My dad served in the Air Force toward the end of World War II. Unlike his older brother who saw action in the Pacific, dad entered the service just before the war ended. After his discharge, dad worked, married my mom, and was called back into the reserves at the start of the Korean War. Though trained as a machine gunner, for reasons unknown he was never stationed overseas. His two years in the reserves unfolded without major incident.
Dad never spoke at length about his years in the Air Force. At best, I knew where he had been stationed. The most I ever came to a vicarious thrill about his military service came one summer afternoon when our family was vacationing at Lake Arrowhead. The nearby village had a penny arcade. One of the games was a simulation of a machine gun on a fighter plane. Enemy aircraft would swoop into view and you pressed a red button to fire at the incoming fighter. If you hit your target the simulator would make a clanging noise.
I gave it a go - but aiming the machine gun at an elusive target was challenging. At most I hit it once in awhile over the course of the three minutes of the simulation. I will never forget what happened next. I begged my dad to try it. He put the coins in the machine, crouched behind the "machine gun" and within ten seconds he was on target. That bell didn't stop clanging until the simulation was over.
I learned that day that my dad was highly trained to kill an enemy. That he did not is a reflection of his year of birth (1926) and the flukes that come with serving in the Armed Forces. But the key matter to me is that dad never boasted once about his military service. Perhaps this was because he never saw combat. Perhaps he did not brag because he knew others who had experienced infinitely worse things during the War. Or, most likely, it was because men of his generation did their duty to God and Country and were utterly too modest to consider themselves heroes.
Next Friday night, June 6, marks the 70th anniversary of a pivotal event in world history: the Allied Landing on D-Day on the beaches of Normandy. During our Shabbat evening service, we will pay tribute to the men and women who served our country during World War II.
Please let me know before next Friday night if you have a family member who served during that conflict. I would appreciate if you would share with me his/her name, as well as a paragraph or two about your family member's experience during World War II. Email me at email@example.com. I hope to hear from a number of congregants before June 6.