Thursday, September 27, 2012

Jewish History & Heritage Month - Remarks from Colonel David F. Everett, USAR (Ret.)


In the limited time I have, I want to start off by talking about some interesting milestones in Jewish involvement in military service which date back to pre-colonial times.
In the days of the Dutch in New York, Peter Stuyvesant established a militia and would not let Jews participate.  Rather, he wanted them to pay a tax in lieu of serving in the militia.  However, the Jews of New Amsterdam knew that to be full citizens, you have to be full participants.
The Jewish Community of New Amsterdam, led by community leader Asser Levy, petitioned the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam and Jews were permitted to serve alongside their fellow citizens.
Over the years, participation in the military services became a lot easier.  In fact, the first graduating class at West Point was 50% Jewish.  Simon M. Levy and his classmate Joseph G. Swift were the first graduating class at West Point in 1802.
Another notable milestone in American military history was the appointment to the rank of Commodore, what would today be an Admiral, of Uriah Phillips Levy, who is credited with ending the practice of flogging sailors in the early 1800s.
On March 15, 1896, 78 Jewish Civil War Veterans of the Union Army met in New York City and formed the Hebrew Union Veterans Association, the forerunner of the Jewish War Veterans. The JWV is the oldest active veterans’ organization in the United States.  It was the only national veterans’ organization to join Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the historic March on Washington in 1963.  I am proud to be a member of that organization.
The great migration of Jews from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s resulted in significant numbers of Jews serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in the First World War, grateful to serve their country which gave them freedom from the terrible persecution they had suffered in their home countries, and which provided them with opportunities offered by no other nation in the world.
One of the original founders of the American Legion was Lieutenant General Milton Foreman,    a Jewish officer who, as a Colonel serving in France during the First World War, received the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery. In 1919, Lieutenant General Foreman was Chairman   of the Executive Committee that oversaw the creation of the American Legion.  The American Legion is another organization of which I am proud to be a member.

In World War Two, 550,000 Jewish men and women were wearing the uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

In my own family, my father and my three uncles all served overseas.  All three uncles were awarded the Purple Heart.  My mother’s brother, Fred Brenner, a B-24 navigator, was awarded his posthumously after he was killed in action on January 11, 1944, on a mission to Germany.

I remember my grandmother telling me of her great excitement when she found out at the age of 14 that her parents would be sending her from their small town in Eastern Europe to live with her two sisters in, as they called it in Yiddish, the Goldena Medina, the Golden Country.

I also remember her telling me how happy she was when my Uncle Fred was born in 1919 because the war President Wilson had called the war to end all wars had ended the year before and her son – and Fred was my grandparents’ only son – would never have to go off to fight.

One of the hardest parts of an overseas deployment to a combat zone is attending memorial services for fallen comrades. 

The last such ceremony I attended was in May 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.  On May 20, 2009, two colleagues, Shawn Pine, 51, an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel working as a civilian for the Department of Defense, and First Lieutenant Roslyn L. Schulte, 25, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, were killed in action by a roadside bomb as they drove in the same vehicle from our base at Camp Eggers in Kabul to the Bagram Air Base. 

Coincidentally, both were Jewish. 

I knew Roz Schulte personally and she was truly a wonderful person and an outstanding officer.

A rabbi, Major Henry Soussan, who is now the Jewish Chaplain at West Point, came to our base in Kabul for a memorial service.  That service was attended by hundreds, including general officers of the Afghan Army, the Afghan Minister of Defense and the Afghan Minister of Interior. What was so meaningful to all of us, both Jews and non-Jews, was the fact that Chaplain Soussan delivered a eulogy and recited a prayer in Hebrew for Roz and Shawn so they could be honored in the tradition of their faith, as befits all fallen soldiers.

President Kennedy said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it.”  And the cost of freedom is a price that the members of our Armed Forces continue to pay today, and for which we are all eternally grateful.

Speaking of grateful, one thing that means so much to all of us serving overseas is the support we get from back home.  It is really hard to express.

In October 2005, I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, awaiting deployment to Iraq.  The group I was with was notified to assemble at 3:30 AM -- or zero dark thirty as we call it in the military – on October 13th for a bus ride to the Military Air Terminal at the Baltimore Airport for the first leg of our journey to Iraq.                                                                                

As it happens, October 13, 2005, was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a fast day.

The night before, I attended Kol Nidre services at a synagogue in Columbus, Georgia, along with a group of young Jewish soldiers who were in basic training at Fort Benning.  After services, I reported to the assembly area to await the arrival of the buses.  The buses departed at 3:30 and I awoke at around 7:30 when the bus I was on pulled into a Cracker Barrel restaurant in North Carolina.  I am sure a number of the soldiers I was traveling with wondered as they got off the bus why that colonel was staying aboard and missing breakfast.

When we finally arrived at the Baltimore Airport it was dark and Yom Kippur was over.  As I carried my duffel bags and rucksack through the civilian air terminal toward the military area,      I hoped I would see someplace where I could quickly purchase something to eat.  As I walked,     I spotted a table at which were seated a couple of Girl Scouts and their adult leader.  On the table were stacked boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

I went over to the table and asked one of the girls if I could buy a box of cookies.  She said “No,”  and I was taken aback.  Then she told me why I could not buy them – the cookies were free for soldiers.  The Girl Scouts at the table had gotten civilian passengers to pay for the boxes of cookies so the girls could then give them away to military personnel passing through the terminal.

Those Samoas were the best cookies I ever had   Not only did they satisfy my hunger, but the kindness those Girl Scouts showed me provided a spiritual lift I will always remember.

My thanks to all of you for being here this evening and for all the support you give to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

May God bless America and the brave men and women who protect our freedom.

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