(This is my father's story, in his own words, of his time flying 50 missions, as a tail gunner, in a B-24 Liberator during WWII. This is from an interview he did for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in downtown New York in 2003. My father passed away at the end of January and I am posting this as an homage to him, and to all the others who sacrificed so much for me and my country. The quiet courage on diplay is awe inspiring.
From time to time I will add some comments in parentheses and italics; all the rest is my father's voice. I can hear him still.
The first post in this series can be found here and all the posts in this series have now been collected in the Earn This archive.)
It was in Laredo, Texas. I was friends with a Greek guy named Gabby. We were friends. Palled around, did everything. And toward the end of the school—all of us hated physical ed, you know, because the guy who was running the phys ed course could keep you there as long as he wanted until you did it the way he wanted—and everybody was making fun and so on. So I turned to gabby, and I said, “Gabby, we want to get the hell out of here. Let's do the thing and get it over with.” And he says, “Shut up, Jew.” I'm dumbfounded, “What?” He said, “You heard me, you fucking Jew.” I said, “Gabby, you know what you’re saying?” He says, “Yeah, you're a fucking Jew.” My feeling was that if I hit this son of a bitch, I will never be commissioned. That'll go on my record. Yeah, I’ll get off but they'll never … I'll never be commissioned. So I just said, fuck him. I didn't say a word. I turned away. And he kept yelling, “Jew,” and I acted like he didn't exist. He must have been the most frustrated guy in the world. And you know why I say that? Because I had a fight with one guy on my thrifty-fifth mission.
We used to have what we called two egg, three egg, and how-many-eggs-do-you-want missions. You knew if they said how many eggs do you want, it meant Vienna, Munich, or Ploesti. You just knew that. They get you up at four o'clock in the morning to fly a mission. You're out, you're off the ground at seven, you're over the target at twelve, you're home by three. And I’m standing there and it's pitch black, and we're shuffling and shuffling. So I said, “I wonder how many eggs they're going to give us this time?” And Bob Polk said, “What do you care?” I said, “Bob, I'm just talking.” Bob was my nose gunner. And he gives me a push. And I said, “Bob, leave me alone.” He says, “I don't want to leave you alone.” Now, I know, years later, we were all tense. We were all … you know, about every eighth or ninth mission, somebody would refuse to fly, and you'd ignore him and he'd get up and he'd fly. I remember my ninth mission. I wouldn’t get out of the bunk, out of the cot. I said, “I'm not going to die. Go ahead. If you want to go, go ahead.” And they don't say a word. They get dressed, and then you get up and follow them. That's what everybody did. But he kept hitting me. I said, “Bob, leave me alone.” He said, “I don't want to leave you alone.” And I just made a scream! And I jumped him. The guy was a lumberjack, remember? And I got him in a neck lock and I was going to kill him. Realize I as also nervous. To make a long story short, they pulled us off. He was mad. I was mad. But when I shot the guy down, because that was the same mission I shot the guy down, he said, “Oh, Abie, I love you. I love you. You're wonderful.” But this Gabby was a son of a bitch. We were buddies! We, we did everything together. Never once said a word. We were pals at gunnery school.
(In retrospect I suspect my dad's temper was, in part, affected by PTSD. He was a very patient man but on rare occasions he would lose his temper, and then he would just scream in inchoate, surprising ways. I can imagine him reaching the end of his tether and going off at Bob.
Dad was also extremely sensitive to anti-Semitism; having lived through the 1930s and 1940s, that should not be a surprise. I doubt Gabby was an anti-Semite. I suspect Gabby was simply using the type of racial/ethnic epithet common to that time when we were all less sensitive to how our words sound to others. After all, Gabby knew Dad was Jewish and yet they "did everything." Differentiating the genteel anti-Semitism that kept Jews out of colleges and Golf Clubs, from the kind that led to gas chamberts, was problematic for Dad. Until he died my father worried about anti-Semitism, which he saw only on the right; he could never come to terms with the flourishing of anti-Semitism on the left. Despite his sensitivity to the world's indifference to the Holocaust, he could never accept, even when faced with piles of evidence, that the "sainted" FDR did not do many things that might have helped save some of European Jewry; he could never assign any responsibility to FDR. Cognitive dissonance is not only for the non-Psychological minded.)
I don't know what happened to him. I was shipped to a good place. I became a gunnery instructor. I did that from 1944 all through till October 12, 1945, and then I came home. And that was good duty. I had two lovely friends. We were buddies. Johnny Barrell and Franklin Benjamin. Just nice guys. We all did the same thing. Never a thing about Judaism.
I wanted to join and help Israel during the war of 1948. They told me they didn’t need me. I walked over. They didn’t need me. They had three airplanes. What could I give them? A tail gunner? But I wanted to do what I could. By then I was married and my wife said, “You can't do it.” They told me I’d be about three thousand on the list to get to be a tail gunner, so I never bothered.
I want my kids to feel proud. I want my kids to appreciate it. Proud, because if it wasn’t for guys like me, there wouldn’t be any Jews around. That's my honest feeling. I'm one little tiny cog in the whole wheel, but there were enough of us that to me that's what's important. What does it mean? If it wasn’t for us, there wouldn’t be an Israel. If it wasn’t for us, there wouldn’t be a Jew. I could cry half the time when I think of it. That's really what it's about. And if the Goyim read this or the antisemitin, good for them. Let them know. And I want also the Jews who say, “Oy, military is no good and the Jews should try to hide and never go ...” You know, hey, there were Jews that fought and we fought the same as everybody else, and we did the same job and we got the world safe, safe for however long it's going to be.
(When the Korean War began, my father was recalled. He had a Masters Degree in Psychology and was stationed at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. My younger sister was born in Hawaii when it was still a territory. We were there for about two years and then moved to Syracuse where he supported three children [my youngest sister wasn't born until a few years later] and got his Ph.D in Psychology. He later trained as a Psychoanalyst at the Alfred Adler Institute in New York and worked for many years as a Professor of Counseling at Queens College in New York. He set up the Queens College Counseling Service and was one of the pioneers in training students to be peer counselors. He had a private practice in Psychotherapy and helped raise four children.
I hope to add some recollections, reflections, and comments in my next post.)