FOR VETERANS’ DAY 2014
1954: Fifth Grade Classroom: Yonkers, New York
“Do you know what they do with stupid boys like you?” Miss Reynolds, my teacher, said to two boys in my class who were fooling around.
Nobody answered, so she continued. “Well, I’ll tell you what they do. They put them in the army in the front lines so that they can be killed off right away.” I swear this is an exact quote, even though this event took place sixty years ago because I remember going home and sharing what Miss Reynolds said with my mother and father.
My father was a World War II Veteran. To be exact, he came to the United States in 1936 from Poland, just ahead of the Holocaust, served in the American Army, won his citizenship and a Bronze Star along the way. He saved another soldier’s life when they were crossing the Moselle River in France, under fire. This amazed me because I thought my father, who did the sidestroke, swam like a girl.
I was born in February of 1945. My father did not meet me until he came home from the war in November of 1945, and I was nine months old.
My father never talked about the war, but when he did speak, he spoke with a heavy accent. He said things like “uppels” for apples and “vash” for wash. When I was a child, I wished he did not have that accent. It made him seem less American. But, what did I know? I was a child.
After I told my parents what Miss Reynolds had said to the boys in my class, my father, the man with the accent, went to my school the very next day. He didn’t even dress up. He wore his heavy work pants and works shoes. I was not there for the conversation.
I do know this quiet man, for the first time in his life, arrived at work late because he needed to meet with my teacher first. He never shared what he said, but I knew I was very proud of him.