D-Day, Horses, and a Reunion
June 7, 2009
Richard J. Garfunkel
Yesterday, June 6th was the anniversary of D-Day as we all know. Coincidently it was the 90th birthday of my great friend John Weiner, who during World War II also landed on Omaha Beach six weeks after the initial landings and served heroically as a Captain in the Signal Corp.
We met John and Lynne Weiner almost 40 years ago when we first moved to White Plains and got active in the local Democratic Party. Over the years we spent a great deal of time together and their daughter Sara, who is pictured above, was Dana’s first baby sitter. John became locally famous for establishing a book exchange program at Edgemont High School in Greenburgh, where he taught for many years. His first career was in the hotel business where his had a wonderful Catskill Mountain resort named White Roe Lake. Regarding our political connections, Lynne and I were the successful co-coordinators for the ill-fated McGovern campaign, where our work helped carry a Republican city for Democratic nominee. I later managed her successful reform campaign with Herb Brandon for the State Committee of the Democratic Party.
John, after he retired from teaching, continued the book exchange program out of a White Plains’ storefront and a local church. Over the course of the years he collected many, many books from all sorts of sources and re-cycled them back into most grateful community. In fact they were so grateful that they offered donations, and they started to add up significantly. John contributed those monies to help the homeless, and he eventually raised over $150,000. For this selfless act of kindness and public service, he was eventually honored by the State of New York and the City of White Plains.
The Weiners love to hold parties, and this was their third in the course of a year. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, and Lynne had a book-signing party for the English language version of her book, Freud Through Lehrman’s Lens. Philip Lehrman was a famous American psychiatrist who had the honor of studying with Dr. Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the 1920’s. The whole Lehrman family went to live in Vienna during that period of time and not only did Dr. Lehrman take home movies of Freud, but of almost all of the leading European psychiatrists of that era. Lynne also had the distinct pleasure of probably being one of the last living persons to sit on the famous doctor’s lap. Finally after almost 50 years after her father’s death, Lynne was able to edit his films, identify the personages capture by her father, and put into book form.
On a personal note, one of the highlights of the party was the appearance of my old classmate Susan Pressman from Mount Vernon. Sue and I attended the public schools of Mount Vernon, and we graduated from the old AB Davis High School. Even though we breezed by each other in a couple of class reunions decades ago, we had not really talked in 46 years. Sue was the daughter of the famous New Dealer Lee Pressman, who eventually became the lawyer of labor’s Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).
The Weiners met the Pressmans on the SS Washington as it steamed to Israel from the United States in 1949. They became fast friends. Lynn and John, who both had press credentials, eventually met up with Captain Robert McGuire, the Irish Moses, who made 380 flights back and forth from Yemen and shuttled 46,000 Jewish Yemenites to Israel. The Weiners were on one of those flights, and Lynne, in the tradition of her father, made her own home movies of the event. To this day they are the only celluloid record of that amazing event. Of course they got to know the Pressman children, and there even was a marriage between Sue’s sister and one of the Weiner’s. Sue was there with her beautiful daughter Lara, and we were able to share some memories of the old, old days.
Meanwhile, John, the birthday boy, was an avid horseman from his earliest of days. In fact, John played polo for Cornell (Class of 1940) and continued to ride until he was eighty years old. His neighbors decided that they would surprise him by bringing over a horse to their house on Park Circle in White Plains. Before we all knew it, a beautiful palomino was munching on the front lawn, and all of John’s friends and family were out and about watching this phenomenon. Since the Belmont Stakes was being run on the same day, John got into the spirit of things, put on his old helmet, got his polo mallet, and with a little assistance climbed on the stallion. It was a thrill for all to see.
What an accomplishment and what a day. To be surrounded by his friends and family, to get back on a beautiful horse, and to celebrate D-Day on his birthday, the one day that launched the liberation of the world.