How a Senator's father's photo led to a war veterans' reunion
While recently browsing through a box of photos dating back to my Army service during World War II, I came up with a photo of a man named Abe Schumer. I remember him as a friendly, good-humored guy from Brooklyn who served with me at the Bengal Air Depot, a U.S military base in eastern India. Sixty years later, I also remember that at that time, although he was only in his early 20s, Abe was already bald. That apparently was enough to have Abe firmly embedded in my failing memory bank.
In the photo, Abe is sitting on the edge of a charpoy, an Indian wood-framed, rope-laced bed, in front of a tent. Apparently there were no chairs available. Another GI is seated next to Abe, but I do not recognize him. The picture was taken in Kanchrapara, which was a U.S. Army staging area for troops arriving in and departing from the port of Calcutta. The photo is dated in January 1946, and we were at Kanchrapara patiently awaiting for a troopship to take us back to the States.
I quickly realized that Abe is the father of the senior U.S. Senator from New York, Chuck Schumer. I had learned about Abe's relationship to the Senator several years earlier in a newsletter published by a group of veterans of the 893rd Signal Co. Depot (Aviation).
The 893rd was one of three different signal companies based at the Bengal Air Depot. I was assigned to the 903rd Signal Co., not Abe's outfit. There was also the 886th Signal Co., which was eventually merged into my company. The three outfits lived and worked together, and I could never figure out why we were not simply consolidated into a single battalion.
Abe's outfit, the 893rd, had a cohesive background which made it relatively easy for its members to create a sort of an alumni association after the war. They had trained together in the U.S. and were shipped overseas as a unit. Many of them eventually were shipped back to the States as a group. Ever since the war's end they have had annual reunions and have periodically published a newsletter.
My outfit, the 903rd, had a different kind of history. Activated in Oklahoma, the company was shipped to Deversoir, Egypt very early in the war. In 1944 the company was transferred to India, where I and about a dozen other newcomers joined it to fill what had become an under-strength unit. Over the next year, those who had served in Egypt were rotated back to the States and were continually replaced by new men. The outfit thus lacked the cohesion that would lead to the creation of a post-war alumni organization like the 893rd's.
Several years ago, two friends of mine in the 893rd, with whom I had remained in contact after the war, made me an "honorary" member of their group, inviting me to their reunions and mailing me their newsletter. I never did attend any of their reunions, but I enjoyed reading the newsletter. In recent years, the newsletter was edited by the company's former commanding officer. He did his best to keep the organization functioning. But this year, there is no reunion scheduled, and the newsletter that I received last year was apparently the final issue. Sadly, there are not enough 893rd veterans still around to keep the organization alive.
Abe Schumer, fortunately, is one of the outfit's survivors. After finding his photo, and reassuring myself that I had identified him correctly, I mailed the picture to the Senator Schumer's office in Washington. A week later, I received a phone call from Abe himself. We reminesced at great length, covering our respective lives over the past 60 years. Like me, he could not recognize the man with whom he is seated in the picture that I had sent him via the Senator's office.
Abe told me that he was retired from the exterminating business and that he lives in Queens. He asked me where I live, and was stunned when I told him that I live in a retirement community named Concordia in Monroe Township, N.J. It was an extraordinary coincidence. Even before phoning me, he said that he and his wife had planned to visit Concordia the following week. They get together for lunch frequently with former Long Island neighbors who are now scattered through out the New York/New Jersey region.
One of their former neighbors, a widow, lives in Concordia, and it was her turn to host the group. The following week, Abe phoned me as soon as he and his wife arrived in her home. She lived only a few blocks from my home, but we did not know each other. I quickly walked to his friend's home, and so Abe and I had another opportunity to review our lives over the past six decades, this time in person.
Abe Schumer was the last man who served with me in the Army during World War II with whom I have had contact. It is highly unlikely that I will ever meet or talk with any others again.