On this day of my birthday, I think back to my many conversations with one of my oldest and brightest friends, Professor Warren Adis, who just retired from decades of teaching at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. Since we were both born in May of 1945, we often discussed how lucky we were, as Jews, to be born in America. We were both raised in Mount Vernon, NY, which in 1945, was a mid-sized city of about 65,000 souls. Mount Vernon was about eight years from celebrating its 100th year of incorporation, and had been a settlement that went back to the days of Anne Hutchison. Here we were, teenagers in Mount Vernon, discussing that when we were born, Jews were being killed all over the world, anti-Semitism was rife everywhere, including the United States, concentration camps were being liberated, the awful truth was finally being revealed. Here, in 1963, we were enjoying a great life in a wonderful, pluralistic city that offered us a great education at the well-respected AB Davis HS. My greatest lesson I learned from growing up in Mount Vernon was tolerance and respect for others. I had been raised in a well-off, upper middle class family, sheltered from just about everything. My great awakening were my years at AB Davis HS, my association with people of other races and religions, and my great friendship with my coach, the late, great Henry Littlefield, a giant of a man in every imaginable way. He taught me lessons that I cherish today
I always believed, that in 1963, on my 18th birthday, I was living in the greatest year. We loved and admired John F. Kennedy, we were at peace in the world, the country was prosperous, the struggles for Civil Rights seemed to be moving along and that summer Nat King Cole, released his song, “Those Lazy, Hazy, Days of Summer.” It was idyllic time that would end forever on November 22, 1963, our last real day of peace.
On my birthday, May 2, 1945, as my mother was recovering, she was worried about her brother, Captain Aaron Kivo, who was in midst of the European combat as Nazi Germany was collapsing. In that remarkable week, on May 8th, the surrender of Germany happened at a school house in Reims, France where 33 French kings’ coronation was consecrated. VE Day officially ended the 2nd World War in Europe. Over these decades, my only regret, was that the great architect of victory, and my most cherished hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was unable to be there for the final victory and drink from the cup of triumph.
On May 2nd, as Berlin fell to the Soviets, and Italy surrendered, the battle against Japan continued. Many years later, I became aware of a great book, Brave Men, Brave Ship. On my birthday, six kamikaze planes hit the destroyer minelayer USS Aaron Ward (DM-34) in the early evening of May 2, 1945. Although the attacks killed 42 men, the ship managed to stay afloat but never returned to action. The author, Arnold Lott, a former Navy Lieutenant Commander who sailed in the 1920s on the first destroyer named Aaron Ward, performed extensive research for this history. This included numerous interviews with surviving crewmembers and bereaved family members, examining official Navy logs and action reports, and reading hundreds of letters from the crew. Brave Ship Brave Men, a tribute to the courageous men who served on Aaron Ward, depicts regular life aboard the ship before the kamikaze attacks and provides personal glimpses into the crew’s emotions as they faced incoming planes and recovered after the strikes.
The first five of eight chapters cover the ship’s first five watches on May 2, 1945, from midnight up to 6 p.m., as the crew waits in anticipation of Japanese plane attacks. The author introduces the ship’s history through a series of flashbacks. Aaron Ward, which had been originally built as a destroyer (DD-773), was converted to a destroyer minelayer before her commissioning in October 1944. These first few chapters also describe the many different jobs of the some 350 men aboard this ship. The crew passes the first 18 hours of May 2nd with little excitement but much tension about enemy planes that could appear over the horizon at any moment.
On one hand, in Europe, Axis belligerency had virtually collapsed and were surrendering to the Allies, but in the Pacific, ordinary men were doing extraordinary feats to survive. That was what was happening on that momentous day in May 2, 1945.
Thank you, to all who have sent me best wishes. I appreciate and cherish your friendship. Aside from one’s family; my great and brilliant wife Linda of 47+ years, my daughter Dana, my son Jon, their spouses; Craig and Jocelyn and three beautiful grandchildren; Sophie, Josh and Emma, what else can one really need?