Jewish American fighter pilot’s story to be showcased Feb. 26
By Deb Silverthorn
More than a history lesson, Norman M. Shulman’s “Love Norm: Inspiration of a Jewish American Fighter Pilot” is filled with the treasured messages which will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Aaron Family JCC.
This Dallas Jewish Historical Society’s (DJHS) Jim Schwartz Annual Lecture Series event, which includes a bagel breakfast, is co-sponsored by the Jewish War Veterans Post 256 and the JWVA Dallas Ladies Auxiliary #256. It is open to the public and free of charge, but registration is required.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to hear this story, to learn about what the sponsoring agencies do and to enjoy a beautiful morning together. Our archives are filled with Dallas’ Jewish heroes, many of them who served our country, and this book is filled with heroes who served for our freedom,” said Debra Polsky, DJHS executive director.
Norm Shulman came into Greg Levenson’s life when the now Cpt. Greg Levenson was just 7 years old. When Shulman married Greg’s mother, Carol, he immediately came to think of her son as his own. When Levenson needed him, in addition to his mother and father, the late Bob Levenson, Shulman was always there.
“We’re honored to have Norm Shulman as our guest because it is support that keeps every service person going,” said Jo Reingold, president of the JWVA Dallas Ladies Auxiliary #256 and DJHS’ secretary as well as junior vice-president of the National Ladies Auxiliary of the Jewish War Veterans.
“‘Love, Norm’ hits the heart of Dallas’ Jewish Historical Society and of the Jewish War Veterans and our Ladies Auxiliary. We recognize what Greg went through and Norm’s clear purpose to help,” said Reingold.
Shulman, a psychologist in Lubbock, was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. Through the years he lived in a number of cities where he too, as a Jew, had been in the minority. He could relate.
Levenson, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and raised in Lubbock, attended religious school, was bar mitzvahed and confirmed at Congregation Shaareth Israel. At school he was often the only Jewish child in his class — one of few without a Christmas tree.
Levenson graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and started a banking career before he decided to realize his longtime vision of becoming a fighter pilot. He’d already earned a private pilot’s license, and after 9/11 he felt obligated to step forward.
While Levenson was pursuing his dreams, once he was in basic training the days were trying. Realizing his sense of feeling isolated, Shulman took to writing 52 weekly letters with stories of service heroes — from Judah Maccabee and those who fought in the Revolutionary War to Levenson’s time of service. Some were honored with accolades and medals, some barely noted, but all had served their country with pride the way he knew Levenson was doing. Shulman always believed Levenson could succeed.
“I’d grown up living with two uncles who served during World War II. I remembered what they’d gone through and what it meant. There are connections we’re just born with and, for Greg, it was service to country. In service, he was tied to history, a part of history, but there was so much — and so many — that most of us never knew,” said Shulman.
Receiving Shulman’s letters indeed kept Levenson going. Each envelope opened brought a hug from home, inspiration and the faith he knew someone so important to him held in him.
“The letters are more about Norm as a father than about me as a fighter pilot,” said Levenson, now returned to civil life, president and CEO of Southwest Capital Bank in Albuquerque. “For most of life Norm had given me tools to combat antisemitism. As a child, he found Jewish athletes and, in my service, he changed the thread. He was always the booster and champion of my cultural and religious upbringing.
“I wanted to be a fighter pilot since my early teens and everyone thought it was nuts,” said Levenson. “Not Norm; he always supported me.”
When in basic training, Levenson again found himself one of a few Jews.
“My training was incredibly intense with an officer who tried to tear me down,” said Levenson. “I was probably the first Jew he’d met. Norm was worried and began sending letters about luminaries, some of whom I eventually met.”
Shulman wrote about strangers unearthed through intense research as well as Levenson’s maternal grandmother, Opal Keith, who in 1942 enlisted in the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women’s Auxiliary Volunteer Enlistment Service), and his paternal grandfather, Sam Levenson, a U.S. Army Air Corps navigator, both of blessed memory. Years later, in his grandfather’s belongings, Levenson found a medal they shared in common.
After training, Levenson served at Moody AFB in Georgia and Luke AFB in Arizona before deploying to Balad AFB in Iraq.
In December 2007, Levenson returned to Albuquerque, where he continued a rigorous training and event schedule. By day he was a banker; in the evenings and weekends he was flying F-16s. Once his unit transitioned, he returned wholly to civilian life.
Levenson is married to Arellana and together the couple are parents of Abigail and Sam Levenson and Calista, Avery and Emma Cordero. This is his second marriage, and Levenson says Shulman’s lessons continue.
“I believe you’re a parent or you’re not, and that comes from my relationship with Norm — always my cheerleader,” he said. “Everything he is has led me to the precious relationship I have with all of our children.”
Levenson, who wrote the last chapter of “Love, Norm: Inspirations of a Jewish Fighter Pilot,” says that despite hard times, the good memories and pride in his service reign.
“The Air Force exemplifies what it is to be an American,” he said. “It brings together all walks of life and was one of the best experiences of my life. I hope I made a difference.”
For more details, or to register (required) for the Feb. 26 event, visit tinyurl.com/2-26-DJHS-JWV-Love-Norm.