, Zeilin set a course back to Guadalcanal on 9 November and arrived off Lunga Point two days later.
This time, Japanese airmen found her more attractive. She began unloading early that morning; and, while she did so, five enemy dive bombers plunged down toward her. During the brief encounter, the transport suffered three damaging near misses, one of which made a glancing hit on her starboard side but exploded some 20 to 25 feet below the surface. As a result of these blows, Zeilin shipped a considerable amount of water and suffered cracked plates and a broken propeller shaft. Though damaged and listing, the ship remained in the area performing her duties until later that month. On 26 November 1942, the ship was re-designated as an attack transport APA-3. She carried casualties to Espiritu Santo and then sailed via Tutuila, Samoa, back to the United States. She arrived in San Pedro, Calif., on 22 December to begin repairs atTerminal Island.
Zeilin completed repairs early in March 1943 and began operations along the west coast. On 17 April, she departed San Diego for Alaskan waters. After a six-day stop at San Francisco, Calif., she continued on and arrived in Cold Bay, the rendezvous point for the Attu invasion force, on 1 May. By 11 May, she was off the southern coast of Attu, ready to put her troops ashore at Massacre Bay. After the initial landings, slow progress ashore held up the transport's unloading operations, and Zeilin was forced to remain off Attu until the 16th. The next day, she put into Adak for a five-day layover before heading back to San Diego, where she arrived on 31 May.
Through the summer months of 1943, she operated along the west coast, mostly between San Diego and San Francisco. In August, she returned to Adak, arriving there on the 5th and remaining until the 26th. She returned to San Diego on 2 September and prepared to head back to the southwestern Pacific. Departing the west coast near mid-month, Zeilin steamed to Pearl Harbor, where she stopped for five days before continuing on, via Funafuti and Espiritu Santo, to Wellington, New Zealand. The attack transport remained there from 17 October to 1 November, at which time she moved to Efate where the Tarawa attack force concentrated and practiced for Operation Galvanic.
On 13 November 1943, Zeilin departed Efate in company with the task force and set course for the Gilbert Islands. She arrived off Betio, the islet of Tarawa Atoll that was the first and primary objective of the assault, during the night of 18 and 19 November. Early the following morning, she began disembarking her marines, members of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, into landing craft for their assault on Beach Red 2. At about 0615, while she was still transferring troops to the boats, a shore battery straddled Zeilin and her assault craft. Neither ship nor troops suffered any injury on that occasion, but her marines soon encountered very heavy fire as they waded the 700 yards across ankle- to knee-deep foul ground between the edge of the reef and the shore.
Zeilin returned to Pearl Harbor at the beginning of December 1943 to reload for the Kwajalein phase of the Marshall Islands assault. She got underway again on 22 January 1944 in company with the Southern Attack Force with elements of the Army's 7th Division (old friends from Zeilin's Aleutians service) embarked. On the night of 30 and 31 January, Southern and Northern Attack Forces separated-the northern unit headed for its objectives, Roi and Namur Islands up north, while the southern force zeroed in on Kwajalein Island and nearby islets.
Zeilin and her colleagues reached the transport area off boomerang-shaped Kwajalein Island at about 0545 on the morning of 31 January 1944. The invasion force, however, passed up the main objective on 31 January, preferring instead to take and consolidate positions on the islets located to the west in order to support the main effort scheduled for 1 February. While Zeilin and the other attack transports sent some of their troops against Ennylabegan and Enubuj, high-speed transports (converted destroyers) Manley (APD-1) and Overton (APD-23) landed the 7th Division Reconnaissance Troop on the islets, Gehh and Ninni. Encountering only light resistance, the troops secured all their first-day objectives by early afteroon and began preparations, in particular the landing of divisional artillery on Enubuj, for the main assault the next morning. During the afternoon and evening of 31 January, Zeilin and the other transports transferred soldiers to LST's for the assault itself and, during the night, moved to their assigned stations some 7,500 yards west of Kwajalein Island.
At 0900, troop-laden landing craft charged the beaches on the western end of the island. For a time, they delayed about 200 yards from shore to allow naval gunfire to lay down one last barrage and then resumed their advance, reaching the beaches at 0930. Soon after the assault force charged ashore, the unloading of their equipment and supplies began. After initial success, the troops ashore advanced slowly, but Zeilin unloaded rapidly and, by the evening of 2 February, had just about completed the task. During the succeeding 36 hours, the 7th Division pushed the Japanese into shrinking pockets of resistance; and, though the island had not been completely subdued, no doubt existed as to the final outcome. Thus, Zeilin set a course for Funafuti, where she arrived on 8 February.
For the next three months, the southwestern Pacific once again became her theater of operations. She carried troops and supplies for units operating in the Solomon Islands and for MacArthur's forces, then leapfrogging up the back of the New Guinea bird. During those months, she visited Guadalcanal and Bougainville in the Solomons, Espiritu Santo, Milne Bay and Cape Sudest on New Guinea, and the newly conquered Admiralty Islands. On 10 May, she returned to Guadalcanal to prepare for the invasion of the Mariana Islands.
Zeilin departed the Solomons on 4 June as a unit of the Southern Attack Force (TF 53) whose specific target was to be Guam. The transport, with Marines of the 1st Provisional Brigade embarked, arrived near the Marianas at mid-month and waited in an area 150 to 300 miles east of Guam for its assault scheduled for the 18th, three days following initial landings on Saipan. The operation, however, suffered two postponements: the first caused by the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the second by the unexpectedly bitter opposition which the Americans encountered on Saipan and Tinian. Part of the force was dispatched to Eniwetok to await the arrival of the 77th Division from Hawaii to bolster the Guam force. Zeilin and her Marines, however, remained in the Marianas for another five days as a floating reserve.
When it became apparent that the 1st Provisional Brigade was not needed to bolster the Saipan force, those transports too headed for Eniwetok, departing the Marianas on 30 June 1944 and entering the lagoon at Eniwetok on 3 July. Fifteen days later, Zeilin left the lagoon, rendezvoused with the transports carrying the troops from Hawaii, and shaped a course for the Marianas. Zeilin arrived off Guam on 22 July, the day after the initial assault on that island. She remained in the area only four days-disembarking marines, and unloading equipment and supplies-and then departed the Marianas. After an overnight stop at Eniwetok on 29 and 30 July, she continued on to Pearl Harbor where she arrived on 7 August. The attack transport remained at the Hawaiian base for three days, then headed for the west coast. On the 18th, she arrived in San Francisco where a three-month's overhaul restored her to top fighting trim by the begining of the last week in October.
On 21 October 1944, the attack transport stood out of San Francisco to return to the war in the western Pacific. She entered the port of Finschhafen, located on the northeastern coast of New Guinea almost directly across the Dampier Strait from New Britain, on 6 November. She briefly plied the waters off the New Guinea coast, visiting Langemak and Hollandia before heading for Noumea, where she arrived on the 22d. At Noumea, she began preparations for the invasion of Luzon. There, she loaded elements of the Army's 25th Infantry Division and headed for Guadalcanal where, during December, soldiers and ships rehearsed the impending landings. She and her sister ships completed those exercises just before Christmas and, on Christmas Day, headed for Manus in the Admiralty Islands. Zeilin and her consorts remained there from 29 December 1944 until 2 January 1945, at which time they got underway for Luzon. Zeilin's embarked troops formed a part of the first reinforcement echelon for the San Fabian phase of the invasion rather than of the initial assault force. She arrived off the San Fabian beachhead on 11 January, two days after the initial landings.
Zeilin completed the disembarking of troops and the unloading of their attendant supplies and equipment by the evening of the 12th. That night, she formed up with a fast transport convoy and headed for Leyte. The next morning, just after the beginning of the forenoon watch, a single Japanese plane -- identified as a Grace [Aichi B7A Navy Carrier Attack Bomber Ryusei] pounced on the convoy. Swooping down from a low cloud, the kamikaze bore in on Zeilin's port quarter. He feigned a bank at the amphibious force flagship Mount Olympus (AGC-8) [Vice Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson, Commander Third Amphibious Force, embarked] steaming astern of Zeilin, but quickly resumed his original course. Surprise and the feint towardMount Olympus rewarded the suicide pilot with success. He made it through the fire of Zeilin's after 40-millimeter mount, his "right wing struck the port kingpost and boom serving No. 6 hatch . . ." while the fuselage ". . . swung inboard under the radio antenna and crashed the starboard side of the housetop." At that point, his payload, a cache of incendiary missiles constructed out of 3/4-inch gas pipe, showered the decks and started a number of scattered, but small, fires. Damage topside was extensive at the point of impact. The superstructure deck was blown away, deck framing was bent and buckled, and several staterooms were completely destroyed. The plane's engine pierced the superstructure deck and the outboard bulkhead and ended up in one of the landing boats. Worst of all, the attack cost the ship seven men killed outright, three declared missing, and 30 injured. The damage, however extensive, was not fatal, and Zeilin continued on her way with the convoy. Destroyer Saufley (DD-465) rescued one Zeilin sailor who had been blown overboard.
After temporary repairs at Leyte, Zeilin got underway for Ulithi on 16 February 1945 and entered the lagoon on the 18th. She participated in the Iwo Jima campaign briefly in early March, making a voyage to that island between 9 and 16 March to bring in reinforcements to that island. Later that month, she departed the western Pacific to return to the United States for permanent repairs. After five days at Hawaii, from 12 to 17 April, she continued on to San Francisco where she arrived on the 23rd.
Following a two-month repair period, Zeilin departed San Francisco on 30 June 1945. She spent the week of 1 to 8 July at San Diego and then headed north to Seattle. On the 23rd, she departed the west coast to return to the western Pacific. The attack transport stopped at Eniwetok on 4 to 7 August then moved on to Ulithi. Hostilities in the Far East ceased on 15 August; and Zeilin exited Ulithi lagoon two days later, bound for Okinawa. At Okinawa from the 21st, she got underway again on the 29th, bound for Leyte, and spent most of the month of September transporting passengers and cargo between points in the Philippine Islands. In October, she carried the Army's 106th Regimental Combat Team to occupation duty at Jinsen [Inchon], Korea. From there, she headed back to the United States.
Following stops at Ulithi and Guam, she arrived in San Francisco on 14 November 1945. Shuttle voyages along the west coast between the ports of San Diego, San Francisco, San Pedro, and Bremerton and Seattle, Wash., occupied her for the remainder of 1945 and during January 1946. On 4 February 1946, she departed San Pedro and set her course for the east coast. After transiting the Panama Canal on the 14th, she resumed her voyage on the 15th and arrived in Hampton Roads, Va., on the 21st. On 19 April 1946, Zeilin was decommissioned at Portsmouth, Va. Her name was stricken from the Navy list on 5 June 1946.
Ex-Zeilin was transferred to the Maritime Commission on 3 July 1946 for disposal, and entered the Reserve Fleet's James River, Lee Hall, Virginia, berthing area (Unit S-6) at 5:00 p.m. on 24 July 1946. Originally, the Maritime Commission's Director's Panel approved the vessel on 27 March 1947 for permanent lay-up as a national defense reserve, but rescinded that action on 25 July 1947 and authorized the former attack transport to be sold to U.S. citizens for complete scrapping. Consequently, ex-Zeilin was sold to American Shipbreakers, Inc., on 30 December 1947, and she was removed from the Reserve Fleet at 1:30 p.m. on 3 May 1948 to be broken up.
Zeilin received eight battle stars for her World War II service.
Updated, Robert J. Cressman
7 March 2022