As a Jewish boy from New York, my parents were a bit surprised when I went into the Army in the late 1960s. There was a war going on. I never let my faith affect my work. I did well, retiring for the second time in 2009.
I had several occurrences which I would like to share with you. None spectacular, but interesting.
I served in Vietnam in several capacities. At one point I was an advisor in a remote village. One day a month I could go to the province capital for supplies. Yom Kippur was coming up soon and I was very worried. Even before I turned 13, I fasted for the entire holiday. My grandfather was Orthodox and we would sit and talk during the breaks of the day-long prayers. I never considered the idea of not fasting. However, in Vietnam, I had already lost over 30 pounds and almost exclusively had to eat Vietnamese food. I was not sure what to do. Fortunately, I found the II Corps Rabbi. He explained to me that I did not have to fast as the lack of food and water would endanger my safety and the safety of others. G-d did not want this. I still felt a bit guilty drinking the local water.
I have been awarded two German decorations, the paratrooper badge and a shooting award, as well as Egyptian paratrooper’s badge. While the Germans treated me very professionally, my arrival in Egypt was different. When I arrived, my ID card and dog tags were inspected. My religion is marked on my dog tags. While I had the option of obtaining dogs tags with another faith marked on them, I thought of how many Jewish people were killed for not renouncing their faith. There was no way I would. It was tense for a few days, but the Egyptians wanted my unit in their country to help train them. By the end of the assignment, I had made friends with several members of their army. I think they saw me as a solider and not an enemy.
In the mid-1990s, I received orders for Korea. My father had just passed away and I arrived a little depressed that I could not stay in the States and help my mother.
Everything that had to be done, had been done, but I knew she could have used some support. While walking around the headquarters, I saw a senior officer wearing the insignia of a rabbi. I introduced myself and asked about local services. The rabbi asked if I needed anything and I explained my father had just passed and I needed to pray daily. The next day he came by my office and presented me with a small but complete prayerbook. That small book means a lot to me. I still have it as my personal prayer book.
When I was new in the Army, I met a senior officer who was Jewish. He was very impressive, not only because of his contributions to the Army, but staying true to his faith. Decades later I was invited to his funeral at Arlington. I was honored to receive that invitation. Upon arrival, I noticed that the non-denominational chapel had been adorned with Jewish insignia. This made it a shul, and I felt it required me to wear a head covering. All I had was my beret, so I left it on. Other members of the military in the room removed their head gear as required by military rules. I did receive many strange looks from those in attendance for not removing my headgear. I paid honors to the three-star general in the best way I knew how.
You can have a successful career without problems. Just stay true to yourself and your faith.
Neerman is a Life Member of Martin Hochster Memorial Post 755 in Fort Worth, TX
Volume 76. Number 2. 2022