Courage Doesn't Require a Megaphone

I think if I had spent any time around Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and heard him continually talk about his service in the Vietnam War, I would have figured he was a phony. I've known men who served in war, and they're not the type of guys who feel the need to brag. They don't have to! They're not fighting an inner battle with their manhood or suffering from a guilt complex because they received a deferment that kept them out of combat.

One of my oldest memories about combat veterans comes from growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, in the same neighborhood with my brother-in-law, Bernard Ostrowski. My oldest sister's husband had been in World War II, but he never cared to discuss his role. We did find out that he had a Lugar that he took from a German officer during a combat situation. He also kept his military-issued rifle with a bayonet attachment. "Bernie" and my sister Ethie, who was eleven years older than I, lived in an apartment down the street from us.

A quiet but pleasant guy, Bernie was an auto mechanic by trade, but his ability to fix anything mechanical was almost legendary in the area. He could listen to a car engine for a few seconds and diagnose the problem without even opening the hood. People would call upon him to fix their radios, televisions, refrigerators, and just about anything put together with nuts, bolts, and wires. The first TV we ever owned was given to us by Bernie after he found it in the garbage, took it home, and repaired it. It was one of those rabbit-eared, round-screened Motorola sets with vacuum tubes. In those days, images would sometimes "jump" and become skewed until you adjusted the horizontal or vertical hold. Not the one Bernie fixed for us -- it kept us entertained for years without our ever having to slam a clenched fist on the top of it, as people used to do to when nothing else worked. I remember hearing that his boss at the service station told him not to repair cars as well as he did because although the customers were very satisfied and came back often for gas, they never had to bring the cars back for more work. With all of his natural genius for bringing machines back to life, he never expected or sought monetary compensation or praise.

The reason I relate all of this is because there was a time that I saw another side to Bernie -- a side that could have been conditioned only by extraordinary circumstances. You see, there was a guy in the neighborhood who had a reputation as a nasty brawler; I'll refer to him as Joe. Most people were afraid of Joe and did their best to avoid a confrontation. When he was sober, he was ill-tempered and dangerous, but when he was drinking, he was the devil incarnate. Joe was a furniture mover, a heavy-lifting job that over time built him some very impressive biceps. Add to that a few red and blue tattoos scrawled across bulging veins, and it was easy to see why Joe appeared to be a formidable character, even on the mean streets of that tenement-filled area. When this bully was in a bad mood, he wasn't selective about venting his rage; he'd assault men or women. One night he made the mistake of slapping my mother during an argument outside our apartment house. Someone called Bernie, and he walked over to the scene of the incident.

Joe turned on him like an animal, evidently sizing him up as a pushover (Bernie was about 5' 7" and weighed about 160). Joe threw the first punch (a move that usually ended the fight), but it was probably the last thing he remembered before the lights went out. Bernie stepped back to wave it off before moving in with a couple of knuckle sandwiches, like a man who was no stranger to violence. With his antagonist unconscious at his feet, Bernie merely walked away quietly (undoubtedly back to his apartment to fix another appliance). He had vanquished his enemy and simply moved on. To my knowledge, Joe was never again a problem to anyone on the block.

Bernie, true to his quiet courage, never talked about the night he casually slew a dragon in front of a grateful crowd. That's the difference between men who served in battle and those who lie about it for personal gain.

If Blumenthal gets the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator, his GOP opponent could be Rob Simmons, a retired army colonel and actual Vietnam vet. It could make for some interesting debates if the subject of war comes up. 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob. 
I think if I had spent any time around Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and heard him continually talk about his service in the Vietnam War, I would have figured he was a phony. I've known men who served in war, and they're not the type of guys who feel the need to brag. They don't have to! They're not fighting an inner battle with their manhood or suffering from a guilt complex because they received a deferment that kept them out of combat.

One of my oldest memories about combat veterans comes from growing up on the lower east side of Manhattan, in the same neighborhood with my brother-in-law, Bernard Ostrowski. My oldest sister's husband had been in World War II, but he never cared to discuss his role. We did find out that he had a Lugar that he took from a German officer during a combat situation. He also kept his military-issued rifle with a bayonet attachment. "Bernie" and my sister Ethie, who was eleven years older than I, lived in an apartment down the street from us.

A quiet but pleasant guy, Bernie was an auto mechanic by trade, but his ability to fix anything mechanical was almost legendary in the area. He could listen to a car engine for a few seconds and diagnose the problem without even opening the hood. People would call upon him to fix their radios, televisions, refrigerators, and just about anything put together with nuts, bolts, and wires. The first TV we ever owned was given to us by Bernie after he found it in the garbage, took it home, and repaired it. It was one of those rabbit-eared, round-screened Motorola sets with vacuum tubes. In those days, images would sometimes "jump" and become skewed until you adjusted the horizontal or vertical hold. Not the one Bernie fixed for us -- it kept us entertained for years without our ever having to slam a clenched fist on the top of it, as people used to do to when nothing else worked. I remember hearing that his boss at the service station told him not to repair cars as well as he did because although the customers were very satisfied and came back often for gas, they never had to bring the cars back for more work. With all of his natural genius for bringing machines back to life, he never expected or sought monetary compensation or praise.

The reason I relate all of this is because there was a time that I saw another side to Bernie -- a side that could have been conditioned only by extraordinary circumstances. You see, there was a guy in the neighborhood who had a reputation as a nasty brawler; I'll refer to him as Joe. Most people were afraid of Joe and did their best to avoid a confrontation. When he was sober, he was ill-tempered and dangerous, but when he was drinking, he was the devil incarnate. Joe was a furniture mover, a heavy-lifting job that over time built him some very impressive biceps. Add to that a few red and blue tattoos scrawled across bulging veins, and it was easy to see why Joe appeared to be a formidable character, even on the mean streets of that tenement-filled area. When this bully was in a bad mood, he wasn't selective about venting his rage; he'd assault men or women. One night he made the mistake of slapping my mother during an argument outside our apartment house. Someone called Bernie, and he walked over to the scene of the incident.

Joe turned on him like an animal, evidently sizing him up as a pushover (Bernie was about 5' 7" and weighed about 160). Joe threw the first punch (a move that usually ended the fight), but it was probably the last thing he remembered before the lights went out. Bernie stepped back to wave it off before moving in with a couple of knuckle sandwiches, like a man who was no stranger to violence. With his antagonist unconscious at his feet, Bernie merely walked away quietly (undoubtedly back to his apartment to fix another appliance). He had vanquished his enemy and simply moved on. To my knowledge, Joe was never again a problem to anyone on the block.

Bernie, true to his quiet courage, never talked about the night he casually slew a dragon in front of a grateful crowd. That's the difference between men who served in battle and those who lie about it for personal gain.

If Blumenthal gets the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator, his GOP opponent could be Rob Simmons, a retired army colonel and actual Vietnam vet. It could make for some interesting debates if the subject of war comes up. 

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. E-mail Bob. 

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