Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Sayonara / Shalom / Goodbye…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

© September 12, 2015 (A Jewish New Year Poem)

 

My Father fought the Japanese

 

Born before the Navahos were citizens

Born before women could vote

Before Hirohito, Yamamoto and Tojo

Before Meir, Dayan and Herzl

Before Eisenhower, Patton and FDR

Were names on anyone’s lips

 

Packed into trains of troop ships

Crossing the Pacific Ocean

To avenge Pearl Harbor treachery

To kill people he didn’t know

Bombed sending messages by telegraph

He died with steel shrapnel

Still in his body

Half a century later

 

In the Battle of Leyte Gulf

History’s greatest naval engagement

Which no one now remembers

My father saw a speck in the sky

The speck became

A Japanese Kamikaze plane

A suicide flight loaded with bombs

Aiming directly for his ship

Impossible to stop it

It missed by mere inches

My father saw the pilot’s smiling face

As the doomed plane of death

Slammed into the waves

Disappearing beneath the sea

 

What do you do with your life after that?

 

That long war was the peak of his existence

His Mt. Fuji of drama, terror and bravery

Nothing could match it

A life stretching out flat as

The American Prairies

Never finding the right work

The right girl

The right life

I have a tattered Japanese battlefield flag

He saved for an unborn son

 

But life turns unexpected corners

His curious son

Born on the fifth anniversary

Of Adolph Hitler’s death

Wanted to know everything

About

The Japanese…and the Jews

Who they were, who was I

Though Jews remain

Merely a sliver in numbers

Compared to one hundred million Japanese

 

I discovered we were both Asian peoples

Where else would Israel be?

Parked near the center of Asia

The crossroads of history’s armies

Japan an island surrounded by ocean

Nearly six thousand miles

From Jerusalem to Tokyo

Yet we were both Asian

 

Both dark-eyed dark-haired people

Smaller in stature than many others

Both our alphabets written right to left

Both languages spoken

Exactly as written

So unlike incomprehensible

French

 

I wanted to know everything

Both so creative within their limitations

The Japanese trapped on their island

The Jews landless and roaming

Both wrote everything down

Ink more precious than gold

So similar in capturing ideas

Both sealing Time on scrolls

 

I learned about Jewish/Japanese

Architects and artists

Both creating imaginative buildings

In wood, stone, metal and glass

Both creating delicate watercolors

Music central to both of us

In tragic opera and magic Broadway

About matzo ball and miso soup

Brisket and teriyaki

 

I wanted to be a cowboy

Then saw a book about the Samurai

Warriors as works of art

War as ritual and honor

A thousand years of Japan’s Dance of Death

Their helmets, their armor, their swords

Leaving Roy Rogers and John Wayne

Their Winchesters and their Colts

In the dust

Samurais!

Wow!

 

My Father watched me learning

Sending me to art school

Private school

Prizing education over anything else

Listening proudly to all I learned

I listened to his stories of war

Of his parents dangerous escape from Europe

About being one out of many

And the very real dangers even here

Of being just one, out of so many

 

He was confounded by my alternate life

Of music and art and books

Watching me acquire understanding

Of history’s flow

And our determined place in it

Living in a way as a witness

That another life was possible

Even if not for him

He protected me and paved my way

 

When he died in my arms

Hirohito, Yamamoto and Tojo

Meir, Dayan and Herzl

Eisenhower, Patton and FDR

Were no longer names on anyone’s lips

Fame swiftly disappearing in the flow

But he knew I would remember

Not as warrior like he was

But as a student

Preserving History’s past

 

To my Father, Israel:

Wherever and whatever you are now

Perhaps floating cosmic energy

Somewhere in the Universe

I so hope you found

The peace and tranquility

You never found

on Earth

 

Arigato

Todah Rabah

Thank you

 

Sayonara

Shalom

Good-bye

 

 

Note: My father’s obituary as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2000;

Irving Israel Katzman

May 22, 2000

Irving Israel Katzman, 87, of Highland Park was a lucky and resourceful World War II Army veteran who watched a kamikaze pilot narrowly miss his transport ship and once escaped being killed in a mess hall bombing because he decided not to go to lunch that day.

Mr. Katzman, a longtime salesman, died of congestive heart failure Thursday, May 18, in Highland Park Hospital. Born in Newport, Ky., Mr. Katzman was a small child when he moved to Chicago with his parents to join the city’s West Side Jewish immigrant community, said his son, Bob. He was drafted in 1942 and spent 31/2 years in the Army, much of it on a series of Pacific islands, his son said. Mr. Katzman learned Morse code and became a radio operator, teaching other servicemen along the way.

“He was considered to be a whiz,” his son said.

Once, when he and his brother were stationed on the same island, a mess hall at Mr. Katzman’s camp was bombed. His brother, frantic with worry, raced over and found him in his tent.

“His life was saved by a whim,” his son said. “He just chose not to go to lunch.”

After he left the service, Mr. Katzman became a salesman who pedaled everything from carpeting to pool tables to jewelry, his son said. He opened a kosher delicatessen with his son and later lived 10 years in California, where he sold mattresses. In 1985, he returned to the Chicago area and went to work in his son’s Morton Grove collectible magazine store.

“He was the kind of person who could keep somebody engaged,” his son said. “He was remarkable.”

Other survivors include a daughter, Bonnie Sue Chelin; two sisters, Mollie Pastor and Estelle Karabush; one brother, Milton; and six grandchildren. Services will be at 11 a.m. Monday in Weinstein Family Services Wilmette Chapel, 111 Skokie Blvd., Wilmette.

(Below added later)

As of March 17, 2017, my father has been joined in death by his brother Milt, sister Mollie, and his daughter–my older sister –Bonnie. Rest in peace, all of you.
Also, on this day in 1942, 75 years ago, my father along with twelve other friends from the Jewish West Side of Chicago enlisted in the US Army.  All thirteen of them came back home.

8 Comments »

Comment by David Griesemer

September 12, 2015 @ 9:53 am

Jews have Be-power. They be here when the goy arrived, and they’ll be here when he’s gone.

Comment by Brad Dechter

September 14, 2015 @ 5:13 am

Shana tova Bob to you and your loved ones!
Brad

Comment by Bob

September 14, 2015 @ 10:35 am

Thank you, my friend, and also to you & yours. Hope we can meet again. BTW, I added another stanza.
Bob

Comment by NewMan from NewArk

September 19, 2015 @ 12:41 pm

nicely done, Amigo

Comment by Jim Payne

September 7, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

Wandering with you through your poem is a journey through the connections of peoples and people. Like a tour guide you point out things I would never see by myself. Thank you for the journey and thank you for your poem. They both are wonderful.
Jim Payne

Comment by Charlie Newman

September 7, 2017 @ 6:21 pm

as I said about 2 years ago…nicely done, Amigo…one of those things that gets better with age…

Comment by Brad Dechter

September 8, 2017 @ 5:11 am

It was well written before and it still is. Your love for your dad shines through.
Thanks for sharing!
Shana Tovah again Bob!
Brad

Comment by Don Larson

September 11, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

Hi Bob,

Somehow I missed reading this story when it was first posted. I’m sorry about that oversight.

It is a wonderful story of your father’s journey through life. I regret that I never had a chance to meet him. Much of your strength flows through you from him.

Warmest regards,

Don

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