(Pictured: Harry Meiselman entertaining the crew playing his harmonica on the hangar deck of the USS San Jacinto circa, 1943)
President Bush and I share a history. We both have fathers who served aboard the USS San Jacinto in World War II. My father, Harry Meiselman, was an enlisted man who joined the Navy, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Before that, he was in vaudeville and worked in the Hoboken, N.J. ship yards. George H.W. Bush came from elite prep schools and Yale. My dad reached the rank of petty officer and “bossed” a quad 40 antiaircraft gun. George H.W. was an officer and a pilot.
Today, I watched the commissioning and setting of the first watch of the Navy’s newest nuclear powered super air craft carrier; which is named after my dad’s crew mate on the San Jacinto.
It filled me with emotion. First, was the disgust at the addition of a new weapon of mass destruction and world domination. Second though, was pride at seeing the crew of the boat running to “bring the ship to life.”
I saw our daughter, a Navy veteran,and the children of so many others of us facing the new challenges ahead them. I also thought of my father, as so many of our fathers, running to take their place in the struggle for victory in World War II.
My father died in 1963. Before George H.W. was elected to Congress, before he was CIA director, before he was Vice President or President. My father told a story about the shakedown cruise of the San Jacinto.
There weren’t many Jews on board; all of them were enlistees. The officer corps and the pilot positions were seemingly reserved for those of a higher class. My father referred to them as “young ivy leaguers”.
Before my father died, he told stories of “pogroms” aboard the ship. Young Ivy League pilots would search the ship looking for and beating jews. My father took pride that the Jewish crewmen gave as good as they got.
My father never mentioned George H.W. Bush by name. His story was about Jewish resistance to antisemitism. His stories were lessons for me and my brother not to allow others, no matter how rich or powerful, to push us down. He wanted us to defend ourselves.
I’m not saying that George H.W. Bush had anything to do with these pogroms my father spoke about. But, I do sometimes wonder.