Saluting Those In Uniform

By Masha Leon

Published January 12, 2007, issue of January 12, 2007.
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“If you want to see America’s melting pot, look to the military,” said Brian Whiting, executive director of USO of Metropolitan New York, at the December 7 USO & Armed Forces Golf Medal dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street as he looked around the room at the full-dress uniformed young and seasoned members of the services.

“I write to support my baseball habit,” said syndicated columnist George F. Will before presenting the USO gold medal to Major League Baseball commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig. “I grew up in Champaign, Illinois, and [depending on the baseball team you rooted for] my friends grew up happy and liberal [and] I became gloomy and conservative. I have a Chicago Cubs major league logo [inscribed] on my wedding ring…. There is no argument about Bud being the best commissioner… and baseball’s master builder.” Under Selig’s watch, Will noted, there are now “15 new major league parks [with] 76 million [baseball] fans turning out in 2006…. This is a global enterprise… In the United States, more than one-quarter of the players were foreign born.”

“There has been a long and proud relationship [between] baseball and the U.S. military since the Civil War,” a beaming Selig responded. “Yankees and Johnnies, soldiers on both sides of the conflict, played a game that would become our national [passion]…. Sixty-five years ago, on December 7 [when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor], President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided it was best for the country to keep baseball going. Baseball… supports our servicemen in times of peace and times of war.”

“Want to know where Angelina Jolie gets her humanitarianism genes?” asked Stephen Scheffer, chairman of USO of Metropolitan New York. “You need look no further than [her father and event emcee] Jon Voight… an actor who refused roles… devoting himself to humanitarian causes, Vietnam vets, the homeless.” (Known for his starring roles in “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “Deliverance” (1972), “Coming Home” (1978) and “The Odessa File” (1974), and for his portrayal of FDR in the 2004 film “Pearl Harbor,” few know that Voight has been a perennial devoted participant at annual (Lubavitch) Chabad Children of Chernobyl benefits.) Unlike the nefarious U.S. senator he portrays in the ’98 thriller “Enemy of the State,” a tuxedo-clad, pink-cheeked Voight proclaimed, “We are the land of the free because of the brave.” Smiling, he said: “I [have been] in love with Joyce Randolph, also known as Trixie Norton — the last one left of the cast of ‘The Honeymooners.’” Randolph (a past USO honoree) stood and was applauded, “hoorah’d and oohrah’d” by the guests.

A trio of leggy USO Troupe members sang each of the service’s anthems as members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines rose to ramrod attention. “We ask our men and women to do [the] unbelievable each day,” said Michael Hagee, former United States Marine Corps commandant and Gold Medal honoree. “They don’t want to die. Why do they do it? For the individuals on the right, for the individuals on the left and because they believe in something larger than themselves.”

One of my tablemates was Isaac Michalowski, a defense contractor with BAE Systems. At the mention of the Forward, he told me: “I was born in Havana… my parents came to Cuba in the 1920s from Lomze and Stawiska (Poland, now Belarus). They left for America in 1954. I remember my father coming home each day with the Forverts. Then he and my uncle would avidly discuss the editorials and all the articles.”

Launched in 1941 at the request of FDR “to provide morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel,” the USO was founded by six civilian agencies: The Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board.


In his dynamic speech delivered at Yeshiva University’s December 10 Hanukkah dinner and convocation, Senator John McCain hit all the right notes. The 800 guests, gathered in The Waldorf-Astoria’s Rainbow Room, kvelled as McCain — who was hooded with an honorary doctor of laws degree — touted Israel “the world’s only Jewish state…[that has] thrived in the face of great difficulty.” Citing all Israel’s wars and its partnership with America, “its natural partner and ally,” McCain put the spotlight on the Palestinian people who are “ill-served by a terrorist-led government that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, refuses to renounce violence and refuses to acknowledge prior commitments.” Nods of approval greeted McCain’s references to Elie Wiesel’s cautionary quote, “The opposite of love is not hate… it is apathy”; Martin Buber’s injunction, “Next to being the children of God our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other,” and John Donne’s reminder, “No man is an island.”

Y.U. president Richard Joel — upbeat and with comedic asides — introduced the evening’s recipients of honorary degrees of Humane Letters: Felix Leo Glaubach, philanthropist and Y.U. board trustee; Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt and dean (1971) of Yeshiva College; Arnold Penner, philanthropist and board member of Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Solomon Scharfstein, prolific author and president of KTAV Publishing House, and Marcy Syms, CEO of Syms Corp. and founding member of the board of directors, of Y.U.’s Sy Syms School of Business.

Following the recessional, the guests headed for the Grand Ballroom for the evening’s Act II — dinner — at which Y.U. president Joel introduced the “celebrated” Ronald Stanton, chairman and founder of Transammonia, Inc., whose “unprecedented gift of $100 million to Y.U. “is the largest single gift in North America in support of Jewish life.” Joking that “one hundred million is not what it used to be,” Joel described this gift as having “shattered the glass ceiling of Jewish philanthropy…. Ron’s gift is a down-payment on our future.” Taking the stage with his children and grandchildren, Stanton unceremoniously stated: “The number two has special significance for me. I have two wives, two [sets of] children, two pair of cufflinks and two tuxedos that don’t fit me anymore.”


My first encounter with Jeane Kirkpatrick, who died December 8, 2006, at 80, was in December 1982 during “A Day at the United Nations” sponsored by the New York Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. Addressing the AJCommittee group, Kirkpatrick delivered a no khokhmes — straight from the shoulder — address: “We Americans are hated…. We Americans seek a way to implement the universalistic principles and institutions… in a search for freedom, peace and democracy for everybody — not just for ourselves.” Apropos issues that were primary at the time — and which regrettably still resonate in the present — Kirkpatrick cited Sam Levenson: “He said, ‘The United Nations is where people are condemned to death by elocution.’” She added, “The Holocaust began not in the crematoria of Auschwitz but in words — it was politics that paved the road. Rhetoric of hate must be taken seriously.” She reminded the audience, “It was for rhetoric that the people of Athens put Socrates to death,”. Following a question-and-answer session, Kirkpatrick injected a soupçon of sarcasm: “To be a member of the United Nations you have to be a peace-loving state — like Libya or [in then pre-Perestroika] the Soviet Union.” When I asked her how she managed to maintain her equilibrium “day after day listening to this avalanche of hate aimed at Israel and the United States,” she forthrightly stated, “With great difficulty.”

Among the honorees at the 1990 “Defenders of Jerusalem” 10th annual award dinner at The Waldorf-Astoria were Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir; editorial page editor of the New York Post, Eric Breindel; national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman; editor-in-chief of Commentary, Norman Podhoretzand Jeane Kirkpatrick, who could not attend due to her husband’s illness.

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