I feel like I’m back in fifth grade writing a report on Memorial Day for Mrs. Norcross’s class. After school, I would lug my orange ceramic bowl full of Oreos and my plastic cup of apple juice into the living room to snuggle/struggle with the daunting set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
I knew my mom would now let me wear my new white patent leather Mary Janes to school instead of my black ones and that we were having a picnic with cousin Sarah and her brood on Monday instead of dad going to work and me to school. And I knew my dad’s mad because he’s supplying steak for the grill and Uncle Bernie got away – once again – with just bringing hot dogs. But somewhere in my childish brain, it did register that this holiday probably meant more than grilling out, baseball games, going to the park and the official start of summer.
I’m older now. I “daringly” wear white jeans in April. I grill all year round and don’t wait for an extended holiday weekend to fill my days with fun and frolic. I’m also more appreciative of the thousands of men and women who have died in military service for the United States. And the many men and women who served in military service and were lucky enough to come home – my father and father-in-law among them. And I find that, though visiting their graves is not always an option on Memorial Day weekend, carving out the time to learn about feats of courage and war’s ravages is always an option.
Memorial Day is a day to discover an untold story: I learn about the story of the Ritchie Boys – boys who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, came of age in America and returned to Europe as members of the U.S. Army. According to author Bruce Henderson, in 1942, 2000 German-born Jewish young men joined every major combat unit in Europe. They interrogated German POW’s and gathered crucial intelligence on enemy strength, movement and defensive positions – supplying more than sixty percent of the credible intelligence gathered in Europe and thus playing a key role in the Allied victory.
Memorial Day is a day to celebrate the uncelebrated soldier: I learn about a white soldier during World War II who was put in charge of an all African-American platoon in the segregated South – an experience that left him embittered and withdrawn and his family relationships laced with shadows and trauma. I learn how he spent his life seeking acknowledgement for his engineering feats – feats that saved the lives of those soliders test-piloting fighter planes. No medal was ever forthcoming – during or after he died – and his family are left baffled and scarred until a stranger at the solder’s funeral delivers the family an odd gift and an apology.
Memorial Day is a day to learn something new: I learn that soldiers at the front aren’t the only ones who can alter history and combat threats to democracy. Laura Rosenzweig brings to light a long hidden story of American Jewish resistance to Nazism during the 1930’s. Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner and other Hollywood Jewish moguls paid private investigators to infiltrate the German-American Bund and its allies, reporting on seditious plots and collusion with the German government.
Along with the “beach” books spilling out of my canvas swim bag this summer, I’ll be toting the following too – all based on the above teasers:
Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson
In the Shadow of Alabama by Judy Reene Singer
Hollywood’s Spies by Laura B. Rosenzweig