The Wernick Family Record of Remembrance: From Shtetl to Tucson
Irwin Wernick Remembers
I turned 18 at the end of World War II. Selective Service was still in effect and I was drafted and inducted into the U. S. Army. After completing basic training and ordinance school, I was ordered to Kobe, Japan with the occupation forces. It was the day before Rosh Hashanah that I found myself on the General Eltinge, a troop ship, docked at the Brooklyn Army Base about 40 minutes away from where my parents were living. Some 1800 GI's were on the ship waiting to set sail in about five days.
I took it upon myself to visit the ship's chaplain to inquire about having Rosh Hashanah services for those Jewish soldiers on board who would want to attend. The next morning an announcement came over the loud speaker, "Jewish New Years Services will be provided for any or all Jewish troops that wish to participate." We were directed to meet at the gangplank at 1600 hours.
I was at the gangplank at the designated time and was greeted by about 20 other soldiers and 6 MP's (military policemen). We left the ship and marched about ten blocks to a storefront "shul" in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. There were about 50 congregants in this orthodox synagogue. Men and women were separated by a mehitzah (curtain) which extended the length of the room. Everyone welcomed us and we experienced the warmest of "L'Shana Tova's." Seated behind me was a teenager, about 15 years old. I gave him a nickel and my parents phone number and asked him to phone my folks after the holiday to tell them he had seen me, that I was fine, and preparing to leave for Japan in a few days. He did call and my parents had a Rosh Hashanah story to proudly tell over and over again.
My contact with the Chaplain also enabled the Jewish troops on board to hold Shabbat services throughout the long trip from New York, through the Panama Canal, continuing to Hawaii, and until we reached Kobe, Japan. Members of our group took turns leading the prayers. I remember attending and conducting abbreviated no frills services on Saturday mornings using a GI issue prayer book. I will never forget the camaraderie established among all the Jewish GI's on that ship.
As a result of my contact with the Chaplain, many doors opened for me. My positions during the long journey included sports editor for the ship's newspaper and, as a member of Special Services, I arranged GI entertainment events.
After five months in Japan, those of us who had completed at least two years of college before being drafted into the service were separated and sent home. I soon found myself in Yokohama on the same troop ship, the General Eltinge, heading for Oakland, CA. I enjoyed the same amenities as I had on the journey to Japan.
Before I knew it, I was on the Southern Pacific Railway's Sunset Golden Gate Route. From San Francisco we passed through Los Angeles, Yuma, Maricopa, Casa Grande, and stopped for thirty minutes in Tucson, AZ. I disembarked, stretched and walked around the Tucson railroad terminal. I purchased some picture post cards in the terminal gift shop. My favorite was the "giant cactus." [33K]
Cover of Irwin's Southern Pacific Time Table
Two weeks later I was a civilian once again. Little did I know when I traveled through Tucson in 1947 that fifty years later I would call this city my home.
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