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From the Vault of Art Shay: A WW II Flier's Thoughts on Memorial Day

By Art Shay in News on May 30, 2011 4:00PM

I wear an old 8th Air Force cap. At least once a week some young person comes up and shakes my hand, thanking me for my service. "For making my entire life possible," said the most recent one in Chang's Northbrook last week, as the Bulls surrendered on both Toshibas over their bar.

It's always a pleasant surprise (the thanks, not the surrender) and reminds me of a fellow B-24 navigator who, as he plummeted towards Berlin, was machine-gunned for target practice by a Nazi FW 190 pilot. My friend had early in his combat tour written (or copied from someone else's letter or news clip) to his wife and parents:

If I don't return, salute me this way: For all your tomorrows I gave my today.

It's what was expected of us when we enlisted or were drafted. Our country needed us. You, yes you, the unborn Americans, needed us. Four years ago my play, Where Have You Gone, Jimmy Stewart? ran at the ATC Theater. It was directed by war vet Mike Nussbaum, a great actor, director, and associate of combat buff David Mamet. The play was in part about my squadron commander, the actor (Col.) Jimmy Stewart. I never flew with Jimmy, but he debriefed my crew several times after bombing missions. The play also described how some of our group's very few survivors had begun to travel to Germany to meet and have joyous dinners with some of the aging Germans who had under Hitler's orders, fought against us for their vaterland.

I made a point of never going to these weird reunions, I think because I didn't want to break bread with old soldiers whose job it was to doubly expunge me - once for invading their murderously thieving, racial, barbaric and blood-letting country, and the second time, unspoken at the reunion dinners, of course, for being a Jew.

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