By Cara Rinkoff

At the time this edition of The Jewish Veteran went to press, more than 500,000 people had died from the coronavirus. So far, there are vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson approved to protect against COVID-19.

A poll taken in February by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that approximately one-third of Americans either definitely or probably will not get the COVID-19 vaccine. Those who did not want to receive the vaccine were concerned about side effects, the overall safety of the vaccine, and others simply don’t trust the government.

To stop the spread of coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, estimates that between 70% and 85% of the U.S. population will need the vaccine. So far, the numbers of those who would get the vaccine are not high enough.

Due to the hesitancy of some individuals to get the vaccine, JWV member and Director of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System Dr. Steven Braverman spoke to participants at our National Executive Committee meeting in February.

Braverman urged JWV members to get the vaccine as soon as possible. He also wanted to reassure members about some of the myths they might have heard about the vaccine.

The one Braverman hears most often is that the federal government approved the vaccine too quickly to ensure its safety. Braverman said this is untrue. “These are the most scrutinized vaccines of any vaccines in history,” Braverman said. “The reason it happened so quickly was because it was funded by the government and so folks didn’t have to pause in between all of the different phase(s).” Braverman noted that no shortcuts were taken when it came to scientific oversight of the vaccine production.

Some individuals have also expressed concerns about the long-term risk of the vaccine. Braverman said “anybody who tells you they know the long-term risk of these vaccines, they’re lying, because nobody’s had one for more than five months.” However, Braverman said it is extremely unusual for any vaccine to have long-term side effects. The greatest chance for side effects always comes from “the implementation of the vaccine on people’s autoimmune response which in some folks get turned on more than the body should have an autoimmune response turned on.” But Braverman said this is not something that doctors are seeing with this vaccine in a greater proportion than any other vaccine. He also noted that anyone worried about the long-term effects of the vaccine should be more concerned with the unknown long-term effects of the coronavirus itself.

Braverman also contradicted another theory he’s heard about the coronavirus vaccine, saying there are no small microchips or nanochips in them that can allow the government to track the movements of those who get the shot.
Braverman said he participated in the phase three trial for the Moderna vaccine. He said that
he did not experience any severe side effects from either shot, simply a sore arm and mild fever with the second injection.

When it comes to how the Department of Veterans Affairs is handling distribution of the vaccine, Braverman said it depends on where you live. He said most VA facilities are reserving second doses so people can get it in a timely manner. The policies about who can receive a shot at a VA medical center also varies depending on the state. In most cases, you can only get a shot if you are already receiving care from the VA.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Larry Jasper

During the opening days of World War II in the Pacific Theater, on December 29, 1941, the Japanese lay siege to Corregidor Island in the Philippines. The Japanese bombed the island and destroyed everything they could, including the hospital, barracks, and fuel depot. On that day Corporal Sam Cordova was killed in action.

Cordova enlisted on September 21, 1940, and served with the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment at Fort Mills on Corregidor. Cordova is now buried in Plot D, Row 2, Grave 69, at the Manila American Cemetery, located in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Metro Manila, within the boundaries of the former Fort William McKinley, along with 17,058 fellow service members.

Cordova received the World War II Victory Medal, Purple Heart, American Campaign Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation, Army Good Conduct Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

For 79 years Corporal Cordova had a Latin Cross as his marker. He was Jewish.
Finally, Corporal Cordova has a Star of David as his marker.

This was accomplished thanks to an organization known as Operation Benjamin.

Operation Benjamin began in 2016 as the Normandy Heritage Project and changed its name as the project expanded to other cemeteries managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).

ABMC regulations require any request for changes to headstones come from a relative of the deceased.

Cordova’s brother Harry, now 99, made a request through Operation Benjamin and finally succeeded in getting his brother a Star of David.

The ceremony to change the headstone took place on December 29, 2020, the 79th anniversary of Cordova’s death. In attendance were representatives of the Embassy of Israel, ABMC, the U.S. Embassy, Operation Benjamin, and members of Manila’s Jewish community.

While he could not make it to the ceremony, Cordova’s brother recorded a video message played during the ceremony. In it he said, “I never imagined in my 100th year that I would be able to honor my brother by ensuring that the proper headstone graced his grave. I didn’t know why he was buried under the Latin Cross, but I do know that he belongs for all eternity under the symbol and heritage of his birth, the Star of David.”

“That I could do this for him 79 years after his death, is a wonderful gift,” Harry Cordova added.

Corporal Cordova is the ninth U.S. Jewish Servicemember whose headstone has been changed to a Star of David due to Operation Benjamin’s research and advocacy. There are five more scheduled for change in 2021, and another 25 in advanced stages of research. Hundreds more cases are still waiting to be examined.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By COL Herb Rosenbleeth, USA (Ret)
National Executive Director

Past National Commander David Hymes was one of my heroes. As a combat veteran in World War II, he received a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in France. Hymes was a member of the Greatest Generation.

According to the U.S. Army Registry, in September of 1941, about three months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hymes entered the U.S. Army as a private at Ft. Warren, Wyoming. In January of 1942 he was assigned to Panama, serving there for ten months, and receiving promotions to both Corporal and then Sergeant. After going through a 90-day intensive Officer Candidate School, he received a commission as Second Lieutenant.

He was first assigned to an all-black transportation company in Shelbyville, Illinois, until black officers replaced the white ones. Then Hymes transferred to the Adjutant’s General Corps and traveled to England. Due to his prior civilian experiences, Hymes was assigned as the Postal Finance Officer for Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Bonded for $500,000 and with nine men assigned to him, he landed at Omaha Beach in neck deep water, where he was strafed by German aircraft waiting to clear the beachhead. He set up operations in a 20-foot by 20-foot steel bar cage with the base post office in Cherbourg, France. While in France, Hymes was promoted to First Lieutenant.

Near the end of February 1945, Hymes was wounded. He was airlifted to England and placed in traction for 30 days. In England he was fitted with a special cast and transported back to the United States where he recuperated at Hines Hospital near Chicago. He was honorably discharged in February 1946.

Hymes was an enthusiastic supporter of JWV. Over the decades, he served in many positions on the local, state, and national levels. He always came to convention and to National Executive Committee meetings. He was always proud of the Department of Illinois and of Post 800 in Chicago. He was very, very proud of our current National Commander Jeff Sacks, who is from Chicago.

Hymes was a devoted, dedicated member of the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. He served on the Board of Directors and continually donated to the museum. He also would offer to match the donations of others, often significant amounts.

I remember going to Chicago some years ago for a meeting with Jewish organizations. Hymes was a wonderful host. He took me around to historical sites to meet with the Department Commander and with members of his post. Once we sat together on a bench in the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. We talked and laughed with each other for a long time while he told me a lot about his family and his life.

Hymes was 103 and it is my understanding that he was in good health. But COVID-19 got him. That awful virus is too much, especially for someone over 100.

Hymes was always a happy person. A generous, kind, wonderful person. As sad as we are that he passed away, we must all remember that he would have wanted us to enjoy this day, to socialize with each other, and to think good thoughts. That is how I most remember David Hymes.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By PNC Harvey Weiner

JWV and other veterans’ organizations were invited to a virtual meeting with the Biden-Harris Defense Transition Agency Review Team on January 11, 2021. The purpose was to share JWV’s top priorities, issues, concerns, and recommendations with the transition team. This is the first time that anyone at JWV National recalled such a request coming from a presidential transition team. Since there would presumably be no equivalent meeting with a veterans transition team, if one existed at all, National decided to focus on veterans’ issues, rather than defense issues. This would be our only chance to have input.

I requested input from various JWV individuals, and ultimately, we decided on two issues. As JWV’s National Liaison Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, here is what I presented:

“Good afternoon, everyone, I am Harvey Weiner, a Vietnam War combat veteran, and immediate Past National Commander and National Liaison Officer of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, America’s oldest active veterans’ organization. We, the JWV, will celebrate our 125th anniversary in just over two months – March 15th.

I am going to focus on veterans’, rather than on defense issues, because this seems to be our one chance to say something.

Our first concern is the conduct of the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He must make a public pledge that his primary loyalty will be to veterans and not to the Administration. As you may know, this may not have been true for the present Secretary, because when a female veteran [who was Jewish and a JWV member] was recently sexually harassed at a VA facility, she, and not the sexual harasser, was initially investigated by the Secretary because this female veteran worked for a Democrat. Many of the veterans’ groups you are hearing from today, including some who rarely, if ever, take public positions, called for President Trump to fire the Secretary or for the Secretary to resign.

The proposed new Secretary is neither a veteran nor a healthcare expert, even though he will oversee the largest healthcare network in the United States. He is a lifelong political operative and a bureaucrat. He must make a public pledge that his primary loyalties are with veterans and that he will act accordingly during his stewardship.

A second concern is for this new Administration to do nothing, directly or indirectly, to privatize and emasculate VA healthcare, but rather to act to reinvigorate it. The VA healthcare system has the expertise and experience to treat veterans, a unique group of patients, whereas private healthcare does not. If you read Dr. David Shulkin’s book, “It Shouldn’t be this Hard to Serve Your Country,” you will learn from a former Secretary of Veterans Affairs that the prior Administration had a not-so-secret plan to privatize VA healthcare and to weaken it. It did so solely for ideological reasons and not to help veterans. We insist that the present trend towards privatization, some of which is under the guise of so-called consolidation be reversed and that the present public VA healthcare system be strengthened [veterans are not the waste of war to be sacrificed on the alter of politics and ideology.]

Thank you very much for this opportunity and stay safe. I would be glad to answer any questions.”

There were no questions from the transition team, but I did receive a call to ask if JWV had any other issues it wanted to raise. I mentioned the removal of the remaining Nazi gravestone in Utah and the hope that the new President would reinstitute the prior practice of hosting a breakfast on Veterans Day in the White House with the National Commanders of the various veterans’ organizations.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

 

By Nona Safra

As a child of Philadelphia’s Jewish community in the 1950s, I was surrounded by Jewish World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors, and immigrants from all over Europe. These people were survivors, had ‘shell shock,’ and needed jobs and opportunities.

My Dad, Meyer Safra, served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a member of JWV’s Milton Kelkey Post #575. As treasurer of the local credit union, evenings in our home were filled with post members coming over for loans, payments, etc. I listened intently to their stories about the war, their lives, and sometimes their struggles following WWII and Korea. What I didn’t realize was the impact those heroes would have on my life some six decades later when I retired to Alaska and found myself as the Jewish godmother to a group of amazing veterans living in the Last Frontier.

My love for Alaska began when I was eight. I was always excited to get the third grade’s “My Weekly Reader” in school and the January 1959 issue had a story about the 49th state, Alaska. I came home and suggested that we move to Alaska. My father was appalled and cried out, “what would we do there? There are not Jews there! Are you crazy!” That was that – or was it?

Jews had lived in Alaska for 200 years and the largest groups were merchants and men who arrived due to military service. On October 1, 1867, the day of the formal transfer of Alaska to the United States, the American soldier who is credited with lowering the Russian flag and raising the first American flag in Sitka was a Jew named Benjamin Levy.
Among the many furriers who moved to Alaska was David Green, a man who helped Anchorage survive the Great Depression and WWII by making muskrat liners and parkas for U.S. service members who were monitoring the Aleutian Islands for Japanese activity. The hundreds of Jews who came to Anchorage during the war were welcomed by both the Green family and the rest of the Jewish community.

Green’s son, Perry, came of age during World War II. His father’s work making military parkas helped Perry understand support for our troops and he served in the U.S. Army for three years. Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan honored Perry Green’s enduring patriotism in 2020 saying, “I would say that Perry Green is the most patriotic American I know, and we have a lot of patriots in Alaska!”

The military bases in Alaska saw the arrival of hundreds of Jewish GI’s. Families, like the Greens in Anchorage and the Bloom family in Fairbanks, joined others in the Jewish community to host activities and organize Jewish holiday celebrations.

Among those Jewish GI’s was Private Joseph Sharp of Philadelphia. He was the first American killed in action on the North American continent in World War II. He died manning an anti-aircraft gun during an attack at Dutch Harbor in 1942 and posthumously received the Purple Heart for “meritorious acts.”

Another Jewish veteran who served in Alaska during WWII was Monroe B. Goldberg who was stationed in Alaska at Fort Richardson and Adak from 1943 to 1945. His archives comprise the Monroe B. Goldberg Collection at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage.

It is reported that from the 1940s through the 1970s, Jewish military personnel outnumbered Jewish civilians in Alaska.

Jewish Chaplains at Elmendorf Air Base near Anchorage rotated every two years between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox leaders, and often ended up serving the entire Jewish community throughout Alaska. They would travel for bar mitzvahs and offered other learning opportunities. The Fairbanks Chaplain, Seymour Gitin, inspired the community to organize a Jewish Sunday school. In 2016, Captain Michael Bram became the first Jewish chaplain at Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in 25 years.

This was the Alaska that called out to me. I am the daughter of a veteran, married two men who served our country, and had a daughter who graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. My parents even named me after my father’s best friend who died during the Battle of the Bulge. So, in 2011, I retired to Alaska and a new chapter of my life began. I became honorary Godmother to the greatest group of veterans – the ones who are part of a transition program called VIPER.

VIPER provides a seamless transition into the civilian workforce and meaningful long-term employment opportunities for exiting active-duty service members and their spouses. VIPER approaches an end to veteran suicide by tackling its primary causes of veteran underemployment, unemployment, and homelessness.

I must confess I have a favorite Godson among my VIPER veterans, Kyle Kaiser. While listening to him one morning, I thought about how I could help and what I could do. I remembered Rabbi Hillel’s saying that “he who saves one life saves the world.” And, the teaching of my great-grandfather, a Rebbe, that the only mitzvah greater than celebrating Shabbat is to save a life. I thought of my Dad and his cousins who had served in WWII and all of those men of the Milton Kelkey Post who I heard tell their stories. It all came together. VIPER was a fit!

As Alaskans, we know all good plans involve the outdoors. VIPER has outreach programs that create quality connections between participants and mentors in their Operation Combat Pike program. These mentors assess and clearly understand participants’ career goals while providing an opportunity to answer questions and concerns they may have about the transition from the military.

Alaska has more veterans per capita than any other state, a connection with a long-standing military history, and an understanding that Alaska stands ready around the clock as the United States’ arctic defense. With a focus on Alaska’s unique military history, VIPER has a division aptly named the Alaska Military Heritage Museum. This division’s objective is to identify, collect, preserve, and interpret Alaska’s rich military history from the remote Aleutians to interior locations in Alaska.

I am also involved with the Alaska Jewish Museum. It is an amazing place to learn about the role of Alaska during WWII, the Jews who wanted to leave Europe, and former Army Air Corps members who were part of Operation Magic Carpet which brought Yemini Jews to Israel. The Museum is collecting stories of veterans and their families who were stationed in Alaska. If you, your relatives, or friends have lived in Alaska, were stationed in Alaska, or were involved with military projects that affected the state, we invite you to submit your written stories directly by email or contact us to record your oral histories.

You can contact the Alaska Jewish Museum at www.alaskajewishmuseum.com.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Colonel Nelson L Mellitz, USAF, Ret.

This is the second in a continuing series of articles in “The Jewish Veteran” on the ever-increasing anti-Semitism in the United States and overseas.

The U.S. State Department has joined with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a 31-member nation-state organization which met in Bucharest during 2016, and adopted a non-legally binding “working definition” of anti-Semitism:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individual(s) and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Examples of anti-Semitism given in the 2016 IHRA Plenary meeting notes include:

  • The targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.
  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective….
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters….
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

Will having a definition for anti-Semitism stop anti-Semitism?

Anti-Semitism is an ancient hatred of our people. In the 21st century, the internet is used to communicate lies and falsehoods about Jewish people at the speed of light. In the past, that would have taken weeks or even months. We already know the possible consequences of allowing anti-Semitism to spread unimpeded.

There are two major battlegrounds in the fight against anti-Semitism: social media and college campuses.
The far left, far right, and Muslim extremist groups have formed an alliance to spread their anti-Semitic lies and falsehoods. These groups use social media and the internet to delegitimize the State of Israel and its right to exist. An example of this approach is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with the help of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). SJP uses the internet to push lies and falsehoods against not only Israel but the Jewish people. SJP states that anyone who supports Israel is against justice for all minorities. A study published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets from three million unique handles in 2017, and the number is increasing. That means on average there were 81,400 anti-Semitic tweets per week in 2017.

College campuses have become a major communications hub for hate groups. These hate groups use the campus internet and in-person platforms to promote anti-Semitism to impressionable young people – both Jewish and non-Jewish. The organization StandWithUs is a leading pro-Israel organization that investigates anti-Semitism and other types of discrimination on college campuses. StandWithUs says freedom of speech for Jewish students who support Israel is often violated on campuses. The group claims that at major U.S. colleges, Jewish students are branded as either supporting or not supporting Israel. If the student is a supporter of Israel, they have been physically and verbally attacked as a person that opposes social justice. Jewish and non-Jewish students that support Israel are continuously excluded from campus councils and social organizations.

Anti-Semitism is growing in the United States and throughout the world. The Jewish War Veterans has joined a coalition of over 145 major Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, and we have jointly endorsed a recent publication “The New Antisemites: How the Delegitimization Campaign Against Israel Drives Hatred and Violence in America.” JWV has responded to anti-Semitism with a renewed commitment to battle and counter anti-Semitism wherever it shows its ugly head. In the 1930s, Jewish War Veterans who served in World War I marched in the streets of New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere with our partner Veterans Service Organizations against Hitler’s fascism and hatred of Jews. The Jewish War Veterans still has that commitment against anti-Semitism. Perhaps we need marches in 2021 to prove to the world we are still actively fighting anti-Semitism.

JWV was formed in 1896 to counter anti-Semitism statements that we did not fight for the United States during the Civil War. Now in our 125th year, we are still fighting against anti-Semitism, perhaps a different form, but still anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism is increasing throughout the United States with hate speech and actions on college campuses, in government, and in social organizations. Join with your fellow JWV’ers to increase our efforts to fight this hatred and secure the future of the Jewish people in the United States, in Israel, and around the world.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Larry Jasper

On February 6, Murray Zolkower turned 100-years-old. Two months ahead of the celebration, his daughter Francine decided to see if she could get people to send 100 birthday cards to him as a surprise. Between the efforts of National and the Department of Florida, as well as many Department and Post members, Zolkower received more than 500 cards. He also got letters from former President George W. Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, and two former U.S. Surgeons General.

At Mission BBQ in Tampa, Murray Zolkower shows off the Centenarian Certificate from the JWV presented by the Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper along with Jim Marenus and Jack Rudowsky of Post 373 in Tampa, FL

Mission BBQ, Zolkower’s favorite restaurant, hosted a surprise lunch for their special customer, as well as his children, friends, and three members of JWV. Two active-duty Army recruiters also made a surprise appearance along with a bag of goodies. During lunch, Department of Florida Commander Larry Jasper, assisted by Post 373 members Jack Rudowsky and Jim Marenus presented him with a JWV Centenarian Certificate.

On his actual birthday, February 6, Suncoast Region Veterans Village USA organized a parade in front of his home in Dunedin, Florida. The parade included restored military vehicles, a vehicle from Mission Barbecue, and other cars and trucks displaying congratulatory signs and American flags. The Dunedin Fire Department, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Honor Flight of West Central Florida, and a retired Air Force Colonel who serves as an aide to Congressman Bilirakis also participated in the parade.

Zolkower joined JWV in 1946 when he returned home from World War II and is still co-commander of Post 409. He is one of the longest serving volunteers at Bay Pines VA Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Zolkower was surprised so many people came out and sent things to him for his birthday. He said it was the “greatest moment of my life.”

While attending Columbia College of Pharmacy in New York in 1938, a recruiter for the New York National Guard came on campus. He promised $15 a month for anyone who signed up and attended twice a month. That was a lot of money at the time, so Zolkower signed up. One year later, he was surprised when he had to report for active duty and disrupt his studies for one year. He spent that year at Camp Dix (now Fort Dix) in New Jersey. After being released he returned to Columbia only to have his studies again disrupted in 1943 when the Army called him back to active duty.

The Army had no need for a pharmacist, so they sent him to Colorado to train as a dental tech. Later the military sent him to Texas to train as a medic.

Zolkower found himself on Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day. He said the beach was all cleaned up and very busy with supplies and personnel coming in. He was sent to an area near St. Lo, France, assigned to the 7th Convalescent Hospital, where they used large tents to treat troops who could return to duty.

In August 1944 he was in Paris assigned to a clearing company of the 45th Division as a Dental Tech, where he was evaluating soldiers with facial injuries.

Zolkower then moved to Etampes, France, where the Division set up in a captured German Hospital. The Army decided they did not need a Dental Tech there, so he became a medic assigned to the 92nd Mechanized Cavalry, 14th Division, sent to look for trouble close to the front.

Zolkower then got assigned to the 120th Medical Battalion in the 45th Infantry Division.

His unit fought their way through Nuremburg and Munich where they were billeted in a former SS barrack.

Col. Gerry Custin, aide to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Murray Zolkower, Francine Wolf, and two friends.

On April 29, 1945, his unit was ordered to liberate Dachau. Zolkower said he didn’t want to go with the unit and see his fellow Jews dead or dying but was not given a choice. Zolkower said, “it was the worst thing I ever saw in my life.” He added that nice homes, like those in suburban Long Island, were lining the street leading to the front gate of the camp. He felt there was no way those living in those homes did not know the horrors taking place in the camp.

The war ended nine days later, but Zolkower could not return home right away. He remained with the military in Gars, Germany, where he helped set up a clinic to treat farmers who had sustained injuries. After two months, he returned to the United States.

Zolkower’s girlfriend, Lillian, wrote him every other day during his deployment. They were married in 1946 until her death in 2014. Zolkower returned to school and became a pharmacist in 1948. He still works as a pharmacist part-time.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Chris Skidmore, PhD
Associate Director, Veterans Health Administration Military Sexual Trauma Support

Every April, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amplifies its year-round outreach during Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a special campaign to show its support for a particular population of veterans: survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).

The VA uses the term MST to refer to sexual assault or sexual harassment that occurred during military service. MST can occur at any time or place, whether on or off duty or on or off base. The perpetrator(s) may or may not be someone known to the survivor and may be a fellow service member or a civilian. Veterans of all service eras, branches, backgrounds, genders, sexual orientations, and physical sizes have experienced MST.

For MST survivors, just learning that someone believes they were traumatized and understands the many different ways MST can affect survivors can be tremendously healing. That’s why this year, VA’s message for Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on supporting MST survivors and demonstrates VA’s confidence in their strength and resilience: “We believe you — and we believe in you.”

The VA also wants to make sure that all veterans who experienced MST understand that healing is possible., MST is never their fault, they are not alone, and VA is ready to help. The VA is reaching out to survivors and their families, friends, and supporters for help in spreading the word. Everyone has a role in letting veterans know that VA offers free services for mental and physical health difficulties related to MST. You can help by sharing information about MST with veterans and veteran supporters.

Show your support by telling MST survivors about what’s available at VA.

Some veterans recover from MST without significant long-term difficulties, but many others are fighting quiet battles all around us as they cope with MST’s lingering effects on their mental and physical health, work, relationships, or everyday life — even many years after the experience.

Veterans’ reactions vary based on age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, life experiences, and other background factors. Symptoms also vary, and they may include experiencing strong emotions, sleep disturbances, relationship and trust issues, unsafe coping behaviors, and physical health effects.

Many MST survivors do not want to tell others about their experiences. Some stay silent because they worry about being judged or not being believed, while others can’t imagine how treatment could truly help them heal. As a result, many survivors can find it hard to access care even when they need it.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, VA redoubles its efforts to raise awareness about VA’s free services to support survivors’ healing and recovery. Eligibility for VA’s MST-related care is expansive. No documentation of the MST experience is required. Veterans do not need to have reported the MST experience at the time, to have sought care within a certain time frame, or to have applied for service connection for an MST-related condition to get care.
To learn more, veterans may contact a local VA medical center and ask to speak with the MST Coordinator, a professional at every VA health care facility who specializes in connecting survivors with the MST-related care and services that are right for them. Veterans can also speak with a VA health care provider.

Find more resources and materials about Sexual Assault Awareness Month at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/mst.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021

By Greg Lee

The evening of September 8, 2020 started out fairly routine here in the mountains of Northern California. We even checked the status of the wildfires in our area by visiting the local Fire Chief at the Station.

The fire was miles away and three crews were on it, so we figured there wasn’t much chance of it reaching my location anytime soon. So, we went home, made dinner, and turned in early when the sun set at 8:30 p.m.

At 10:30 p.m. what sounded like a jet aircraft making low flybys disrupted my light sleep. I went outside to check things out. There were no aircraft, but the winds were whipping up. Soon I heard the sound of loud explosions.

I’m not a stranger to the sounds of exploding propane tanks, vehicle gas tanks, and power transformers. I quickly jumped on my motorcycle and did a local recon. Everything seemed fine.

The only fire I could see was miles away and not an immediate threat.

But I didn’t know that officials were igniting back fires in our community. I’m not sure why they would light fires in high winds, and naturally, they soon got out of control. And then a soldier’s nightmare became reality. We were flanked by a wall of flames which was in effect, friendly fire, and the fire was racing through the crowns of the trees moving very fast.

I quickly gathered my dogs, computer, and firearms. I loaded my truck and practically drove through flames to a neighbor’s place to offer some assistance. I spent a few minutes there helping load up. As we drove down the mountain with the flames in hot pursuit, we were lucky not to have the road blocked by falling trees or power lines.

When disaster hits quickly, government agencies are ill equipped or prepared for an immediate response. In the first few hours neighbors were helping neighbors in our makeshift encampment in a large parking lot in town.

Churches, rescue missions, and the Salvation Army were the first to respond with water, food, gasoline cards, and clothing.

Eventually, government agencies set up a resource center for the victims to use. Most of the agencies were there, but getting that assistance can be a long and time consuming process.

In many cases it can take weeks because housing and hotel rooms are hard to find. The current coronavirus pandemic also made for an extra challenge in this situation.

There exists a huge void in the assistance process. How does a victim get needed help in the space between the major aid providers and the immediate need?

I learned that one of the greatest resources available is from Veteran Service Organizations. When the Jewish War Veterans became aware of my dilemma, they were the first to respond and provide aid.

JWV has a dedicated Disaster Relief Program. They immediately approved my request for assistance and provided me with much needed funding for immediate needs. I am so grateful for the generosity and commitment my VSO has demonstrated.

My local Post 603 was also instrumental in providing aid. The members of the Post created a special fund, and I cannot begin to express how much it helped.

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Jewish War Veterans at all levels, my tragedy has been significantly mitigated. I am forever appreciative to my comrades in arms for their unwavering support and actions to facilitate my challenges during these trying conditions.

When spring comes in a few months, thanks to JWV, I am prepared to go back to the mountain and rebuild.

It is truly an honor and a privilege to be associated with the greatest Veterans Service Organization in the nation, the Jewish War Veterans.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020

Captain Aaron Brumbaugh is a member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan and of Charles Shapiro-MG Maurice Rose Post 510. He is a decorated U.S. Army Infantry Officer with two combat tours in Afghanistan. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and recipient of the George C. Marshall Leadership Award. He expects to complete his professional degree work at Wayne State University in December. He presented the following remarks at Congregation Shaarey Zedek’s annual Veterans Shabbat on November 7, which this year commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II.

I am a former Captain in the United States Army. I deployed as an Infantry Platoon Leader on two deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan with the “Blue Spaders,” the 1st Battalion of the 26th Infantry Regiment.

So, what is the significance of that affiliation?
In World War I, the “Blue Spaders” fought across France, winning more campaign streamers than any other unit in that war.
In World War II we were part of Operation Torch, assaulting and ultimately taking North Africa before crossing the Mediterranean and participating in the taking of Sicily during Operation Husky.

When it was time for the Allies to storm the Beaches of Normandy, the “Blue Spaders” were there as well, in the very first wave of the assault. They fought on from there, laying siege to the German city of Aachen, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, and fighting into Czechoslovakia before the end of the war, earning the unit motto “Relentless Pursuit.”

We were there in Vietnam, and in the Balkan Wars deploying to Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. We were in Iraq in Samarra in the Sunni Triangle, and then in Baghdad, and then deployed multiple times to Afghanistan including the now infamous Korengal Valley, some of the hottest fighting of the Afghan war.

And on another note, according to Marvel Comics, Captain America himself was originally a “Blue Spader.” If you don’t believe me, feel free to Google it.

So why am I telling you all this? And why use the term “we” when, as some of you may already suspect, I was not personally at any of these battles of World War II?

Well, in the U.S. military and particularly in the U.S. Army, we understand the importance of our history. The institutions of today’s military were created and shaped by the heroes of the World Wars and the conflicts since then. We feel the echoes of their contribution through everything we do, every tradition, and every lesson learned through hard warfare. We train in tactics and procedures that were formed in the time of the World War. At times, we are even quartered for training in facilities that don’t appear to have been updated since World War II. But all this connects us to our units’ lineages and lets us feel the weight of trying to fill the footsteps of giants who came before us. All Jews are commanded to regard themselves as if they were personally brought forth out of the land of Egypt. Similarly, Soldiers feel a direct connection to their individual unit history. I am privileged to be part of the continuing story of the “Blue Spaders,” and all of today’s veterans in numerous battalions throughout the U.S. Army get to be part of similar stories. In all of these stories, the Second World War holds a place of special distinction. It forms the cornerstone of military education and training to this day. As young soldiers, when we learn about our unit histories, there is a very real sense of what incredibly big shoes we have to fill. So, I am here to express my gratitude as a soldier, for fighting a campaign the magnitude of which is almost unimaginable to me, even as it paved the way for the modern institution of the military which made me what I am today.

But as Jews, the significance of this war is even greater. The heroes of World War II are responsible for overturning a true existential threat to the Jewish people and stopping the greatest act of mass murder in modern history. American soldiers liberated five of the concentration camps and the American war effort was necessary for the liberation of the rest. The debt of gratitude of the Jewish people cannot ever be fully expressed or repaid. So again, I am here to try to convey my gratitude, this time as a Jew, for the gift of life given back to so many of our people.

And in addition to all this, there is another special significance of the Greatest Generation that I feel as an American. In the times we live in, it is almost unimaginable to think of society coming together and taking on such a herculean task as they took on. This generation emerged directly from the Great Depression and marched into one of the greatest wars ever fought. There was no excuse of hard times, just the country coming together and doing what needed to be done. Some of that sense of unity can be seen in the humble title “GI,” shorthand for “General Issue” or “Government Issue.” The Soldiers of World War II embraced the term GI, carrying connotations of being a small part of something much bigger. So again, I am here to express my gratitude, now as an everyday American, for showing us the way to put aside individual egos and do what you were called to do as part of something much greater, and for laying the template for the ideal of what it means to be an American.

Volume 74. Number 4. 2020