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November 08, 2002 - Image 104

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-11-08

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Cover Story

A Fighter

A West Bloomfield cousin pays tribute

to a war hero and other veterans.

Al Rasof's
from his World
War II service.


Special to the Jewish News


heobservance of Veterans Day on Nov.
11 each year touches a chord in the heart
of a West Bloomfield man. He is a veter-
an of World War II and wants Americans
to remember vets who served their country in the
war — those who were killed on the battlefields and
those who are dying now in the United States at a
rate of about 1,500 a day.
Al Rasof, 77, was a radioman and waist gunner on
a B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber and flew seven mis-
sions over Germany at the end of the war. He espe-
cially wants the Jewish community to remember the
exploits of his second cousin, boxer Barney Ross,
who probably fought his most important fight with
the U.S. Marines on Guadalcanal in the Pacific and
won a Silver Star for gallantry in action.
Although he never actually saw Ross in the ring
— "I couldn't afford to travel to his boxing matches
or buy tickets" — Rasof remembers his. cousin as a
legend in the family and is perpetuating his memory
through biographical recollections.
Rasof's father, Henry Rasofsky, was a nephew of
Isadore Rasofsky, Barney's father. Barney Rasofsky
became Barney Ross as his boxing career took off in
his native Chicago. He fought professionally 81
times, winning the junior welterweight, welter-
weight and lightweight championships of the world.
He lost only four bouts.
Rasof remembers listening to Ross' fights on the
radio, and hearing some fans yelling, "Kill the Kike"
and other anti-Semitic slurs — especially when Ross
defeated Irish welterweight champion Jimmy
McLarnin. Isadore Rasofsky was killed by a holdup
man in Chicago when Barney was a boy, but his
mother, Sarah, used to walk to all of his local fights.
Ross quit the ring after losing to Henry Armstrong
in 1938, but took up a new battle, joining the
Marines when the United States entered World War
II in 1941.
"He should have won the Congressional Medal of
Honor for heroism in action at Guadalcanal, but he
was awarded the Silver Star instead," said Rasof. "In
those days (of racial discrimination and anti-
Semitism in the military), most Jews got the Silver



Star; it was called the Jewish Congressional Medal of
Ross was a close friend of such old-time entertainers
as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, and later served as a
bodyguard for singer Eddie Fisher. In 1967, he died of
cancer in a Veteran's Administration hospital at age 67.

"Safe" Duty

Rasof, also a Chicago native, is modest about his
own exploits in the military, having enlisted in the
Air Force in 1943 at age 18. It was the branch of
service "most preferred by Jews during World War II
because of its high standards," he points out.
However, the anti-Semitic challenges and the acci-
dental death rate among airmen made the Air Force
a tough place to be.
The U.S.. Eighth Air Force lost about 26,000 of its
350,000 members, and about 10 percent of the
deaths were caused by accidents, such as planes
crashing on takeoff, higher-flying planes dropping
bombs that hit lower-flying planes, etc.

"Those situations sure disputed claims of the Air
Force as the safest place to be during the war," Rasof
noted. "And, of course, there were many anti-
Semites in the military. Another one of the gunners
in our plane was always making anti-Semitic
remarks. He was from Colorado and he said he had
never seen a Jew until he met me."
Rasof's missions over Berlin and Dresden toward
the end of the war were regarded as "milk runs"
because there weren't many German fighter planes
and the anti-aircraft "flak" had diminished. He and
his bomb squadron were preparing to fly to the
Pacific theater when the war ended.
Rasof had met Betty Yack of Detroit in South
Haven, Mich., in 1942. They married in 1945 and
moved to the Detroit area where they lived with rel-
atives while he worked as a retailer. After earning a
doctorate in higher education from Wayne Univer-
sity, he spent 25 years as an administrator in the
Detroit Public Schools before retiring. I I

Related story: page 88

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