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my glamorous life

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#74 veteran’s day

My wife Catherine held up an Annenberg report on World War II, written by Donald L. Miller that she had just downloaded from the web. “Murray,” she said, “please read this, because I remember that you said the same thing to me one year ago.” She pointed to a place in the article where I read, “As one GI said: ‘I think it would have been a catastrophe if Hitler would’ve won.’” The article continued, “That expletive had to be stopped,” said another; “that’s why I joined up.”

I joined the Navy to “stop Hitler” when I was seventeen and a half, and had not finished high school. Since I was that young, I needed parental consent to join. My father, a WW I veteran, enlisted when he was fifteen because his father signed for him and said that he was seventeen. My father went through hell in Europe—survived a Mustard Gas attack, had his knee cap blown away, had surgery to get a silver knee cap, took a bayonet wound in the neck, and was shell shocked. He was in a veteran’s home for one year after the war ended and was given a total disability and honorable discharge.

My father and I were never close. I always seemed to be the object of his anger. He battered me frequently when I was a child. Yet, at the enlistment office where he signed for me, I saw tears in his eyes. I never knew if those tears were for him, for me, or for both of us.

One week after I joined, the war in the European theatre ended. After boot camp, I found myself in the Amphibious Corps being trained for the invasion of Japan. The Amphibious Corps predated the Navy Seals. We were the sailors that used amphibious craft to land on the beaches and return for more of the same until the invasion was over or we were blown out of the water.

The training prepared me to drive LCVP’s (Landing Craft Vehicles and Personnel) and LCM’s (Landing Craft Machinery). These diesel landing craft were used to carry troops, vehicles, and machinery to the beaches during an invasion. The life of an amphibious sailor was estimated at three minutes in combat.

After training, we were being made ready for the invasion when Truman approved release of the atomic bombs, thus ending the war. At the time, I didn’t realize that this action saved my life, the lives of many Americans, and countless Japanese who otherwise would have suffered through a lengthy invasion.

The war ended and I was assigned to train Marines in amphibious warfare. From the time that I enlisted ’til my discharge, my Navy career lasted 13 months. I had signed up for the duration plus six months.

Today, people seem to be ready to condemn troops for mistakes made by governments. Most young people who enlist do so for an ideal. After the war, I learned that my grandparents had been incinerated in Treblinka when they were in their eighties. I did not know that they lost their lives that way.

We still have to think about the megalomaniacs who would rule the world if they were given a chance. In WW II, we waited too long to try to stop Hitler. This caused a devastating war that lasted too long, killed too many people, and permitted insane villains to attempt to rule the world.

I love people who want peace, who worry about their children, who respect education, who see the potential for good in most people. But I also realize that there are people who would destroy a democracy, and return the world to an age of ignorance and tyranny. We must be vigilant to only fight when the battle is right, to survive in a chaotic world, and when a situation arises that requires a proper defense, not hope that the villains will go away of their own accord, but to let them know that we will fight for justice. This Veteran’s Day, let’s honor all of the people who have served their country in times of need.

— Maurice Zeldman

11 November 2002

previously: “worked for me”

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“At the enlistment office where he signed for me, I saw tears in his eyes.”