Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin
Here it is, almost the end of the year, and hopefully as a caring citizen, you’ve taken a moment during one or more of the anniversaries of Memorial Day, D-Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and yesterday’s Pearl Harbor Day, to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in their service to our nation.
I hope that you will agree with me that it is very important also to remember the tragedy of the MIA, those 85,694 souls who are listed as missing in action, whose remains, as yet, have not been found or identified.
The count of those still missing is: World War I: 3,000; World War II: 73,137; Korean War: 7,807; Vietnam War: 1,618; Cold War: 126; Gulf Wars: 5; and a little-known conflict known as The El Dorado Canyon “incident” in Libya: 1.
Many people are unaware that there’s an arm of the Defense Department known as The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and Accounting Command with an annual budget of $105 million, whose job it is to recover missing soldiers from past wars.
This large sum of money allocated by Congress each year reflects the reality of the commitment our government has to return home all of its military that it possibly can.
While some relatives have expressed discontent with the efforts of this group, it has generally received high praise for the extent of its efforts in finding, recovering and identifying the remains of missing Americans.
The search and identification team include professional genealogists, forensic anthropologists, archeologists, dental technicians, DNA scientists and explosive ordinance specialists. All of these specialists work as a team, 600 in all, to locate, recover, and identify remains to be returned to family members along with a book which details all aspects of the search and an analysis of the findings.
The Missing Personnel Office budget pays airfare for the closest of their kin to attend burial at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
More Americans should learn about the good work of this small, but important, governmental agency.
All our military deserves to come home.
Posted on 24 November 2016 by admin
Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 seemed like any other school day at Bryan Adams High. The first sign of an unusual day was when the principal told us teachers as we signed in, “Some kids will be skipping school, without permission, to attend JFK’s arrival and motorcade. Make a list of all absentees!”
I had actually forgotten that Kennedy was coming to Dallas. I was excited about my upcoming marriage, just 30 days away, not the arrival of the president.
Sure enough, many students were absent. I had reminded my history and government classes earlier in the week that if they were planning to see the president’s arrival at Love Field or his motorcade downtown, that they could get “extra credit” by writing a brief “on the scene” report of what they observed. The principal might not have liked that, but it was my way of turning a “punishable offense” into an “educational moment.”
The early afternoon startling announcement of JFK being shot and soon thereafter being declared “dead” seemed to subdue most kids. They mumbled among themselves, trying like the rest of us, to sort things out.
Thankfully, school let out early. As I headed out to the parking lot, I wondered if it were the Russians or the Cubans who were responsible for our nation’s terrible loss. Maybe I would find out later that evening when I was scheduled to report for my weekly duty as a Dallas Police Reservist at police headquarters.
After Oswald was captured, police reservists were asked to be on duty Saturday and Sunday. It was shocking to see how the world’s press corps had actually taken over almost every desk and phone normally manned by police personnel.
It was bedlam as they moved Oswald through the hall. You’ve seen the scene, replayed each November, Oswald’s blackened eye, the smirk on his face, being led into an office as an officer followed, holding the rifle aloft for all to see. Detectives wore white Stetsons. My eyes were glued on Oswald so I missed spotting Jack Ruby, standing nearby, whose gray hat I later recognized on television.
Everyone on duty that weekend was soon questioned by the FBI. I was no exception. Arranging to meet me at Bryan Adams during my planning period were two agents. One asked the questions while the other took notes.
It was quite sobering at first when one agent asked, “Is the information you’re about to give, truthful? You will be liable if you have not told the truth.” This meant that lying to the FBI is a punishable offense, so I was very, very, very careful of what I said.
“I didn’t personally know Jack Ruby but I once visited his Carousel Club office in downtown Dallas with the officer I was riding with. It was a cold night and we had stopped for a free cup of hot coffee.”
“More recently, about three weeks before the assassination, while riding with two officers, one of the officers said, “Hey, there’s Jack! Let’s stop!” We were on Industrial Boulevard. Coming out of a nightclub was “Jack” with two fur-draped women, one under each of his arms.”
“Both officers got out of the car to speak with “Jack.” I was told to stay in the car to listen for any radio calls. After a few minutes, a call did come in. We quickly left and I soon forgot about “Jack.” I later recognized him in the newspapers as Jack Ruby.
“The Sunday morning Oswald was to be transferred to the Dallas County Jail, I had been placed on duty across the street from the police garage tunnel exit. I had been told to prevent anyone from crossing the street to the police building. There were around 40 or so spectators waiting for Oswald’s transfer.”
“The ‘boom’ of the shot echoed out of the tunnel and the armored truck soon pulled out, allowing the police ambulance to leave, rushing Oswald to Parkland Hospital. I noticed the armored truck’s right-side door was swinging open, about to possibly hit someone standing at the curb edge of the sidewalk. Running up to it, I closed it shut before it could hurt anyone.”
My complete story and others can be found on the Sixth Floor Museum’s interview collection, “Living History, Jerry Kasten” on YouTube.
Chances are that there are childhood memories and historic events which you remember. Why not share those memories with your children and grandchildren by writing them down in a notebook, including comments, photos?
The Dallas Jewish Historical Society located at the Dallas JCC, has a wonderful oral history project, which involves videotaping interviews with senior citizens. These professionally done conversations can then be accessed online by friends, family members and anyone wishing to learn events of the past from those who actually experienced them.
We are all part of history. What’s your story?
Posted on 10 November 2016 by admin
During peacetime or wartime, every person who enlists or is drafted into an armed force takes an oath to “… support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies … and … obey the orders of the officers appointed over me … So help me God.”
All members of America’s armed forces receive basic military training so that no matter what their daily job may be in peacetime, they will be able to take up a weapon to “support and defend” if called upon.
Having served in South Korea in 1955-1956, years after the truce had been signed, I am not an actual “war” veteran, but am classified as a Korean War-era veteran. As an Army photographer, I “shot” many people … but only with my camera.
Fast-forward to Sept. 11, 2001, and soon thereafter I found myself and other veterans being referred to as “heroes.” I have felt quite uneasy and undeserving of such praise. I cannot think of one thing that I’ve done that was “heroic.”
There are approximately 40-plus veterans’ organizations in the United States but I joined just two, The Korean War Veterans and The Jewish War Veterans.
In each of them, I have had the honor of meeting some real heroes, who, as soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, have faced and fought the enemy in battle. Some of their stories will eventually appear in this column.
I’m sorry to say that there are some folks, veterans and non-veterans, who are “hero wannabes.” They embellish their service by wearing medals and service ribbons they never earned or were never in service to begin with. Real heroes do not boast.
As for the rest of us true veterans, we are generally not the heroes that others make of us. As veterans, we are just citizens who have had different experiences. Ask us what those were and then you can decide if we are heroes.
I value the training and experience I received in the military and I will forever be grateful for the higher education I received as a benefit of my military service.
I am a veteran, not a hero.
Posted on 27 October 2016 by admin
If I had to choose my favorite president in America’s history, it would have to be, for many reasons, Theodore Roosevelt.
Henry Pringle’s biography of Roosevelt was the first presidential life story I read as a child. I became endeared to Teddy when I read of his severe childhood asthma attacks and how his father carried him to their horse carriage. They rode late at night through the downtown New York streets in an attempt to force the cool night air into his lungs.
That scene reminded me of when I, also as a child, gasping for air in my first frightening asthma attack, was picked up by my father. I was hurriedly carried to a doctor’s office to receive the life-saving relief of an epinephrine (adrenaline) shot, something which did not exist in Roosevelt’s time.
Encouraged by his father, Roosevelt took on physical exercises and activities which helped increase his lung capacity and body strength, eventually overcoming what could have been a life-long health problem.
I also hold Roosevelt in great esteem for his love of country and strong support for the development of a powerful modern Navy.
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897, with deteriorating relations with Spain over the future of Cuba, he foresaw a looming war on the horizon.
While his boss, the Navy Secretary, was on an extended vacation, TR took advantage of his absence to brazenly assume the position of Acting Secretary of the Navy, ordering additional supplies, fuel and firepower to be sent to America’s Pacific Fleet.
In addition, he managed to transfer one of the Navy’s most successful leaders, Commodore George Dewey, from a desk job in Washington, D.C. to Commander of America’s Asiatic Fleet near the Spanish controlled Philippines.
By the time war broke out with Spain in 1898, Commodore Perry was in place with a fully supplied fleet, attacking and destroying every enemy ship in Manila Bay.
In later years as President, Roosevelt wanted to demonstrate to imperialist nations that the United States had a powerful navy, capable of protecting its shipping lanes anywhere in the world.
With hulls painted white, 16 new battleships and their tenders left in December 1907, for a successful fourteen-month circumnavigation of the globe. The experience had a positive impact on the future of fleet operations and ship design, and provided excellent experience for all involved. It definitely impressed the rest of the world and helped prepare our nation for the war ahead.
Because of the enthusiastic support which Roosevelt provided the U.S. Navy throughout his career, the Navy League of the United States, in 1922, designated today, Oct. 27 his birthday, as Navy Day. If you are lucky enough to know a Navy veteran, wish him or her a “Happy Navy Day.”
Finally, let us look at Roosevelt and the Jews. In 1903, he sent his personal protest along with a public petition to the czar, objecting to the Kishinev pogroms, but the Russian despot completely ignored it.
Roosevelt was the first president to appoint a Jew, Oscar Straus, to a cabinet post (U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Labor).
After World War I, as the popular ex-president, he spoke out in favor of Jews being given control of Palestine.
You do not have to be Jewish to think highly of Roosevelt. Every legitimate ‘Top Ten Presidents’ list I have found, and rightfully so, includes the name, Theodore Roosevelt.
Posted on 13 October 2016 by admin
The original title of this column was “Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!,” because it was Oct. 13, 1775, that the new American government allotted money for the construction of two warships, thereby establishing the beginnings of the American Navy.
Naturally, I checked out our Navy’s current strength, finding that we have the most modern high-tech ships afloat with China and Russia close behind.
But, in checking on manpower, I found that our Navy and all other of our military (Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard) are all deficient in one aspect, not enough Jewish chaplains to serve our active-duty Jewish military and their families.
Specific numbers are not easy to get from the U.S. Defense Department, but the Jewish Welfare Board offers these estimates:
Total number of active duty Jewish personnel in all five branches, 10,000. Adding spouses and dependents, 25,000.
Number of full time active duty Rabbi chaplains: Army: 12, Air Force: 7 Navy, Marines and Coast Guard: 11, a total of 30 Jewish chaplains.
Even with part time reserve and National Guard chaplains, it’s an impossible task for 30 chaplains to serve 10,000 service-members and their families all over the United States and overseas.
In order to attract more rabbis into the chaplaincy, restrictions are being lifted and regulations are changing. Beards for Jewish chaplains are now allowed, opening the door for Orthodox rabbis. Scholarships for rabbinic students are being offered. Cantors now have a pathway to become chaplains.
Sure, it’s easier and probably more lucrative to serve a congregation, as a chaplain, you serve your country and fellow man, impact the lives of non-Jews and Jews, each an honor and a mitzvah.
Perhaps someone reading this will share our military’s need with a potential rabbi. The Jewish Welfare Board and the Aleph Institute are helpful sources of information.
Posted on 29 September 2016 by admin
With Yom Kippur right around the corner, and Columbus Day as well, all Americans, not just Jews, should face the reality of our nation’s shameful history of the near-decimation of the Native Americans.
Christopher Columbus has historically been given credit for the wrong things and it’s time we take a reality check.
Based on earlier voyages by other explorers, Columbus already knew that the earth was round before he set sail.
Columbus’ objective was to find gold and other precious metals and claim territory for his benefactors.
Vikings and others had discovered America before Columbus.
Photo: Jerry Kasten
Protesters demonstrate in front of Dallas-based Chief Oil & Gas.
When Columbus landed in the Bahamas, met by the friendly and docile Taino Indians, his first thoughts were of how easily they could be subdued and enslaved, which is what he quickly accomplished.
Columbus, his men and other Europeans who followed, brought with them diseases which they had immunities to, but which eventually decimated the native population.
So, if you want to give Columbus his proper due, credit him with introducing slavery into the New World and making use of superior European weaponry to conquer, subdue, and enslave a native population.
Given the fact that Native Americans were residents of the Americas long before Columbus and other Europeans arrived on the scene, we should also acknowledge the more than 300-year destructive history of the Indian civilization by Americans and the English colonists before them.
Instead of having open discussions leading to mutually agreed-upon treaties, colonists formed militias, armed with their advanced European weaponry, forcing Native Americans away from their traditional hunting, fishing and agricultural lands.
Most treaties were forced on tribal leaders and all 400 treaties have been violated in one form or another. Indians were given what was then considered the poorest-quality land in some of the most desolated areas. In later years, discoveries of gold, oil or other resources on those same lands resulted in extensive treaty violations, and in some cases, forcible removals of Native Americans.
Problems continue. Recently, the American Indian Movement of Central Texas demonstrated at an oil pipeline company’s corporate headquarters in Dallas. They protested the building of a pipeline in the Dakotas, close to the Missouri River, endangering their water supply if a break in the line were to ever occur.
A federal judge recently ruled that construction on the northern pipeline must be halted, a rare but satisfying victory for Native Americans.
What can you and I do to help? First, stop glorifying Columbus and recognize the true place in history of our earliest Americans.
Many Texans are unaware of the fact that Texas has joined 16 other states in refusing to recognize Columbus Day as a national holiday, which is a step in the right direction.
While some states have substituted Indigenous Americans Day for Columbus Day, another possibility is suggested by what the Australians did to apologize for wrongs done to their Aboriginal people, calling a day of forgiveness each year, National Sorry Day.
Posted on 15 September 2016 by admin
Some of the most recent newspaper, magazine and online stories publicizing the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service have centered on the theme of “hidden gems” or “hidden treasures” visitors can find in many of the parks.
In most cases, these attractions are not really “hidden” so much as they are away from the road, not visible through the window of a car, and generally requiring a short walk away from the roadway. One “hidden gem” visitors can actually drive to in Yellowstone is so close to a major thermal area, Norris Geyser Basin, that most visitors pass it by in their haste to reach the next “major attraction.”
Just a few yards in from the main roadway is a rebuilt log building with “a lot of history.”
In 1991, it was re-opened to the public, known as The Museum of the National Park Ranger, the only museum in the nation devoted entirely to telling the story of the National Park Ranger.
For two weeks each summer in 2009 and 2010, as a volunteer curator in that museum, I tried to help visitors understand the importance of those earlier cabins when they were used by horse-mounted Park Rangers and before them, the Army Cavalry soldiers who patrolled the park from 1886 to 1918.
After 20-plus miles on the trail, checking for illegal fires, poachers and violations of park rules by visitors, a patrol cabin was a welcome sight. The rule however, was, “If you didn’t make it to the cabin by nightfall, you bedded down out under the stars, the rain, or the snow, whatever!”
Fast-forward to the present, when I recently discovered in the Jewish War Veterans archives a brief reference to one of those U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers stationed at Yellowstone Park.
Of course, I knew that Jews have always served in the defense of this country, even during colonial times. However, I was surprised at the thought of a Jewish soldier on horse patrol in Yellowstone and researched further.
According to the JWV’s archives, David Abelow, a New York Jewish teenager, joined the U.S. Army Cavalry in Texas in 1907 “at the age of 15.”
I don’t know what the minimum age was without parental consent at that time, but it is noted that he was “large for his age” and had told the enlistment officer that he “left his birth certificate at home in Brooklyn.” In any case, the ruse worked and Abelow was sworn into service.
Serving in the U.S. Cavalry, first at Yellowstone Park from 1907 to 1910, he later spent an additional three years on duty in the Philippines.
I wish I had known about Trooper Abelow when I had Ranger Museum duty years ago. I’m sure the visitors would have been as intrigued as I was to hear about this (Jewish) teenager who couldn’t wait to become a man.
Posted on 01 September 2016 by admin
Editor’s note: This is the second report of Jerry Kasten’s recent trip to Korea.
Since returning from the Korean War Veterans tour in July, Deanna and I have been inspired to search for Jewish connections.
We’ve discovered that South Koreans believe that their modern history is similar in many ways to the history of the Jews.
Koreans endured years of oppression and slavery under the Japanese occupation, beginning in 1910 and ending in 1945, after World War II. In addition, millions of innocent Korean civilians were killed during the Korean War, beginning with the Communist invasion from the North in 1950. Both Israel and South Korea had declared their independence from foreign control in 1948, resulting in war for both nations and a continuing uneasy state of affairs.
South Korea rebuilt itself as did Israel after the War of Independence. Now both countries are thriving democracies in a hostile non-democratic area.
The South Koreans look to the Jews as models of advanced education and achievement. They too place importance on education, pressuring children to excel in school and compete for scholarships, university education, and quality jobs.
Jews are seen as successful in many diverse fields exemplified by Nobel Prize awards and Israel’s advances in agriculture, science, and technology.
Korean educators believe that the single greatest contribution to the Jewish people’s success is their study of Talmud. What started as a class offering in a South Korean private school in 2000 has grown in such acceptance that the Talmud has become a required part of South Korean children’s public school primary education, since 2011. Obviously, at that age level, it probably is a simplified version of Jewish wisdom.
Even Korean adults have started studying the Talmud to the extent that it is a best seller, available at book stores and in vending machines. It is so highly thought of that it has become a sign of intelligence to have a copy of the Talmud on the bookshelf in a Korean home.
As we concluded our stay in South Korea, we noted the loving attitude Korean youth show to the elderly. We had enjoyed a formal ceremony of children bowing to their parents and at the farewell banquet, little girls presenting the vets with flowers and hugging each one. Indeed, it seems studying Talmud may have contributed to the character of this progressive and grateful nation.
Posted on 18 August 2016 by admin
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story.
Who would have thought that less than one hour after my wife and I arrived in South Korea last month, the question of “How many Jews live in Korea” would come up?
We were on a bus of newly arrived Korean War Era Veterans, guests of the South Korean government, to commemorate the 63rd Anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War.
On the 45-minute drive to our hotel in Seoul, a young Korean tour-guide began to provide basic information about her country, but we were busy admiring the rich-green forested areas, lush rice paddies, wide modern highways, industrial plants, high-rise apartment buildings and tall skyscrapers, none of which existed when I was in Korea.
“We have two major religions,” the guide related, “Buddhist, around 20 percent, Christian, 30 percent (made up of Catholic and Protestant) and the rest, mostly young people, have no religion.” So, I assumed, “no Jews,” other than some U.S. soldiers stationed there.
My interest peaked and I decided to look into the Jewish presence in South Korea. Here are my findings:
There is a general belief that the first Jews in Korea, estimated to number 150,000 during the course of the Korean War (1950-1953), were among the 1,845,000 American and British forces who came to South Korea’s aid after North Korea’s invasion.
I had arrived after the war, serving as an army photographer (1955-1956). I learned years later that a young rabbi, Chaim Potok, had served as an army chaplain in Korea during the same time period; however, we had never met.
In addition to the U.S. military presence, which would normally include a number of Jewish soldiers, there are a small number of Jewish civilians who work and live among Seoul’s 10 million population.
Since 2008, a Chabad House near the U.S. military’s Yongsan base has worked with the chaplain to provide for the relatively small Jewish community of 100 to 200.
At present, the Seoul military base is in the process of closing, moving to a much larger base under construction 40 miles to the south, destined to become “America’s largest military complex in Asia.”
As a result, Seoul’s Chabad House will take on a more important role as it becomes the sole central focus of Jewish life, culture, and religion in this lovely, vibrant, modern city that rose from the ashes of the Korean War.
Posted on 04 August 2016 by admin
Early last year, students at Dallas’ John B. Hood Middle School voted by a 60 percent majority to drop their school name because of Gen. John Hood’s Confederate support of slavery during the Civil War.
Two thoughts came to mind as I read and followed that story in the Dallas paper. The first was my praise and applause for the school administration to provide a lesson in democracy by allowing the students to discuss and vote on the issue.
My second thought had to do with another Dallas school’s name, Woodrow Wilson High School, in the Lakewood area. “Would Wilson’s students also want a name change if they knew about his prejudicial administration?”
On the plus side of evaluating Wilson’s Presidency, he is commonly enumerated in most of the lists of “top 10 U.S. presidents,” and has been honored both nationally and internationally in numerous ways and places.
Additionally, Wilson, a former history professor and Princeton University president, was the author of many books.
With all the accolades President Wilson received and deserves, there is one condemnation he also richly deserves. He was a racist toward African-Americans and, once becoming president of the United States, he transformed the federal bureaucracy into a “whites only” system.
Although Wilson’s parents were from the north, they had moved south, and his earliest memories were of hearing the news in South Carolina of Lincoln’s election and the start of the war.
Wilson’s father, a pro-slavery minister, referred to blacks as “ignorant and inferior.” His son’s writings after the war followed the father’s prejudicial beliefs.
Wilson supported the Black Codes, restrictions imposed by southern states after the Civil War, to “help” the ex-slaves whom he claimed needed the help of their former masters. He argued that Reconstruction, not slavery, was the cause of racial problems.
While president of Princeton in 1921, he blocked admittance of black students, suggesting that they apply to the Seminary, which was not part of the main university.
Wilson blocked black students’ admission to Princeton even though blacks had graduated from Dartmouth and Rutgers many years earlier. This was not an “Ivy League” restriction.
When Wilson’s administration arrived in Washington, they found that unlike the rest of Washington, D.C., the offices of government were integrated by previous administrations. But not for long.
Under Wilson, blacks were ousted and job applicants had to submit photos to ensure “proper choice” of employees. All of Washington, D.C. had reverted back to segregation. He also refused to support the movement for black civil rights.
With regard to another minority, Jews, Wilson’s attitude was positive and beneficent. He supported Jewish minorities in Eastern Europe and urged approval of the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine. The president’s appointment of Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court also showed his friendliness to Jews.
For all the good he did for Jews and the nation, Woodrow Wilson deserves credit. For all the good he could have done for blacks, but chose not to, shouldn’t he get “discredit” as well?