Posted 20 April 2003 - 08:04 PM
There was a much wider dimension to Henry’s reaction as the scene unfolded around Michael Sobel and his visit with him. I asked him to write it up to include here. Here’s Henry’s voice:
I heard that Michael Sobel was there, and went to him as soon as possible. I told him that it was tremendously meaningful to me as a J e w that the first Company Commander had been Jewish; there is in some quarters a prejudice that Jews don't make good soldiers (or athletes: witness what was said to Hank Greenberg in the BoB era, and to Sandy Koufax more recently), or that our usual place is in public relations, not in combat. And there are those who say they don't see a lot of Stars of David on the cemeteries that have American soldiers who were combat casualties overseas; in part, that is because many religious Jewish families felt obligated to have the remains of their loved one brought home, even years after the fact. Profoundly, this is my country and I love it; and America -- with Britain and Russia -- was the bulwark that kept the evil of the Axis and the Nazis from winning the war and taking over the world. So even though he did not get to lead them into combat, I am deeply proud and touched that Herbert Sobel was the first man to lead Company E. At this point I stopped because we were both in tears.
We continued with his saying, "I found his dog tags, and it said "P" for Protestant. Do you know why?" and I answered, "That was a common strategy, because it was widely reported that if you were an American Jewish GI taken POW who had a "J" on the tags, to Hitler and his people, you were not entitled to the Geneva convention, only to a trip to the ovens", and Michael nodded assent. By this time the press of people was heavy and I took my leave so the next person could wish him well, just as BK has written.
That evening I took one of the little hand-painted bookmarks that I had brought along "just in case there is anybody else that I want to give something handmade to", inscribed it to him in honor of his Dad, and passed it to him, saying it was about as small as a gift could be, but that I wanted him to carry something away that I had made with my hands, that would serve as a little symbol of how his father's achievement, his plight, and the sadness of his not having connected with the men post-war, had all touched me.
And on Saturday night his speech was extremely moving. Please note from the last chapter of the BoB book that Bill Guarnere paid Herbert Sobel's dues to the group and tried to get him to come to the reunion, but was unsuccessful; and I am certain that the invitation was sincere, not a trap or a setup to mock him. Now there was a special rightness in the son of Herbert Sobel being introduced by the son of the very much alive Bill Guarnere. And if savage humor is the mark of acceptance -- and it sure seemed that way in all of Gene Guarnere's many zingers -- then Michael Sobel must have felt very good, for the introduction among other things included praise of Michael's wife and baby, with the offhand half-aside comment straight into the microphone, "Though Michael's wife has told me the baby is not his". I groaned, and laughed, and realized that this paratrooper who is also the son of a paratrooper, was purposely not using kid gloves with young Sobel, for that would ensure a distance that is precisely the opposite of what was being sought and given. ~~ HS
How many times have we said -- yet another result from BoB to be grateful for, inspired by, moved by – it’s just extraordinary the reach of this very human and universal story. BK