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Jewish World Review June 4, 2001 / 14 Sivan 5761

Don Feder

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My father the hero -- IN recent days, my father, who died six years ago, is very much in my thoughts. In a war of high drama, he played an ordinary, but necessary, part.

I can't tell stories about my father like the one James Bradley, author of "Flags of Our Fathers," related of his -- one of the Marines who raised the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima. Bradley says that after his father's death, he learned the Corpsman received the Navy Cross days before the flag raising. "A shell drove hot shrapnel into his legs, hips and feet. .... But eyewitnesses said he would not tend his own wounds as he continued to care for others around him."

There were over 1 million American casualties in World War II, including 292,000 battlefield deaths. A grateful nation awarded 440 Medals of Honor.

But there were other Americans who never fell on a live grenade, charged a machine-gun nest or tended the wounded under fire. There were servicemen who never saw combat or even served overseas, but did the unglamorous jobs that kept the planes flying and the tanks rolling. My father was one of these.

Had he been born a few years later, it might have been different.

At age 31, Harry Feder enlisted in the Army Air Corps early in 1942, prepared to go off into the wild blue yonder, an assignment for which he was well-qualified. Dad had a civilian pilot's license and flew with the Civil Air Patrol before the war.

Impressed by these credentials, the Army sent him to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for three months of officer training. After that, he was to go to flight school.

When he graduated, the brass told him: "Sorry. You weren't too old to fly when you started the program, but you are now." They wanted men a decade younger, with razor-sharp reflexes,

flying the B-17s. Given the carnage in the skies over Europe, if my father had his way, chances are I wouldn't be here.

The Army then proceeded to train him as a baker. (Well, Napoleon did tell us how an army travels.) My father spent the rest of the war rolling in dough. One of his buddies drew a cartoon captioned, "When Corporal Feder Makes Mess Sergeant." It shows Dad, in reality a gentle man, Simon Legree-like, whipping some hapless pfcs who are washing dishes and peeling potatoes.

Dad never complained about the role fate had assigned him. He came from a generation that didn't whine.

After the war, my father and other vets built an economy that dominated the second half of the century. He also made wonderful pancakes on Sunday mornings, after cutting down his recipe by several hundred.

Memorial Day is a time to commemorate the brave men who gave their lives that America might endure, as well as to honor those who served and sacrificed from Valley Forge to the Persian Gulf.

But over the past 225 years, Americans have served their country in many ways.

Last week, David McCullough published his monumental biography of John Adams. Except for George Washington, brave, little Adams was the greatest of the Founding Fathers -- the driving force behind independence. It was he who chose Washington to lead the Continental Army and Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. Yet the lawyer from Braintree, Mass., never carried a sword.

Abraham Lincoln, who saved the Union and was the last casualty of the Civil War, spent less than three months in a militia unit during the Black Hawk War, all of it in camp. Lincoln joked that the only bleeding he did was from mosquito bites.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who led our nation during my father's war, spent World War I behind a desk in the Navy Department. Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. But due to poor eyesight, the Gipper's World War II service consisted of narrating Army Air Corps training films.

Though the only awards Harry Feder ever received were a good conduct medal, a sharpshooters medal, second-class (awarded to everyone who didn't accidentally shoot an instructor on the firing range) and a service ribbon, my father will always be a hero to me. He led our small family for almost 60 years, wisely and courageously.

At his funeral, the Jewish War Veterans presented my family with a flag, which sits on the mantel of our living room -- a testament to one man's honorable service to the country he loved.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate