The readers’ forum

A Jewish fighter pilot’s call to serve

 

I was honored to be asked to participate in WLRN’s documentary A Call to Serve: Florida Jews and the U.S. Military, which will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday. I got to tell about some of my experiences. I served 20 years in the Air Force and flew the F-4 Phantom jet fighter and the Mach II jet fighter.

After graduating from New York University, I entered the Air Force and was smart enough and physically qualified to be a pilot. At my graduation from pilot training in 1966, my uncle, a World War II B-17 pilot pinned his wings on me. His experiences as a Jewish officer in a German POW camp were not good. But when the Nazis tried to separate the Jewish prisoners out, the entire camp of more than 10,000 POWs stepped forward and said they were all Jewish. That stopped the Nazis.

My experience as a Jew in our Air Force was quite smooth. There were a few instances early on of having to face down a bigot, but, overall, it was much easier than I had anticipated.

In 1967, I am at Da Nang Air Base in South Vietnam flying combat missions. On July 6, on my 78th combat mission deep in North Vietnam near the Chinese border, I was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and taken prisoner. This isn’t what I had planned and now a whole new chapter of my life began for the next five years and eight months. Our dog tags listed our religion. I wasn’t in favor of this, but didn’t have a choice.

The Vietnamese Communists were atheists, and only once during my captivity brought up my being Jewish. After much back and forth, they asked me if I supported Israel against the Arabs, and I said Yes. Religion was never mentioned again.

During my career I met a number of other Jewish officers and enlisted folks. My contemporaries seemed to have the same opportunities that I had, and that is a strong testament to our Air Force. While going through my F-4 training in 1966 in Tucson, Ariz., the base chaplain (who was not Jewish) was even able to get us High Holy Day tickets at a local synagogue. In my time, we had all the opportunities as everyone else. I hope that’s still true. Today there are many more Jews in the Air Force in all ranks up to, and including, generals. One of my Jewish prison mates retired as a general.

America is still the land of opportunity. More Americans need to understand what we have in America and make it even better.

Melvin Pollack, lieutenant colonel (ret.), USAF, West Palm Beach

Editor’s note: Check your cable provider’s listings for A Call to Serve.

Read more Letters to the Editor stories from the Miami Herald

  • The readers’ forum

    Fare hike for Special Transportation Services is fair

    In the July 20 letter to the editor Fare increase for disabled ‘un-American,’ Evan Flugman expressed concerns over the recommended 50-cent Special Transportation Service (STS) fare increase that is included in the proposed Miami-Dade County budget for fiscal year 2014-2015.

  • How to pick qualified jurists

    As a lawyer who has been practicing in Miami-Dade for 40 years, and appearing regularly before the area’s judges, I would agree with the major theme of Joe Cardona’s July 26 column, Better ways to pick judges. Elections aren’t the best path to a quality bench, yet I strongly disagree that elections haven’t produced a strong local judiciary. The anonymous opinions of lawyers expressed in bar polls is that the overwhelming majority of our local judges do a good job. Applicants to the Judicial Nominating Commission almost always have quality résumés. The pay for judges, while not generous, may be far less than successful experienced lawyers, but compares favorably with the average income as statistics reflect. Judicial elections have not prevented Miami-Dade from providing us an overwhelming number of capable jurists.

  • Where’s the outrage?

    If most of the Muslims of the world are decent, peace-loving citizens, then where is their outrage against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and the other violent murderous Islamics? They kill schoolgirls for the crime of seeking an education, or throw acid in their faces, they set off bombs in crowds of civilians, and they bomb mosques and churches. In Mali, where the situation was horrible, European forces are trying to restore peace.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category