MEMOIR: A guy who never met a Jew before
During the summer of 1943 I was an 18-year old Army recruit at Camp Crowder, Mo., a U.S. Army base located in the Ozarks near the tiny town of Neosho. I lived in a barracks with about 40 men, at least half of whom were roughly my age. But we also had an unusually large number of men in their late twenties and thirties as barracks mates.
Camp Crowder was a Signal Corps training center, and most of the older men had worked for the telephone companies and Western Union. They had been assigned to the Signal Corps because of their work experience. They were far more worldly and more rowdy than the younger guys who were fresh out of high school.
The man in the bunk next to mine was a farm-bred kid from Georgia who had been drafted during his first college year. I've forgotten his name. He was a clean-cut, boyish guy who, I noticed, spent much of his idle time reading the Bible. Unlike virtually all the other men in the barracks, he did not smoke, drink, use dirty language, or rush to the whorehouses in town during weekend passes.
Except for the regular Bible-reading, many of my personal habits mirrored his. I didn't smoke cigarettes; I had a pipe, a farewell gift from my former emplyer, that I rarely used. I didn't patronize whorehouses, and I had yet to develop a taste for alcohol and a tendency to use dirty language. (As time passed, I easily acquired the last two vices.) I believe that my proper behavior was based more on boyish innocence than on any religious restraints.
My clean-cut bunk mate was a loner and did not socialize with the other men in the barracks. But he apparently became aware of my "upright" lifestyle and adopted me as a sort of buddy. We began to compare notes about our school experiences, share our grievances about Army life, and play ping-pong in our free time while many of our barracks mates were out drinking or whoring around.
Shortly after we became friends, he invited me to go to services at the base chapel with him on Sunday. I told him that I didn't go to church on Sundays, and that if I were to attend religious services, I would go to a synagogue on Friday evenings and Saturdays. He was confused by my remark. He obviously failed to recognize that I was informing him that I was a Jew. I had to spell out my religious affiliation in more specific terms.
Suddenly our buddy-buddy relationship ended. He stopped chatting with me, and he seemed to carefully avoid any personal contact. It was as if he wanted to steer clear of an infectious disease. A couple of weeks went by, and we no longer took any special notice of each other despite the proximity of our beds.
Eventually, however, he apparently recognized that our shared "wholesome" habits were more important than our religious differences. He casually became friendly towards me again. As our relationship improved, he confessed to me that he had never met a Jewish person before. He was raised, he said, in an Evangelical Christian family in a farming community where Jews were unknown. Although he did not specifically admit it, I felt that he had actually believed that Jews had horns--a belief, I've been told, that is or was held by some people with his restricted background.
So I take credit for demonstrating more than 63 years ago to at least one innocent young man that Jewish people are as normal as the next guys, with both the same good traits and the same faults.