Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Honour, free of prejudice

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Nancy Weinstein accepts the Medal of Honor for her husband former Army Sgt. Jack Weinstein from President Barack Obama on  March 18 in Washington.

OLIVIER DOULIERY / ABACA PRESS / MCT Enlarge Image

Nancy Weinstein accepts the Medal of Honor for her husband former Army Sgt. Jack Weinstein from President Barack Obama on March 18 in Washington.

WASHINGTON -- Libman and Kravitz were young men from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, living the postwar idyll of nickel drafts, dames, and the Dodgers, when U.S. President Harry Truman decided America had gone without a war long enough.

That was in the summer of 1950, as Kim Il-Sung, the Putin of Pyongyang, sent waves of fighters to unify the two Koreas by force. Truman responded with the Eighth United States Army and things only got worse from there, with the might of the Soviet Union, Red China and People's Korea arrayed against the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the United Nations, seven-eighths of them from the U.S.A.

Kravitz enlisted in Truman's legion, said goodbye to Libman outside Rae's Candy Store while their mothers played mah-jong, and went off to enlist in Company M of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 24th Infantry Division.

In March 1951, Company M was pinned down on a Korean hillside when, according the official American report of the skirmish, "the enemy launched a fanatical banzai charge with heavy supporting fire... When the machine gunner was wounded in the initial phase of action, Private Kravitz immediately seized the weapon and poured devastating fire into the ranks of the onrushing assailants.

"Upon order to withdraw, Private Kravitz voluntarily remained to provide protective fire for the retiring elements." When his body was retrieved the next day, "numerous enemy dead lay in and around his emplacement."

"I couldn't imagine why anyone would do that," Libman is telling me now in a hushed hotel that overlooks the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. "He takes over the gun and sends the other men back to safety, and he knows he's not going to get through this."

For the next half-century, Mitch Libman would wonder why 136 Americans received the Medal of Honour for extraordinary bravery in the face of death in Korea, and none of them was a Jew. (None of them was Libman either; he got drafted and wound up in Korea in 1953, the very day a ceasefire was signed.)

"What Kravitz did, a lot of people who got the Medal of Honour, they did the same thing," he would argue, making a fanatical banzai charge through Congress.

This week, Libman's long crusade paid off -- if recognition forged in bronze and gilded with awe ever can be called the equal of a long and loving life. Private First Class Kravitz is one of 24 men -- three of them still living, most of them of Latino descent -- who have been added to the rolls of this country's highest award for courage and self-sacrifice.

Tiptoeing through a minefield of institutional racism and anti-Christian derision, the White House explains that the annals of the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam had been re-combed "to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honour were not denied because of prejudice."

Some of last week's recipients were members of neither tribe. The widow of a sergeant named Jack Weinstein -- a Christian of German descent from Harry Truman's hometown of Lamar, Mo. -- sighs as she remembered first glimpsing him, more than 60 years ago, across a crowded room.

Then Weinstein went to Korea. In October 1951, his unit "was hit," according to the regimental report, "by a fierce counterattack by about 30 fanatical Chinese Communist troops."

He killed most of them, crawled out on a broken leg, married his Nancy from the village dance, gave her five children, worked a farm in Kansas and died eight Aprils ago.

"If he had a brother, he couldn't have loved him any more than he loved the soldiers under him," Nancy says.

"Do you think we are finished with war?" I ask her.

"I am so afraid," she whispers. "And do we even know who the enemy is?"

"Do you think we are finished with war?" I ask Mitch Libman and his wife, Marilyn.

"I don't think the world will ever be done with war," Marilyn says. "To see what is going on in Syria and Ukraine and knowing what happened with Hitler, how can you just close your eyes?"

The Medal of Honour recipient's first name was Leonard: Lenny Kravitz. He left behind in Brooklyn a brother named Seymour, whom everybody called Sy, who had a daughter named Lauri with one wife and a son with a second wife whom he named after his hero brother.

This boy, of course, is the Lenny Kravitz with the eight Grammy Awards, one of them for reprising the Guess Who classic American Woman and the lyric that still damns and shames this republic: "I don't need your war machines. I don't need your ghetto scenes."

"Do you think we are finished with war?" I ask Lauri Kravitz-Wenger, whose family runs a diner on a highway a couple of hours north of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

"I feel like whenever we are protecting ourselves, then it needs to be," she answers. "But to lose so many young lives for places that don't even want us there, it's kind of hard to swallow."

She is here to accept the medal for a hero who never came home, no more or less fanatical than any man of any nation who fights for his friends.

"People say, 'Too bad your uncle never got to meet his famous nephew,' " she says. "I tell them, 'No, it's too bad he never got to meet our uncle.' "

 

Allen Abel is a Brooklyn-born Canadian journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2014 A9

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