The Vietnam War had a great impact upon Michigan’s Jewish community.
I thought long and hard about this week’s Looking Back. With little fanfare in the media, a significant 50th anniversary occurred last month. On March 29, 1973, the last American troops left Vietnam.
Millions of U.S. military personnel served in Vietnam. Over 500,000 were in Vietnam during the peak year of participation. By the time the last troops came home, 58,220 Americans had been killed in action and more than 150,000 were wounded. It was a terrible toll.
I hesitated to write about the Vietnam War because in the 1960s and 1970s — and still today — it was a highly controversial military action conducted by the United States. It was a war that touched many American families and adversely affected so many of those who served in our armed forces.
I’m old enough to have been in the draft. While still in high school in 1971, I wondered if my number would be picked. I was lucky — my number was 248 and I was not drafted. I joined the Marines later, but as a volunteer. That is a big difference from being drafted.
I found 354 pages of the JN that had content about Vietnam in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. I found a couple of mentions of Vietnam in 1950s, but the bulk of articles regarding the Vietnam War are from the 1960s and 1970s.
BTW — Congress never officially declared the Vietnam War to be a “war.”
The Vietnam War had a great impact upon Michigan’s Jewish community. A number of local men served in the war. Paul “Pinch” Braunstein, who ran for Mayor of Oak Park in 1991, served as an U.S. Army airborne officer (March 15, 1991). Rabbi Craig L. Allen, leader of the Livonia Jewish Congregation in 1991, served in Signal Corps (Feb. 8, 1991). Sanford Greenberg served in the Marines (Aug. 22, 1968).
Sadly, some who served did not return. Pfc. Dennis Greenwald, an Army paratrooper, lost his life assisting wounded comrades. Greenwald received a posthumous Bronze Medal for his bravery (March 22, 1968).
As you might expect, the Michigan chapter of Jewish War Veterans of America (JWV) never forgot our Vietnam vets. By 1970, the Michigan JWV and its Auxiliary, chaired by Ann Rubin, had sent thousands of packages every year to service members of all “races, religions and creeds” in Vietnam. Their position was: “Regardless of what your politics concerning the Vietnam War may be, the fact remains that our American boys are fighting in Vietnam” (March 20, 1970).
The one story to read is “Suffering the Pain,” published in the Nov. 8, 1985, issue of the JN. This moving article addresses “the unsettling memories for most men who came of age during the late-1960s and early ’70s.” Several local Jewish men shared their personal journeys as veterans, such as Bob Mitchell, Steve Hirshberg and Michael Berkowitz. These are not easy narratives to absorb, but their stories are very important.
Fifty years have passed since the Vietnam War, and the world has moved on. Inconceivable 50 years ago, a very hopeful sign of progress can be found in the wedding announcement of Rachel Helene Jacobs and Michael Z. Allen. The newlyweds honeymooned in Vietnam (Sept. 6, 2002).
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.