Sunday, July 6, 2008 U.S. Jewish Military Personnel Today – Part I

The website is an online resource for Jews in the U.S. armed forces. Recently the website has been collecting names of Jewish military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a comment to this list of names, someone said that he felt most Americans didn’t realize that Jews serve in the armed forces of the United States.

In response to this comment I offered to have someone write a guest post about Jews in the military. Brian Kresge, a sergeant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, took up my offer.

Kresge served from 1993-1999 with the 101st at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Alaska as an infantryman. He now works for Robert Bosch GmbH as a marketing web developer and serves with the 2nd Battalion, 112th Infantry Regiment out of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, as an infantry team leader in the National Guard's only Stryker Brigade. Last month he spent three weeks with his National Guard unit doing its first round of pre-mobilization at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Here’s Kresge’s reply:

After many years of looking, I found the burial place of my great-great-uncle Oscar Feldser. A simple military marker with his name, rank, unit, and a Star of David offered closure for a genealogy mystery.

Uncle Oscar, as I've come to think of him, represents the beginning of my Jewish ancestors' military tradition in the United States. Fresh off the boat from Russia and for reasons lost to the oral history of my family, Oscar ended up fighting in the Spanish-American War.

This war left him a permanent resident of the Soldier's Home in Washington, D.C. A personal account of his experience is lost, never to be known. All that remains is a single photo of a handsome young man and a gravestone in the Soldier's Home cemetery.

I'm slightly atypical for an American Jew; I've a family military tradition that does, in fact, go back to the militias of Northampton County in Pennsylvania during the American Revolution. Granted, I come from assimilated stock, and wartime service dating from then to the Civil War is courtesy of my non-Jewish paternal ancestors.

During World War II, one would have a hard time finding a Feldser who did not serve. The Lancaster Jewish Community Center lists two of my relatives on the center’s WWII memorial plaque. The family has a treasured picture of Uncle Benny looking dashing in his Eisenhower jacket with all his awards. My Uncle Harry was awarded the Silver Star as a Marine on Iwo Jima.

For me, with my assimilated Jewish experience, nothing about "Never Again" determined that I would join the U.S. Army. In one respect, it was a rejection of my boomer parents' ideals. More importantly, it was the vainglorious notions of fortune and glory in combat that did me in. The women would flock to me in my fetching maroon beret, because there would be no dispute that the army took this awkward academic and crafted a man.

To be continued in Part II

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