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November 08, 1985 - Image 15

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-11-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Glenn Triest, Benyas-Kaufman

Jews in the armed forces was not the
case for any other American war.
Ronnie Shimron, museum curator
for the National Jewish War Vete-
rans in Washington, D.C. adds, "Up
to Vietnam, American Jews in the
armed services always represented a
disproportionately larger figure to
their percentage in the general
population."
Just who were the Jewishmen
who fought in Vietnam? How were
they caught in that chaotic fury?
Have they made peace with their
experiences?
For Michael Berkowitz, Bob
Mitchell and Steve Hirschberg, a
year spent in Vietnam remains a
far-too-vivid memory, its sights and
sounds forever burned into their
minds. Vietnam defines who they
are today.
For Harvey Olds, the year spent
in Vietnam apart from his wife and
infant son, was a professional and
personal waste of time, a year of

great stress, today pushed aside and
almost forgotten.
For Dennis Greenwald's family,
Vietnam remains an open wound.
Thoughts and feelings too delicate
and upsetting to deal with have been
repressed and buried.

1 1

n 1966, Bob Mitchell had
surgery and decreased his class
load, becoming a half-time stu-
dent at Highland Park Junior
College. Soon after, he received
his draft induction letter.
"Vietnam was the last place I
wanted to go," he says. Believe it or
not, I even had a medical problem
that should have disqualified me. I
had spina bifida and I brought in my
x-rays for the draft physical. The
draft board doctor just smiled and
said, 'I'm sure we can find some
place for you.' "
Mitchell enlisted in the Navy,
hoping it would give him a safer as-
signment. "I didn't relish the idea of
60-mile hikes. Luckily, I knew some-
N - `) "
01 .. - v = I 4)-•- ■ '; -,-. ''

thing about scuba diving and was
assigned to an underwater demo
team, a special unit engaged in cer-
tain covert activities and opera-
tions."
Mitchell was one of two Jews in
his boot camp unit, the only Jew in
his special unit. "I took advantage of
holiday services and even special
meals. There was never any kind of
discrimination or problem, but I an-
swered a lot of questions.
"I ' was accepted for who I was.
In Vietnam, each of us felt, You
watch my back, I'll watch yours.' No
one cared what you ate, or wore
around your neck, or who you
prayed to. We all just wanted to stay
alive."
Mitchell's Navy unit faced snip-
ers and booby traps, but he feels
lucky he wasn't in the field. "I didn't
see as much that was horrifying day
after day on a 24-hour basis."
He honestly recounts the prob-
lems he came home with: "It was dif-
ficult coming back to the'real world.
It seemed like one problem after an-
Other. I developed a drinking prob-
lem over there. We'd be on an opera-
tion and be up 39 to 48 hours
straight. We'd go in with nine men
and come out with four. Free time
would be tough. I wanted to block
out memories and unpleasantness, so
I drank along with everyone else."
Mitchell had reoccuring night-
mares and flashbacks. His first mar-
riage broke up after 81/2 years.
Today, he feels whole again. He
is married, has two sons, lives in
Southfield and works in industrial
sales. He credits his positive attitude
to the passage of time, counseling,
and his present wife's understand-
ing.
Yet he knows Vietnam changed
him as a person. It made me hard-
shelled and cynical. I look at life log-
ically, practically. If someone dies, I
don't grieve. No one's gonna live
forever."
Mitchell has become active in
the Jewish War Veterans. Last year
he was commander of his post. He is
committed to finding other young
Vietnam veterans to infuse his post
with life. "Most of my post are World
War II veterans. Their experience
was totaly different from ours. They
came home heroes; we came home
pigs. Yet each of us has survived a
war. We have a lot to share."
Mitchell has become active in
the Jewish War Veterans. Last year
he was commander of his post. He is
committed to finding other young
Vietnam veterans to infuse his post
with life. "Most of my post are World
War II veterans. Their experience
was totally different from ours. They
came home heroes; we came home

Friday, November 8, 1985

15

pigs. Yet each • of us has survived a
war. We have a lot to share."

IM

ichael Berkowitz is 40
years old now. He's
been a Vietnam veteran
for 19 long years. The
years have been difficult
and Berkowitz is bitter.
He is bitter about a government
that had two sets of standards. "My
government really wouldn't let me
do what I was trained to do . . . kill
my enemy. The enemy certainly
didn't play by the same rules. They
had no laws; we did."
He is bitter about coming home
and being looked at as "Baby Killer,
Murderer, Killer," everything except
what he was, a soldier doing a job.
Upon returning home, he found
upsetting the Jewish community's
total pre-occupation with Israel. "I
came home and was ignored. I was a
Jewish vet, in need of help. I was
practically crying, 'Help me get my
head on straight.' The community
only cared about raising money for
Israel. I was unimportant."
Berkowitz is still groping with
the moral issues, still trying to come
to terms with horrifying memories.
"War is Hell. There is no way to de-
scribe it with words. What would
you do if you came up to a hooch
with a three-year-old kid in it?
Would you kill the kid or risk being
killed yourself? We're all of us men-

Continued on next page

Capt. Harvey A. Olds, M.D.

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