One hundred years ago today, my father was born in the town of Rockaway, New Jersey–the fifth child of Russian immigrants. While I would never claim that “my dad was better than your dad,” I will assert that my father’s life was more unique than most.
At the age of 12, his family relocated to the Soviet Union because my grandfather believed he would easily find work there. That move had a profound effect on the lives of Dad and his family. While he enjoyed the exposure to the opera and ballet, which would never have happened in his school in New Jersey, that benefit was overshadowed by the increasing loss of freedom. The assassination of one of Stalin’s closest friends and rivals was the impetus to a massive purge in which millions of Soviet citizens were imprisoned, exiled, or killed. One of Dad’s claims was that he was present at a meeting allegedly attended by the assassin.
On his return to NJ in June of 1941, he passed through Japan. My father told us over and over that he was warned by a Japanese police officer, whose English language skills were mediocre, that he needed to leave quickly because “Japan was going to ‘boom-boom’ the United States.”
Five months later, he was in the army, just one month before that prediction became a reality. During his time in the army, he worked tirelessly to bring the rest of his family home. I discovered evidence of this in letters, memos, and telegrams at the National Archives—one even written by the Secretary of State.
This past week I learned that 2 ½ years after leaving for Fort Dix, Dad was sent to Intelligence School at Fort Ritchie in Maryland. I know the exact dates of his attendance as well as the specific course in which he was trained. This was the first piece of evidence to a part of Dad’s life which surprised none of us.
But to me, he was the person who taught me to ride a bike in the backyard, change a tire before I got my driver’s license, assemble and disassemble our above-ground pool each year, constantly take wrong turns on family trips, mispronounce numerous words and phrases (like Doogie Howser), continually call the local chemical company to complain about the smell emanating from the building, and insist that each new grandchild was smarter than the previous. He was kind of quirky and spoke his mind sometimes too much, but that was Dad, and now I know what an amazing and difficult life he led.
So if your father has stories that surpass those of my Dad, I hope you have written them down because I would love to read them.
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