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Like so many young men his age, Jim was drafted as the prospect of a new war began to loom on the European horizon.  He was inducted in Rockford Illinois and began basic training.  Just as it was concluding, he developed an infection in his foot, however, and was sent to the infirmary.  In hindsight, this was a remarkable twist of fate, as the rest of his unit eventually found themselves on the Bataan Peninsula.  How much are our lives shaped by events as insignificant as a little infection?

He, on the other hand, was sent to somewhere in Wyoming.  I don't know much about it, as his records were among those destroyed in the St. Louis warehouse fire, but the few photos I ever saw showed him on the rifle range, on his belly, learning to shoot.  During one of those shooting exercises, there was a mishap which involved some kind of weapons discharge at point blank range.  I couldn't tell you more, but I do know that he lost much of the use of his right ear.  The army, however, was ramping up, and he continued his service until May of 1942, when he was called to tend to his own father, a widower, who had suffered a stroke.  As the only surviving relative, he was mustered out and sent to his father's bedside, but by the time he arrived, his father had already passed on.

Alone in the world, he re-enlisted, and this time was assigned to the brand new Army Air Corps.  They tried to train him as a pilot.  The initial training exercise involved going up with an instructor, who put the plain into a spin pointed toward the earth and told him to straighten it out and pull up.  With the damage to his inner gyroscope, however, he could not locate himself relative to the planet, and fortunately the instructor was able to effectuate a recovery.  

Although his career as a pilot was over, Jim grew to love aviation.  He enjoyed his work with radios.  He installed and maintained them, and also instructed young flight crews in their use. Because the records are gone, I can't tell you for certain where he was, but he spent much of his time around Tampa Florida, so it could have been MacDill, Drew or Hillsborough.  

On the day in question, a plane was scheduled to go for a test flight.  Whether they were testing a crew or equipment (or both ) I don't know.  Apparently it was not uncommon to round up some airmen to go along for the ride - perhaps to anticipate parachute drops or similar operations which would be expected overseas.  The group was gathered, and among them, Jim saw him.  He described him only as "the red-headed Jewish kid."  And he did not look comfortable about this mission at all.  As they began to board the plane, someone was passing out parachutes, which was standard practice for these exercises.  One by one they boarded, Jim was last in line. The young man before him got the last parachute and Jim, as it turned out, was cut from the exercise.

He never actually described what happened in the next few minutes.  All he said was "the kid was scared."  With good reason.  Something went horribly wrong, and the plane did not make a safe return.  All on board perished, including the kid.

According to the AAF Statistical Digest, in less than four years (December 1941- August 1945), the US Army Air Forces lost 14,903 pilots, aircrew and assorted personnel plus 13,873 airplanes --- inside the continental United States. They were the result of 52,651 aircraft accidents (6,039 involving fatalities) in 45 months.
Do the math.  The number of accidents a month - the number a day, is jaw-dropping. As fast as those aircraft were destroyed, however, they were replaced.
The losses were huge---but so were production totals. From 1941 through 1945, American industry delivered more than 276,000 military aircraft. That number was enough not only for US Army, Navy and Marine Corps, but for allies as diverse as Britain , Australia, China and Russia . In fact, from 1943 onward, America produced more planes than Britain and Russia combined. And more than Germany and Japan together 1941-45.
Not so the young men.  

Jim stayed stateside throught his service.  After he mustered out, he went on in civillian life to use that radio experience.  The skills he learned in the service, along with the G.I.  Bill, put him on the arc of the great middle class ascendancy of the fifties and sixties.  But he never forgot them:  the young men who ended up on the Bataan death march, the marksmen who filled out the ranks of the infantry in Europe, and the red-headed Jewish kid, and the twists of fate that preserved him and permitted the next generation to be.

No one is truly gone who has someone to remember him.  So this day, perhaps we might stop and say Kaddish for the red-headed Jewish kid, who leaves no children to tell his story, and for all the others who perished in non-combat circumstances, but in no way less in service to their nation.  

Yit'gadal v'yit'kadash sh'mei raba (Cong: Amein).
May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Cong: Amen.)  

b'al'ma di v'ra khir'utei
in the world that He created as He willed.  

v'yam'likh mal'khutei b'chayeikhon uv'yomeikhon
May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days,  

uv'chayei d'khol beit yis'ra'eil
and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel,  

ba'agala uviz'man kariv v'im'ru:
swiftly and soon. Now say:  
(Mourners and Congregation:)

Amein. Y'hei sh'mei raba m'varakh l'alam ul'al'mei al'maya
(Amen. May His great Name be blessed forever and ever.)  

Yit'barakh v'yish'tabach v'yit'pa'ar v'yit'romam v'yit'nasei
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled,  

v'yit'hadar v'yit'aleh v'yit'halal sh'mei d'kud'sha
mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One  
(Mourners and Congregation:)

B'rikh hu.
Blessed is He.  

l'eila min kol bir'khata v'shirata
beyond any blessing and song,  

toosh'b'chatah v'nechematah, da'ameeran b'al'mah, v'eemru:
praise and consolation that are uttered in the world. Now say:  
(Mourners and Congregation:)


Y'hei sh'lama raba min sh'maya
May there be abundant peace from Heaven  

v'chayim aleinu v'al kol yis'ra'eil v'im'ru
and life upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:  
(Mourners and Congregation:)


Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,  

aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru
upon us and upon all Israel. Now say:  
(Mourners and Congregation:)


Originally posted to My Blue Period on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:18 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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