We all make errors. I made one this past week. It was in a synagogue on the first day of the two-day celebration of the receiving of the Torah — the five books of Moses — at Mount Sinai. The holiday, called in Hebrew "Shavuot," or weeks in English, marks the giving of the Ten Commandments to mankind and the call for respect for higher authority and decent conduct.
The mistake I made? I sat in Fred Wiesen’s seat. How could I have known? I never met Fred Wiesen. He has been dead nearly 70 years, longer than I have been alive. Fred Weisen, I was informed, was classified 4F by the draft board but would not accept the judgment. He wanted to serve and he refused to permit poor eyesight to stop him.
The story goes that he found a way to pass the eye test, and then after basic training was sent to Europe to fight the Germans. He never came across the Atlantic Ocean again. Like so many of those in uniform in the European Theatre of Operations, he was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s final attempt to use whatever he had left to stop the allies before they crossed over into Germany.
The Allies lost nearly 21,000 killed in combat, nearly 42,000 were wounded. And an estimated nearly 28,000 were captured or classified as missing in action. The butcher’s block that was the Bulge took formerly 4F Fred Wiesen into its fatal embrace.
And I made the mistake of sitting in his seat. When asked to move I did. Now occupying the seat is the man who would have been his nephew by marriage, Michael Burak. George Burak, Michael’s brother was a battlefield physician Vietnam. He survived combat only to die shortly after returning home from Agent Orange exposure. Michael Burak has every right to sit in Fred Wiesen’s seat. I don’t.
Fred Wiesen and George Burak never left their posts. They served this most extraordinary nation. And years after they are gone from the Earth, their families still remember and praise their memories. They were proud Americans. And they followed the law. They battled for right against what they thought was wrong.
The Ten Commandments given on the holy days celebrated in the synagogue where Fred Wiesen once prayed tells us to stand for values that sometimes are really quite simple. Protect humanity.
That doesn’t mean go out and kill or promote war. It means telling those who would murder others — despoil that which was created in divine image, and destroy humanity and human traits — that all such acts are intolerable.
The lesson of Fred Wiesen’s life as we pass the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the final step to liberating Europe from Nazi domination, is that in extolling life as he had been taught he gave his own life.
Surely he did not want to die. But he did not leave his post. And he is remembered as a hero. His seat in the place of prayer he cherished belongs to him still, and that is more than a fitting tribute.
Hank Sheinkopf is an early creator of integrated strategic campaigns using all forms of media and has won national and international awards for his radio and TV productions. He is a veteran of more than 700 political, public policy, and public relations campaigns around the world. Read more reports from Hank Sheinkopf — Click Here Now.
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