life in and around NYC is insane

Saturday, April 24, 2010

war stories

Lately I have been hearing, quite literally, my father's "war stories".

My father turned 18 in February 1945, and was drafted into the army shortly thereafter. He was discharged on Friday December 13, 1946, and always considered Friday the 13th to be a lucky day. While he's technically a WWII vet, he served mostly in post-war Europe.

My father's family never expected that he would be drafted. He'd been ill as a child and had a heart murmur, which kept him out of gym class all through school. In theory he was drafted for "limited duty", but when he arrived at basic training in Georgia he was expected to do the same activities as every other new recruit.

Georgia, where they heard his Brooklyn accent and his very Jewish surname, and they wanted to see if he had horns on his head.  ah, the "good old days."

Georgia, where he met Manny from the Bronx, who coincidentally had the same surname. They would become friends....and after the war my father would spend a lot of time visiting Manny and his family in the Bronx -- including Manny's cousin -- my mother.

I have heard, countless times, about the hot Georgia sun and eating watermelon right off the vine.

I've heard about how he came home for leave after basic training, and because there was Jewish holiday he was able to get a few extra days of leave ....all the men he trained with were sent to Japan, but he,and the other Jewish soldiers who were on leave at the same time, was sent to Italy.

I have heard how we was seasick on the troop ship going to Europe, but the ship coming home seemed like a pleasure cruise.

I heard how he wrote to his mother in Yiddish, because she didn't speak or read English. and how, when he neglected to write, she wrote to his commanding officer -- and his commander told him to write home so his mother wouldn't worry so much.

There's a photo of him, in his Army uniform, standing in front of the Tower of Pisa. Many years later, after he retired, he took my mother to Italy, and they posed in the very same spot.

I've heard the story of the Swiss watch many times. My father has blue eyes, and his hair was blonde, so in an American Army uniform...well, if you didn't hear his name, you wouldn't have guessed he's Jewish. So when he went out with his non-Jewish friends....

...there were three of them, they had leave time and headed to Switzerland. In those days Swiss watches were the top of the line, so of course the three friends decided they had to buy watches for themselves and family members back home.

When the three men walked into the shop, the shopkeeper turned to his wife and said, in Yiddish, "three rich Americans, we'll jack up the prices."

The other two men bought their watches while my father browsed.

Then my father found the watch he wanted. It had Hebrew letters instead of numbers. remember, this is before there was a State of Israel, so such a watch was a rare find. My father knew he must buy it for his father. so he asked the shopkeeper for a price.

The shopkeeper told him "you don't want that watch." but my father insisted he did want it, he had to have it.  So the shopkeeper said to him, in Yiddish, "You're Jewish?"

My father nodded his head.

The shopkeeper said "Are you going to tell your friends what I said when you came into the shop?"

My father shook his head.

The shopkeeper gave him a very good price for the watch.

My father still has that watch, and it still runs.

I always thought the "watch" story was my father's best war story....until I heard about the Sistine Chapel. The first time I heard this story was just a few days ago.

Seems my father and two of his friends decided to visit the Sistine Chapel. and while they were there, Pope Pius showed up!

My father has no love for Pope Pius, he thinks Pius didn't do enough to save the Jews of Europe from the Holocaust...yet he tells the story of meeting him...

The three American soldiers were the only visitors to the Sistine Chapel that afternoon, and therefore got a private audience with the Pope. the other two men were Irish Catholic, and they kissed the Papal ring. My father, of course, did not, and that's how the Pope knew my father wasn't Catholic. The Pope spoke to my father, gave him a blessing....blessed all the religious articles my father had purchased for his neighbors back in Brooklyn...one of his Brooklyn neighbors died happy, holding a rosary blessed by the Pope and carried to Brooklyn by a Jewish G.I.


1 comment:

Christina said...

I love both those stories! My dad is 2 years younger than yours and was also drafted for post war action. He ended up in Japan and he just wrote about his stint in the Army for the family to read. He described the boat trip out to Japan similarly to your dad.

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