Medal of Honor. Photo Credit: Netflix.

by Harrison Heller, Membership Coordinator

On November 9, Netflix premiered its new docuseries entitled Medal of Honor. The series shares the stories of eight veterans who served from World War II to the Global War on Terror. For season one, Medal of Honor features the stories of: SGT. Sylvester Antolak (WW2), SSGT. Clint Romesha (Afghanistan), SFC. Edward Carter (WW2), SSGT. Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura (Korea), MSG. Vito Bertoldo (WW2), CPL. Joseph Vittori (Korea), CMSGT. Richard L. Etchberger (Vietnam) and SSGT. Ty M. Carter (Afghanistan).

Each episode is an individual story and details “the worst day of their lives”. The stories are re-enacted and told by military historians, witnesses, and sometimes even the recipient. Medal of Honor shares some amazing stories, some of nation’s bravest heroes. The stories of Staff Sergeants Clint Romesha and Ty Carter are from the same battle, a Taliban assault on Combat Outpost Keating. This is the first time since Vietnam that the Medal of Honor was awarded to two survivors of the same battle. Medal of Honor is a much watch and a must binge.

One story that truly stood out to me was that of Staff Sergeant Edward Carter, Jr. The child of an African America father and East Indian mother, Carter was raised in India and Shanghai, China. Carter’s parents were missionaries and were constantly on the move. Edward Carter was a born soldier, in 1932 he ran away from home to serve with the Chinese Nationalist Army. After it was discovered that he was only 15, he was forced to leave the Nationalist Army. A short time later, he found his way to Europe and served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. The Lincoln Brigade was a group of American volunteers that serve in the Spanish Civil War which fought against the regime of General Francisco Franco.

In 1941, Edward Carter enters the Army. Due to his previous combat experience, Carter stood out among the other recruits and in less than year, he achieved the rank of staff sergeant. In 1944, he was deployed to Europe and was assigned to supply duties. General Eisenhower ran short of combat-arms replacements in December 1944 and instituted the volunteer Ground Force Replacement Command for rear-echelon soldiers of all races. At the height of Carter’s career, he served as one of General George S. Patton’s guards.

After months of volunteering, Carter’s platoon made it to the frontlines and was assigned to the “Mystery Division”. When Carter was assigned to this unit, he went from staff sergeant to a private. This was because his superiors would not allow an African American to command white troops. One thing to keep in mind, America was fighting one of the most racist regimes in world history, Nazi Germany, yet our own military was still segregated.

On March 23, 1945, while scouting with his platoon, the tank that carrying Carter was hit by bazooka fire. He quickly dismounted, Carter confronted his superior officer and asked to go cross and examine a nearby open field, where he noticed a mortar crew and 2 machine gun nests. The officer first told him no, due to his rank. Carter replied that he held the rank of staff sergeant before going to the frontlines.

Carter entered the open field with three other African American troops. In the field, Carter was able to get a better view of the situation. He told his troops to run back and that he will continue forward. Two of his troops were killed and one was severally wounded. Carter continued deeper into the open field alone. He was wounded five times before taking cover. As eight German soldiers scan the field in-attempt to capture Carter, he sprung up and killed six Germans and capturing two. While limping and using the two captured Germans as a shield, he was able to interrogate them. The Germans gave Carter valuable information on enemy-troop positions. For this Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and many other citations and awards.

In 1949 Edward Carter tried to re-enlist in the Army. Due to unfounded allegation, as a result of his time serving with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, he was denied. They believed that he had communist contacts and allegiances. Carter died of lung cancer on January 30, 1963, attributed to shrapnel remaining in his neck. He was 47 years old. He was buried in Sawtelle National Cemetery in Los Angeles.

In 1992, John Shannon, Secretary of the Army, commissioned an independent study to identify unrecognized African American heroes from World War II. The study was completed in 1996, under the name The Exclusion of Black Soldiers from the Medal of Honor in World War II. On January 13, 1997, SSgt Edward Allen Carter, Jr’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony. SSgt Carter’s body was exhumed and relocated to Arlington National Cemetery, where he was laid to rest with full honors.

As part of the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, there is a hall dedicated to the many African Americans who served in the American armed forces from the American Revolution to current War on Terror. There is a section dedicated to African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor. On your next trip to Washington, DC, we recommend that you a make a stop at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. If you bring your Military ID, you can skip the line and enter without a reservation.

As the series Medal of Honor grows, it is the hope of the Jewish War Veterans that they include the stories our Jewish brothers and sisters who were awarded this highest honor.

 

Screenshot from film. Photo Credit: HBO.

By Sabrina Fine, Communications Intern

Crisis Hotline: Veteran Press 1 is a HBO documentary film in association with Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) that chronicles veteran crisis line counselors.   It gives insight to day and night conversations with veterans on the verge of suicide or having suicidal thoughts.   The only Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) Center is in Canandaigua, New York.

The documentary produced by Dana Perry and directed by Ellen Goosenberg Kent is both educational and tear-jerking.  The fact that 22 veterans take their own life each day makes the counselor’s job matters of life and death.  The counselors are at the frontline of the battle of saving veterans from suicide.  VCL counselors are seen in the opening of the documentary with either hands pressed against their foreheads or stoic and professional as they recite words such as “I know you said you have a knife nearby you. Do you agree to not use that knife while I put you on hold?”  Another counselor says “putting a gun in your mouth is not an option we want to discuss today, sir.”  The call center receives more than 22,000 calls a month.

“You have five children, you have a wife and you have a lot to live for,” says one counselor named Darlene. Her voice is calm, but her eyes are fearful as she speaks with a former Marine who says he is a weapon to himself and suffers from recurring nightmares and having flashbacks.   “I am not going to leave you; I am not going to go anyway.”  Eventually a wellness check is sent to his home and Darlene briefly speaks with the Marine’s wife before she is abruptly hung up on.

The documentary is hard to watch yet it feels like a significant insight to the extreme suffering that some veterans feel.   To fully comprehend the documentary, you can watch it on HBO.  JWV supports IAVA in their continued campaigns that battle the veteran suicide rates.

Ben Kinsley Playing Adolf Eichmann, Photo Credit – MGM Pictues

By Harrison Heller, Membership Coordinator

WASHINGTON – On June 1, 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Ramla, Israel. His body was later cremated, and his ashes were spread at sea, so there would be no memorial. But how did this happen? How did a Nazi get to Israel to be tried by the people he so wanted to destroy? The film Operation Finale tells this incredible story.

To understand the film, you must understand Eichmann’s past and how he got to Argentina. Eichmann was born in Germany on Mach 19, 1906 to a blue-collar family. Eichmann was not the strongest student while attending school, so he eventually dropped-out and began working in his father’s mining company in Austria. In 1932 he joined the Nazi Party and the SS, where he rapidly rose through the ranks.

In 1933, Eichmann was recalled to Germany where he was appointed the head of the Department of Jewish Affairs. His primary focus was emigration, he arranged for Jews to leave Germany and the German Reich. To ensure this, he finalized the “taxes” that the Jews and their families had to pay. This money went straight into his pocket. In September 1939, he drew up the plans for the organized ghettos across the major cities of Europe. His hopes were to build a Jewish reservation in Far East Russia and in Madagascar. He wanted to have the main transportation center in Nisko (southeast Poland). These plans were to never be carried out.

From The Jewish Veteran in December 1960.

After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, representatives from several Nazi government ministries arrived for a meeting, known as the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Reinhard Heydrich and his new lieutenant, Adolf Eichmann, shared their new plan for solving the “Jewish problem”. They laid out their plans for “The Final Solution”, organized railroads that lead to extermination camps, where death was manufactured. Eichmann was credited for designing the railway network and gas chambers. He noted that the gas chambers would make it easier for the troops to carry out their “orders” of mass murder. At the height of the Holocaust, the commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau said, “He was sending more human freight than I can kill.”

May 1945, World War II was over. Eichmann was captured by American forces. Using forged documents, he went under the identity of Otto Eckmann. Realizing that SS officers had tattoos under their arms, he had his forcibly removed before escaping. He fled to Austria where he hid in relative safety for five years, before fleeing to Argentina. 1950’s Argentina was a safe haven for many Nazi war criminals, due to the fascist sympathetic government of President Juan Perón. (1997: a DAIA, Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, investigation discovers 22,000 documents that proves a “network” managed by Rodolfo Freude, advisor to the President. Freude had an office in the Casa Rosada (the President’s official residence) and was close to Eva Perón’s (Evita) brother, Juan Duarte). Operation Finale picks-up ten years after Eichmann’s arrival in Buenos Aires.

Sightings of Eichmann in Argentina began as early as 1958. Messages were being sent to Mossad, and they were being paid very little attention to, as Mossad was paying more attention to future matters. As more sightings came in, they saw the urgency to capture the fugitive war criminal. In May 1960, a plan was hatched to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina. Israel knew going in that the Perón government would not extradite Eichmann for a trial in Israel. Coincidently, this was also the time of Argentina’s 150th anniversary of their revolution against Spain. Tourists were coming in from all over the world. Mossad agents snuck into Buenos Aires and began monitoring Eichmann at his home on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando (about 20 miles north of Buenos Aires). They took notes of the neighborhood and his commute to and from his work at a Mercedes-Benz factory. On May 11, the agents posed as stranded tourists with a broken-down car. They see Eichmann exiting a bus and making his way towards them. One of the agents bumps him and asks him for a cigarette. 3 agents tackle Eichmann to the ground and subdue him. Once arriving at a safe house, the Mossad agents ask for his name, and he replies “Roberto Clement”. An agent asks him in German, “Wie heifsen Sie?” Eichmann says, “Ich bin Adolf Eichmann” (“I am Adolf Eichmann”).

The agents had to wait another 9 days before smuggling Eichmann out. During this time, they had to get a sworn statement from him saying that he is willing to stand trial in Israel. On multiple occasions he refused. One of the agents was able to work with Eichmann and got him to sign. Upon signing, they dressed Eichmann up in an El-Al pilot’s uniform and drugged him, to appear drunk after a night out in Buenos Aires. On May 23, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion announces to the world that Israel has captured Adolf Eichmann.

April 11, 1961 the trial of Adolf Eichmann begins, and becomes the first trial to be televised in history. He was charged with 15 crimes, which include: crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and various war crimes. On December 15 he was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to death. On May 31, 1962 Eichmann was hanged and cremated in a custom oven. His ashes were thrown to sea.

Operation Finale was a great film. There are some parts of the story where Hollywood took their liberties, but it was to help the pacing of the film. The film features a great young actor in Oscar Isaac and comedian Nick Kroll. Sir Ben Kingsley picks up the roll of Adolf Eichmann. Kingsley, known for such roles as Ghandi, Otto Frank, Yitzhak Stern, tells the Associated Press, “… didn’t portray Adolf Eichmann out of love or admiration. Rather, he wanted to ‘nail him to the gates of Auschwitz.’”

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

By Harrison Heller, Membership Coordinator

It has been ten years since the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which puts together the world’s mightiest superheroes. It all began with the introduction of Iron Man and now has culminated with the largest collection of superheroes on the big screen.  It was definitely worth the wait.

One of the founders of Marvel Comics, Jack Kirby, is considered to be “The King of Comics,” and he created a lot of the characters that fans have come to admire. However, most people do not know about Kirby’s Jewish military past:

Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg in 1917 to Austrian Jewish immigrants.  Growing up during the Great Depression on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Kirby’s life was rough to say the least.  Street fights were common, but he found relief in reading the colorful pages of comic books.  He was also a gifted storyteller by all accounts, which is probably something he got from listening to his parent’s stories growing up.  He had all the makings of a great comic book creator.

After a few stints drawing comic strips for newspapers, Kirby finally landed a big-time job at Timely Comics, which would eventually turn into the Marvel Comics we have all come to love.  At Timely, Kirby was already rolling up his sleeves and fighting with American Nazis that came to the building looking for Jews to beat up.  This fighting spirit of his carried over to his work.  On the first cover of Captain America, “Cap” is punching Hitler right in the face.  Throughout the early issues of Captain America, you can see Cap fighting time and time again with Hitler as the central villain.

On June 7, 1943, Jack Kirby was called away from the drawing board and drafted into the Army to fight Hitler off the page.  After doing his time in basic training, Kirby was sent to Europe on the front lines.  On arriving there, Kirby’s Lieutenant learned who he was, and he asked Kirby if he was the creator of Captain America.  Kirby enthusiastically responded “Yes sir. I drew Captain America,” and he made Kirby a Scout on the spot, telling him “You go into these towns that we don’t have and see if there is anybody there. Draw maps and pictures of what you see and come back and tell us if you find anything.”

His time overseas deeply affected him.  Being a scout, Kirby saw the worst humanity had to offer.  The time that affected him the most was his experience liberating a concentration camp.  Kirby recalled, “There were mostly women and some men; they looked like they hadn’t eaten for I don’t know how long. They were scrawny. Their clothes were all tattered and dirty. The Germans didn’t give a s*** for anything. They just left the place; just like leaving a dog behind to starve. I was standing there for a long time just watching thinking to myself, ‘What do I do?’ Just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. All I could say was, ‘Oh, God.’”

There are various rumors on whether this was the actual occasion that Kirby finally punched a Nazi in the face.  What is known is that you can see the themes fascism and the Holocaust throughout his works.  One great example of this influence is in the X-Men character Magneto.  Magneto’s origins as a Holocaust survivor as well as the civil rights issues his character presents throughout the series clearly came from Kirby’s experiences during World War II.  Most of his villains embody some sort of fascism and are hell-bent on “perfecting” this world at whatever cost, which brings us back to Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War was released April 27, 2018 to huge fanfare. The film tells the story of Thanos and his quest for the Infinity Stones, six stones that date back to the creation of the universe. The stones include the Space Stone, Time Stone, Soul Stone, Power Stone, Mind Stone, and Reality Stone. If Thanos collects all six stones, he has the power to eliminate half of the life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. He believes that this plan will lead to a higher quality of life for those who survived.

The movie starts off with the members of the Avengers divided, due to the events of the film Captain America: Civil War (currently available on Netflix). When the Black Order arrives and attempts to collect the Mind Stone from Vision and the Time Stone from Dr. Strange, the Avengers unite to take on Thanos and his army. The film concludes with the Battle of Wakanda where Thanos collects the sixth and final Infinity Stone, the Mind Stone. Thanos escapes and snaps his fingers. As people are dying, they turn to ash.  Keeping in mind that most the characters featured were created by Jack Kirby, this is just another example of how the themes of the Holocaust and fascism were written into his work.

The film does a phenomenal job of pairing the characters where their personalities work well with one another. You have Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Hulk/Bruce Banner, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Black Widow in Wakanda, a fictionalized African country. Rocket Racoon and Groot, of The Guardians of the Galaxy, with Thor getting Stormbreaker, Thor’s new hammer. Star Lord, Mantis, and Drax, of The Guardians of the Galaxy, with Iron Man/Tony Stark, Spiderman, and Dr. Strange on Titan preparing for the first encounter with Thanos.

Avengers Infinity War is a must see and is the epitome of a summer blockbuster. When the movie starts, it steps on the gas and never lets up. In honor of the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, I give this movie 2 thumbs way up.  Nevertheless, we at the Jewish War Veterans know this movie would have not been possible without Kirby’s Jewish military experiences, and to that, we tip our hat to you Mr. Kirby.

Volume 72. Number 2. Summer 2018

By Ben Kane, JWV Programs Assistant

Like its competitor Battlefield 1, the immersive video game Call of Duty: WWII takes a step back from the exoskeletons and drones of future warfare, and marks the first game since 2008s World At War to take place during World War II. The game is not without its flaws, but where it makes a misstep in one area, it makes up for it in others.

As American GI “PFC Daniels” of the 1st Infantry Division, you trek through the well-known battlefields of Europe, fighting alongside soldiers who, while occasionally interesting, are ruined somewhat by being generic, stereotypical depictions of American soldiers. The game begins just before the Normandy landings, and the naïve feelings of the soldiers who announce that everything is going to be just fine and everyone will be ok quickly dissipate once the horrors of war become apparent.

Call of Duty: WWII tries to act like Battlefield 1 in another way, and shares a poignant brutality in the early portions of the game. These moments are well done and necessary, but are frustratingly few and far between, as you then promptly continue fighting through Europe largely as a one man army. I say largely because, in a departure from previous games, health is only restored through “health packs” obtained on the battlefield and from teammates, which makes them slightly above completely useless. Of course there are many moments where it feels like you can take on Nazi Germany on your own, but the game does feature the occasionally difficult moment that forces you to rely on your squad to an extent. However, I couldn’t help but think of how strange it was that often the last act of a German soldier who has been shot is to throw a health pack onto the ground for his enemies to use.

Infrequently, one is put in the driver’s seats of a fighter plane and a tank. The tank section was far more interesting to play than the dogfight, as the destructible environments and need to fire at the weaker sections of the tank provided more interesting game play than the fairly bland aerial combat section

The graphics are as decent as other installments, and the artificial intelligence (AI) is definitely nothing to write home about, as computer-controlled enemies often just stood over the bodies of their comrades in one of the several forced stealth sections, not alerting their fellow soldiers that one of their own has been killed. It would have been the mark of an evolving studio to have taken steps to improve the graphics and the AI, and make the player feel like an actual part of the world and not an outsider solely in existence to kill. As I’m sprint-hopping from tent to tent at the command points between missions, a soldier making a passing quip about my strange behavior would have been a nice touch.

Call of Duty: WWII is, not unexpectedly, not very historically accurate. However, there are several instances of historical accuracy that makes me think at least one writer did some homework. The members of the French Forces of the Interior, the French resistance group led by General and future president of France Charles De Gaulle, had armbands featuring the actual insignia of the FFI. There is also a cut scene and a segment that takes place in the largely and sadly unknown Berga concentration camp, where several hundred G.I.s were imprisoned and many were worked to death or shot. The cut scene portrayed camp commandant Erwin Metz, as well as a brief dialogue exchange that is known to have occurred at the camp. There certainly could and should have been more poignant and historically accurate moments, but the few they have are much appreciated.

Multiplayer gaming is business as usual for the series, with maps that favor players who run around with machine guns blindly and without strategy. It’s not great multiplayer, especially when compared with the terrific multiplayer of Battlefield 1, but it’s not overly unpleasant to play. However, the dropping of loot boxes onto Omaha Beach so other players can see you opening them is in immensely poor taste, the idea definitely should have been shot down during development

Despite the clichés and issues that have been prevalent in the series since the beginning, Call of Duty: WWII is a solid installment in the series. The game isn’t revolutionary, and it largely fails to live up to the potential that the time period provides, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you can get it at a good price.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being best, I rate this game at a 7.75.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

Fewer events in modern history have captured the public interest and imagination as utterly as the battles and machinations of the Second World War. The source of countless films, novels and other dramatic retellings, cultural depictions often focus on hard won victories and uphill struggles against the Axis powers. In Christopher Nolan’s newest film Dunkirk we see a rarer, yet incredibly powerful, glimpse into an event that holds more ambiguous ground in the annals of history.

Opening on Nazi pamphlets fluttering down from an overcast sky, the story of Dunkirk begins as Nolan slowly brings the viewer into a tension-wrought film that proves to be as harrowing as it is compelling. Alternating between the perspective of a rank-and-file British soldier, Royal Air Force pilots, the civilian rescue fleet and at brief intervals, the commanders present, the audience can palpably feel the terror from every perspective.

The Battle of Dunkirk, alternately referred to as Operation Dynamo or the Miracle of Dunkirk, unfolded in May and June of 1940 in the small coastal French town of the same name. Surrounded by quickly advancing German troops and an incoming Luftwaffe (the German air force) over 400,000 soldiers, primarily British, became stranded once the totality of the enveloping German army became clear. The aforementioned pamphlets informed soldiers on the beach “WE SURROUND YOU” with arrows indicating the German position. Dunkirk captures the following battle, evacuation and activation of the British civilian vessel fleet that was sent to assist in the effort.

Dunkirk’s greatest strength is its ability to successfully flaunt conventional war film tropes by focusing upon the visceral terror of the conflict rather than emotional and interpersonal drama. Throughout the film dialogue is sparse and direct, and we are given little insight into the personalities of the characters themselves. The film instead chooses to provide us with an anxiety inducing and brutal experience of survival in war. As the invasion proceeds we see the beaches of Dunkirk descend quickly into unrelenting chaos. Soldiers blindly trust and mistrust one another, rescue vessels are boarded only to be mercilessly bombed and abandoned while British command struggles to comprehend the calamity.

The tension escalates further as we follow a man captaining a small British fishing boat with his son and a boy from their hometown. The marked contrast between the calm of crossing of the Thames on the way to rescue and the frantic stranded soldiers comes to a heartbreaking crescendo as the vulnerable fishing boat slowly breaches the zone of combat. This pivotal intersection is captured by quick shots of the vast unforgiving sea and deliberately unsteady camerawork that serve to inextricably draw the audience in. It becomes difficult to imagine the true experience of events was much different.

The powerlessness and crippling fear omnipresent throughout is captured with a spine-tingling score that leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat. Coupled with contrasting panoramic shots of destruction at sea and claustrophobic vignettes of desperate and struggling soldiers, the camera takes us on an exhilarating ride. Calling to mind director Christopher Nolan’s Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, Dunkirk delivers another sweeping and expansive epic that has proven to be just as successful at the box office.

A Nolan favorite, Tom Hardy stars as a stoic Royal Air Force captain executing precarious assaults to protect the beaches of Dunkirk from inside his miniscule cockpit. Harry Styles, making a surprisingly smooth leap from boy-band stardom to the silver screen, delivers an aggressive and yet undeniably talented performance as a low-level British soldier. Finally, British acting legends Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance round out the eclectic cast with characteristically complex performances. Branagh plays the hand wringing and desperate Commander Bolton who artfully exhibits a restrained compassion for the troops he desperately tries to rescue throughout the film. Rylance respectively showcases his skill portraying a fishing boat captain calmly eager to join the civilian rescue fleet that was deployed at the 11th hour.

Held aloft by its stunning cinematography, subtle and yet profound acting performances, and irresistibly tense score, Dunkirk has proven itself to quite possibly be the war film of the decade. Unique in its approach portraying the sober British military and the understated fear and panic of battle in the midst of overwhelming violence, we are treated to an unglamorous and gratingly tense masterpiece. Brutally honest and horrifyingly realistic, the film will leave you shaken and yet full of awe – and for this reason Dunkirk is undeniably worth the watch.

Author Lauren Hellendall has been the Membership Assistant at JWV since December 2016. She graduated from American University in 2014 with a BA in Environmental Studies and took many film studies courses while at university. Lauren loves working with veterans and is excited to have her first film review published in the Veteran.

Volume 71. Number 3. Fall 2017

Review by Cindy Chambers and Jordana Green Laurent

The National Portrait Gallery’s “The Face of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now” examines the toils and tribulations of modern warfare in the lives of US service members. The six installations, ranging from photography to audio-visual, capture moments of pain, boredom, and camaraderie. Death, in all its oppressive forms, lingers through the entire collection.

The exhibit’s introduction reminds us “how military service has now become an integral part of advertising campaigns for everything from beer to trucks to real estate; the veteran as a product placement vehicle speaks of a business-as-usual mentality that puts us in danger of losing any sense of what it means to have been in combat.”

To combat this danger of sensory deprivation to combat, the exhibit brings the faces of war front and center by literally showing us the humanity- the good, bad, and ugly- of war.

Bedrooms of the Fallen by Ashley Gilbertson

At first glance, Ashley Gilbertson’s photos are almost inviting. Everything is familiar. The bedrooms of young adults in US working- to middle-class suburban homes. The bed with a nearby nightstand; paperbacks; computers; school awards; the US flag on the wall or sewn into a pillow. But then you begin to notice the age of the room. There are posters for movies that released six years ago; a class of 2013 high school letterman jacket; unopened Christmas presents in the corner. The bedrooms are unoccupied both in the photo and in the homes.

Reading the captions on each print, you learn the bedrooms housed US service members before they were killed in action. The human cost of war is never more apparent than when you recognize that the service member died two to six years ago, but their family has left the bedroom untouched. As if a personal museum exhibit, the room expresses the service member’s hobbies, religion, musical tastes, and all those habits that make up an individual’s personality. Gilbertson’s choice of black-and-white prints, over color, only further locks the room in time.

As much about grief as the ultimate sacrifice of war, Bedrooms of the Fallen reminds you of the importance of kindness. Crawling through traffic, waiting at the VA pharmacy, or listening to your Post member’s recitation of his day, all these moments are being lived by someone who might be grieving or trying to move forward.

Homage to 2nd Lt. John Holt Jr. by Vincent Valdez

The sole exhibit with a mixed media approach, Vincent Valdez’s work speaks through sight and sound. You are immediately drawn to a video projection of a flag draped-casket slowly floating across the screen with rotating images of an urban American neighborhood in the background. Speakers blast “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” an anti-war Irish punk song by The Pogues. It is jarring and upsetting, so you look away only to be transfixed by an oil painting that stretches across two-thirds of the wall. Appearing almost photo-like, the close-up of an army soldier’s battle-weary face conveys the trauma of war. When you see the display-case housing a tri-fold US flag devoid of color, you feel the exhibit’s message, not as a whisper, but as a blunt club to the face. War broke this soldier down and ultimately took his life.

Valdez explained that the featured soldier, John Holt Jr., was a good friend and dutiful citizen. After serving a tour in Iraq as a combat medic, 2nd Lt. Holt Jr. returned home suffering from PTSD. Before deploying for a second tour in 2009, he died by suicide. Duty and loss ring forth in this homage to John, friend of Vincent, attendant of the wounded, and one of our fallen heroes.

A Soldier’s Life by Stacey Pearsall

 Air Force photographer Stacey Pearsall noted, “I’ve often heard war described as perpetual boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. I’ve seen and documented both.” One of the few female combat photographers, she has worked in more than forty-two countries, including serving three tours in Iraq.

Pearsall’s lens captures the social moments and comradeship of life behind the front lines, as well as the pressure of soldiers as they wait for the inevitable patrol or mission. In “Apple Pie & Baseball,” a young soldier practices America’s national pastime. He swings a bat with a look of intense concentration, allowing you to momentarily forget that he is standing in front a tank and could be seconds from danger.

By living, eating, sleeping, and grieving with her subjects, Pearsall broke down the boundaries between soldier and photographer. What emerged were raw photos showing the humanity and emotions behind the helmet – reminding us that war is more than bullets. The gritty reality she reveals is one filled with emotional and physical tolls far removed from everyday US civilian life.

In 2014, Pearsall participated in JWV’s 119th Convention in Charleston, SC. JWV members posed for full portraits and headshots as part of her Veterans Portrait Project. Like her current exhibit, the compelling images project personality and drive you to ask, “what’s their story?” Visit her website to review her full collection.

Memorials in Pencil by Emily Prince

In the early years of the War on Terror, artist Emily Prince began reading obituaries of the deceased to put a name and a face on the losses that had become a montage on TV. She soon created pencil sketches of the fallen, on paper that corresponded to their skin tones. If she could find the information, she also included a few sentences about soldiers.

The archival project features chronological pieces from June 2009 to May 2012 displayed in a dizzying grid-like order; from a distance, the installation could be a scrabble board. The chaos of the layout is representative of the scale and depth of loss, grief, and memory.

It is eerie to see the painstaking detail Prince put into every portrait – over 2.500 hand-drawn sketches. Up close, you can see every line and read the words she has lovingly inscribed at the top. Each portrait lists the birth and death dates of the subject, a reminder that they are gone too young and too soon.

Volume 71. Number 2. Summer 2017

By Seth Meyerowitz with Peter F. Stevens

Book review by Sheldon A. Goldberg, Ph.D.
Docent/Historian, NMAJMH

One of the greatest fears of airmen during World War II – especially Jewish airmen – was to be shot down and captured by the Nazis.  Allied airmen, regardless of their religion, were labeled terrorflieger – terrorist airmen – by the Nazi hierarchy. Many of those downed over German territory were captured and sent to POW camps, the less fortunate were lynched by German civilians, shot on sight by German soldiers, or if captured by the Gestapo, tortured and then killed. Those shot down in France and not captured by the Nazis but rescued by French citizens and given over the Maquis – the French resistance fighters – were extremely lucky and smuggled out of France. Staff Sergeant Arthur Meyerowitz, a young Jewish B-24 flight engineer and top turret gunner who was shot down over France on his second mission on 31 December 1944 was one of the lucky ones. The Lost Airman is the amazing true story of his 6-month journey with the help of the French resistance to escape from Nazi-occupied France.

Injuring his back after cutting himself out of the tree in which he landed after bailing out of his burning B-24, Meyerowitz takes a chance and walks to a French farmhouse to seek help from its occupants. His luck holds out – the French family are in close contact with a French resistance group, the Morhange and its leader, Marcel Taillandier. Marcel takes Arthur and his journey through a number of safe houses begins. He is taught to be and act like a deaf mute to avoid possible capture by the Nazis, always on the lookout for downed airmen. The perilous journey takes him through France to Toulouse where he spent four months hiding in the open and finally over the Pyrenees into Spain and eventually to Gibraltar and Allied control.

Aside from the description of Arthur’s journey, there are a number of excellent reasons anyone interested in World War II history should read this well-written book. First, it tells the story of a young, Bronx-born Jew who, disqualified from the Aviation Cadet program due to an accident affecting his eyesight, opts to become a flight engineer rather than an administrative officer because he wanted to fight for his country. Second, it is the story of an individual with tremendous will power, fortitude and courage that enabled him to do what his French rescuers required of him in order to survive. Third, it provides an in-depth look at the French Maquis and how they operated, including infiltrating the German occupation authorities. Finally, it describes the heroism of those patriotic French men and women who faced torture and death rather than give up the names of their resistance colleagues.

The Lost Airman is based on Arthur Meyerowitz’s escape debrief, post-war letters from his French rescuers, and interviews with Arthur’s brother Seymour, and the narration reads easily like a novel. Whatever literary license that was taken, smoothly bridges gaps and is factually based and logical, portraying Arthur and the members of the Maquis as true heroes.

Volume 71. Number 1. Spring 2017