JWV Post 126: Commander’s Installation Speech 06/07/2015

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I am honored to accept the position of commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 126. First, I wish to thank Sam Podietz, the past commander, and other members of the board who helped me prepare for this position. As your commander, I will do my best to lead this group into a daunting future filled with problems which we as Americans, veterans and Jews must confront. The world around us is changing rapidly and so must we if we are to remain relevant in the upcoming years. What I want to cover today is the following: First I will relate some of my own personal background; Then some of the concerns that I perceive which are bubbling just beneath the surface; and finally, how I hope that we as a group cope with these problems.

I know some of our members are Marines. Notice I did not say former Marines because once you are a Marine you are always a Marine. I know this quite well because I am Spectre or in common parlance, a member of the 16th Special Operations Squadron. Like a Marine, once you are Spectre you’re always Spectre. The brand is an indelible mark upon your psyche, your self-image and even upon your very your soul. I flew over 160 sorties in the year that I served as a fire control officer aboard the AC-130 gunship otherwise known as Spectre. I was privileged to be a part of one of the most decorated units that fought in the Vietnam War. In the year that I flew combat, my squadron lost 40 men and numerous others were injured. I was on one of those doomed flights, and in my particular case, 12 of the 15 men aboard were killed. I survived although I came very close to being captured by the enemy. That was 43 years ago and I am still battling my way through posttraumatic stress or otherwise known as PTS.

That is some of my background. Now about some of my concerns. Recently, I attended a breakfast meeting of statewide and national Jewish war veteran groups. I was sitting next to Col. Nelson Mellitz, a member of our post, and Col. Towne who is the vice base commander of McGuire Air Force Base. I listened as both men discussed the diminishing membership of all veterans groups, regardless of how they were organized. Both men were unsure of how we can attract recent veterans to join groups formed whose very purpose is to aid these same veterans. Listening to them made me think of my own situation and how hard it was for me to finally join and participate in such an organization.

Many of these returning vets suffer from PTS as I did and still do. I was lucky because I met and married my wife Betsy whose support was instrumental in whatever recovery I have achieved. I still get counseling as I have done so for the last 30 years from the Veterans Administration. The way I relate this problem to others is as if your psyche is placed in a “box” which is always closed and locked. This box is the past. When one suffers PTS, he or she is always looking backwards. I saw this with my friends as well as myself. It took a lot of years for Betsy and the VA counselors to get me out of that box in order to live in the present while also giving a glance toward the future. When you’re in the box, you look for others who share the same confinement, the same past and the same general experiences. They understand how you feel while most others will never truly
appreciate the effects of what combat does to an individual.

Our job is to help these returning vets climb out of that box. So as a group, we should focus our attention on providing this kind of aid to those combat veterans who are most in need. I know from talking with my counselor at the Wilmington VA Medical Center, that they are overwhelmed by the returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The other concern that bothers me both as an American and as a Jew is the rising tide of anti-Semitism. We see it now in a virulent form in Europe which is not dissipating, but continues to metastasize. We see it on American soil and in particular, on college campuses where it is disguised as anti-Zionism. Just a cursory view beneath the surface shows these efforts to be what they really are which is another form of anti-Semitism. We as Jews and as veterans, must be alert to the danger and fight it in every way possible.

These two problems, the difficulty in recruiting new members and the rising tide of anti-Semitism, can be addressed by our post supporting institutions who aid the recent returning veterans and who fight anti-Semitism. One such organization is “Heroes to Heroes”. This group takes American combat veterans who suffer greatly from PTS and sends them over to Israel where they bond with the IDF (Israeli Defense forces). Almost all of these veterans are members of American minority groups, mostly black and Latino. They suffer from PTS and other maladies which interferes with their ability to be a functioning society member. The results are amazing and border on miraculous. These men come back and most if not all are able to bond with their families and resume their proper role in society.

This is a win-win situation. First, it helps a combat veteran remake his life. Secondly, it fights anti-Semitism with the strongest means available… The truth of what we are as Jews. These veterans are members of minority communities with little or no experience dealing with Jewish people. By spending several weeks in Israel and forming tight bonds with IDF veterans who also suffer from PTS, they return home with a true and positive view of Jews in general and Israelis in particular. They can and do spread the knowledge that they accumulated overseas in Israel and pass it along to members of their own communities. Think of it as a sort of vaccine against the disease of anti-Semitism.

My last concern is one of brotherhood, especially within our own group. I would like to see us more bonded together both socially and as an effective force for change within our own community. One way we can accomplish this goal is to do things together. A perfect example of what I’m talking about is the upcoming trip that the board is planning for September 20, 2015. We will depart this area on a bus and visit the Washington DC area. The itinerary will include a trip to the national Jewish war Museum, Arlington Cemetery and the Vietnam Wall. We tried doing this two months ago, but we were unsuccessful due to lack of sufficient participation. Part of the problem was not giving our membership a sufficient amount of time to plan to attend this trip. Now there are no excuses. Shortly you will receive an email with all the details, but keep that date in mind. Again, that is September 20, 2015.

With your help I hope to have a successful stint as your commander. May G-d protect and bless our post, Israel and our country. Thank you very much.

Veteran’s Day Speech 11/11/2014

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am here as a representative of the Jewish War Veterans, Cherry Hill Post 126, in order to offer a few words regarding Veterans Day and what it means to me.
My particular war was the Vietnam conflict in which I served the last year of combat. There is a wall in Washington with the names of more than 58,000 servicemen etched on its face dedicated to the memory of the men and women who lost their lives during this terrible war. I cannot find the words to encompass the enormity of such a loss. What I can tell you about is one of those names. Multiply that loss by 58,000 and you have an idea of what that conflict cost us as a nation.
On June 18, 1972, my crew, Spectre 11, was ordered into the A Shau Valley on an interdiction mission of finding and destroying enemy trucking. Those that fought in Vietnam called the A Shau appropriately, “the Valley of Death” in a clear reference to the 23rd Psalm, because outside of Hanoi and Haiphong, it was the most dangerous place in all of Vietnam. This was first “frag” and we were ordered to be on station no later than 8:30 that evening local time. We were on time, and 20 minutes after being on station, we were attacked by an enemy missile, which hit our number three engine. My pilot was Capt. Paul F. Gilbert. The aircraft that we were flying was the AC-130A Gunship. I was the Fire Control Officer and my duty station was in the booth which sat in the middle of the aircraft. There were four of us in the booth. Two men left the booth right after we were hit. Two of us stayed in our seats until Paul rang the alarm bell and ordered us to abandon ship. I was one of the two who listened, obeyed our pilot, and survived. The others did not. Three out of 15 crewmembers aboard survived; the rest did not.
Now let me tell you something about Capt. Paul Gilbert and the man that he was. Paul was my hooch mate and my friend. He was quiet in the sense that he only talked when he had something definitively to say. He was engaged to be married to Miss Georgiana Burke of Texas whose picture graced his desk in his quarters. There were many pretty Thai women running around our base, yet Paul never gave any of them a second look. He was completely and totally faithful to his fiancée. In fact, Paul was a man who kept faith with his crewmates, his service, the woman he loved, his country and the G-d that made him. He was awarded posthumously both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. After I was recovered from the floor of the A Shau Valley, I wrote Paul’s family and one of the responses I received was from his fiancée, Ms. Georgiana Burke. I would now like to quote in part from her letter to me:

“That I love Paul more than I am capable of expressing cannot be denied. To consider spending the rest of my life without him is sometimes most unendurable. But most of all, the beauty of the things we experienced together, and the joy we shared will live forever. I pray that you will also live with a vestige of him in your heart, as I know the love Paul possessed for his friends and associates was great. Thank you again for your most kind and thoughtful letter. We will always remember your graciousness. I remain, Georgiana Burke”

I want you to know that I have not forgotten my friend and that he remains in my heart. My son Joshua Paul Bocher bears his name. I also want you to know that when Paul went to heaven, the Almighty received a great pilot and an even better person. Whenever I say the Kaddish, the Jewish Prayer for the dead, Paul is always in my thoughts. May G-d rest his soul.
Thank you.