Ever since we began work on Ours To Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War in 1999, veterans have had a special place in my heart. I often write blogs about active duty personnel, but I wanted to say a little something about the great men and women we met during the project.
As Robert Morgenthau wrote in his introduction to the exhibition’s companion volume Ours To Fight For: American Jewish Voices from the Second World War, there is an intimate connection between the stories told in our Core Exhibition and the stories told in Ours To Fight For. “Those who survived the Holocaust would not be able to tell their story if it had not been for the men and women who served.”
Bernard Branson, a gunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps, was one of these people. He told us about a request from a Lt. Levine. “He asked all of us to give up our dog tags… he could change the 'H' on our dog tags for Hebrew to either 'C' or 'P' for Protestant or Catholic… my feeling was I wanted those sons of bitches to know that the bombs that were dropping, there was a Jew up there doing it.”
Judge Burton Roberts, who recently passed away, remembered arriving in Anzio. He was told how fortunate he was to be joining a division that had “200 percent casualties.” He recalled: “So I was trying to figure out…that means that you get wounded once or you get wounded twice or you get killed once, and then you get killed a second time.” He went on to see action as an infantryman, rescued comrades under fire, was wounded, and received two Bronze Stars for valor.
We also met the irascible Pearl Scher who was stationed as a Marine at Camp Lejeune, NC, and says that being in the service taught her “how to be a Jew.”
These three stories are taken from interviews with more than 400 Jewish vets of World War II. WWII veterans are passing away at the same rate as survivors. Ours To Fight For provides a tremendous service by permitting men and women of that generation to talk about their experiences, and to share those experiences with their families.
You can get to know some of these vets on the Ours To Fight For site. Our exhibition opens today at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. It is on view until May 8, 2011.
Wherever you are today, I hope you will take some time to think about our veterans, not only the ones from WWII, but from all wars and conflicts, whether fought long ago or the ones still being waged.
Photo: Graduation Day at Thunderbird Field. Collection of Philip Topiel