As an American born to immigrants, Love of Country has driven my life story
I am the first born of immigrant parents and the first American in my family. My parents came to America in 1968 for my father’s residency following medical school and for my mother’s graduate schooling. They came here from Israel, at that time a 20-year old country born following the ashes of the Holocaust with a soul that cried, ‘Never Again’ and a creed that Jews should know how to defend themselves because no one else would protect them. I was born a year later, on Memorial Day of 1969. As a child my mother often told stories to me that she could see many American flags waving outside the hospital room window that day, so she knew that I would be different. For a long time however, ‘different’ to me meant having an unusual name.
Our family chased the American dream, struggled and ultimately suffered through a divorce. Nonetheless, both my parents worked hard, accomplished a lot professionally and established themselves. We bought a house, made close friends and became active in the community. This was evident at our Passover Seder meals which were always fun, included numerous family friends and were quite diverse in composition. Though there were many difficulties, we were living the American dream that has inspired generations of immigrants like ourselves.
As I approached high school graduation and contemplated college, the idea of serving my country grew from a passing thought to something that took on a life of its own. To me, the decision was obvious; clearly, my path led through the gray granite gates of West Point. This decision was influenced by my own experiences and by several role models but not so readily accepted by some in Israel, who did not understand why I would volunteer to serve in the US Army.
My role models included Pete, a second-generation Italian-American who, at the entry of America into World War Two, at 17 volunteered to join the US Navy and later served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at the Battle of Midway. I grew up hearing his stories of when the Yorktown was destroyed by the Japanese. He floated in the Pacific for hours until pulled aboard a rescue boat. Later he served in both Korea, where he earned a battlefield commission, and then Vietnam. Pete called himself the “Iron Major of the Pacific” and it was he who first brought me to West Point where I was awed not by its solemnity, but by the statues of Generals Patton, MacArthur and Eisenhower, and its role in our country’s history. On graduating, one of the proudest days of my life, Pete and my stepfather pinned lieutenant’s bars on my shoulders. Pete died in 1997 and I miss him terribly to this day.
My second role model was my stepfather, Len to us, himself a son of Czech immigrants a generation earlier. As a young man, he had served as a US Navy officer where he was a high-altitude researcher in the 1950s when jets began to replace propeller driven planes and higher-altitude flying became possible. During his research, he developed a mask valve that enabled pilots to fly higher than they previously could. That mask is displayed in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Len was a patriot and proud to have served in the United States Navy. As children, he would march us around the house conducting a mock OCS program for my brothers and me in which tasks such as keeping the fire burning all night in the wood-burning stove in our kitchen became a test of manhood rather than a chore.
Len was a value-driven person who loved his country and community where he was a long-serving family doctor, and the people in the community loved him for it. Long before West Point, Len taught us to live according to simple values, integrity, humility and loyalty. When I wonder how to resolve a difficult situation I turn to the lessons he taught me.
My third role model was my father who had served as an armor officer in the Israeli army and served in three wars. Born in Israel, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States when I was just 10 years old and I can remember both his preparation for the exam as well as the pride he felt on the day in 1980 when he voted in his first US election and pulled the lever for Ronald Reagan.
During my senior year at West Point, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the world, led by the United States, responded. As Iraqi SCUD missiles targeted Israel and fear of chemical weapons haunted the population, President Bush sent American soldiers and Patriot Missiles to defend Israel. My aunt in Israel who had long questioned why I would serve in the US Army came to appreciate my American patriotism.
Upon graduation, I was commissioned as a second lieutenant and served as an airborne platoon leader and later detachment commander. While stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC, I deployed twice. Once to Homestead, FL in the wake of Hurricane Andrew and the second as part of Operation Restore Hope to Mogadishu, Somalia.
I think back fondly on my experience in the Army and I remain actively involved in veterans’ related charities. Following the Army my life and career continue to be driven by the big ideas of America, our unique and wonderful Constitution, and the sacred rights it protects.
My wife and I try to instill in our children not only patriotism and love of country, but also an understanding of why America is unique and sense of duty to give back in their own way to the country that has given us so much.
“What Does It Mean to Be American?” This is a question that has intrigued me as far back as I can remember and trying to answer it has been a theme of my life. In writing a book that explores this topic for children, I hope to spark curiosity in young children, my own included, that will lead to a lifetime of the same love of country that has driven my story.