Mel's reunion final report

Group portrait of the surviving vets of the 87th, including several members of the WACS
Dear All,
Mel and  Leslie at the reunion

The second and final day of the 87th Infantry Division reunion (actually there were three days, but we missed the first) was even more intellectually enriching and emotionally resonant than the first. I missed the business meeting at which it was decided to hold another meeting next year, despite the dwindling number of living vets (they deal with that tough decision every year and every year decide to continue), so next year in Atlanta...

Mel and Kathleen Coleton, daughter of 
Mel's closest war buddy John Coleton, 
who couldn't make the reunion this 
year  because of ill health. 

Leslie Brenner arrived from her home in Portsmouth in time to attend the Memorial Service with Mel and myself...Various prayers, declarations  and color guards marching through a small room...This year when they read George Washington's Prayer for the Nation, the written version contained a reference to his faith in Jesus Christ, but out of respect for the Jewish soliders, they did not mention Jesus Christ when reading the proclamation out loud. (Mel had spoken to the powers that be on that issue last year and they understood the discomfort that caused the Jewish vets). There was plenty of spirituality though, especially when everyone joined wholeheartedly in a moving rendition of Amazing Grace...

Leslie and Kathleen Coleton

Then there was a session of reminiscing about difficult issues from the battlefront...They spoke about having known men who literal shot themselves in the foot so as to be able to get out of the horror of the fighting, with one guy acknowledging that he and others covered for one guy who shot himself in the foot, saying it was an accident, not intentional...One vet, a taciturn type from the South, spoke candidly about his lifelong struggle against anxiety--how he managed to succeed in his career and build a happy marriage and family despite the demons he was constantly fighting, including the shame he felt about his condition. He did electroshock treatments back in the 50s, which helped some, but he didn't really get relief until Zoloft appeared in the 90s. It was moving that he felt safe to share what had been deep dark secrets in front of all those people.

Military couple from Minnesota

One guy talked about the shock of visiting Buchenwald two days after it was liberated, describing vividly in the first person what we have all seen on faded newsreels and in history books; the smell, the piled up bodies and watching a former prisoner beating S.S. prison guards with a riding crop...Mel, whose unit also liberated a much smaller concentration camp, said until that point, there had been virtually no awareness of the reality of the Holocaust  among the U.S. troops, lncluding the Jewish ones. Mel shared one of the most powerful anecdotes---how he talked some of his comrades out of shooting German soldiers they had captured...He argued that it was morally wrong, would dishonor the company, and if word got out,  it would prevent more Germans from surrendering...At one point he summoned all of his will to hold himself back from shooting in the stomach a teenage Hitler Youth member he had captured who had been firing at him from a house...but sometimes there was no choice but to shoot the Hitler Youth who chopped down trees and did other desperate acts of sabotage to slow the American advance in the final weeks because they resisted to the very end...

Leslie works the crowd

Dear Readers, I must acknowledge missing the end of that session as I rushed off for a delicious swim at Naragansett Beach...Later came the closing banquet, which was memorable for me in part for the chance to have some quality time with Leslie, who shared family memories growing up...How her grandfather Lee Klein used to take them to the races at Saratoga and other wonderful memories of her grandparents Lil and Lee, of Uncle Morty, of her relationship growing up with Wendy, Marsha and Robert...It made me realize how much rich family life Dan, Joanne and I missed out on because our parents moved with us away from New York to Pittsburgh and Chicago as kids...There was an amazing entertainment at the Banquet---an acapella group called Boston Accent who performed songs from the 30s to the 70s with gorgeous harmonies, but also with plenty of fun and sass...utterly charming...and we all had plenty to drink, or at least I did...It seemed appropriate to honor the memory of my late grandfather Walter Ruby and Lee Klein, who also went into the liquor business, with several rum and cokes (as most of you know he famously invited the drink, which he labelled Carioca Cooler)...

In any case, it was a magical two days. I saw humanity at its best on so many levels...Maybe there still is hope that this species can build a decent future...Thanks so much to Mel for giving me the chance to experience all of this and to Leslie for sharing it with us...Hugs to you all,
Naragansett beach