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What Would Seymour Do?

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What Would Seymour Do?

When I saw the video of the couple in a Minnesota Wal-Mart proudly wearing swastika face masks I thought of my late stepfather. For the first time since he died in 1993, I was relieved he was not around to see this blatant display of hatred in a country he so dearly loved, a country that has devolved into a sick, redundant combination of white nationalism and stupidity.

Earlier this fateful spring, in his hometown of Chicago, demonstrators flew swastikas and held signs that read "Heil Pritzker!" and "Albeit Macht Frei, JB." JB refers to J.B. Pritzker, the Jewish governor of Illinois. His crime? Asking Illinoisans during the coronavirus pandemic to continue to stay at home and practice social distancing. For a few more weeks the protestors would be denied, well, frequenting their favorite buffet, corner bar or barber shop. (I'm going to go out on a limb and say they were not upset about library and museum closures.)

As to the German phrase Albeit Macht Frei, or "work sets you free," that was the phrase that awaited Jews as they arrived at the gates of the Nazis' Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

If you do not know why the phrase was cruel, sick and cynical you need to do some homework. Google the word "Holocaust."

And, if you do not know why these posters and flags are offensive to every clear-headed American citizen with even a whisker's grasp of this nation's history, let me introduce you to my stepfather and millions like him.

Seymour Goldberg, Army serial number 36666036, served with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops during WWII. Called the Phantom Army, or Patton's Ghost Army, the 23rd was made up of eleven hundred hand-picked men - average IQ 119 - including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and fashion designer Bill Blass, both of whom would become famous in post-war America.

Seymour was not famous. He dropped out of Chicago's Crane Tech High School so he could help support his mom and dad, who were Russian immigrants. And when our country asked for volunteers to fight the Axis forces Seymour answered the call without hesitation.

Why Seymour was picked for the Ghost Army remains a mystery. I suspect it had something to do with his savant like knack for math. You could throw a series of numbers at him, ask him to add, divide and subtract and he would always give you the correct answer.

Seymour was Jewish, one of a half million Jews to serve in WWII. He was often behind enemy lines, and came close to being captured once while pilfering eggs from a farm. One can only imagine the sadistic delight the Nazis would have had at apprehending an Allied soldier with the surname "Goldberg" stitched on his shirt.

After two years, four months, and six days, Private First-Class Seymour Goldberg returned home to Chicago around Thanksgiving 1945, mustering out with $156.25. For his duty with the 23rd, Seymour earned five Bronze Service Stars, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal.

Like so most returning soldiers, Seymour went to work immediately. There were no parades for him, no welcome-home basket of gifts or paid trips to the Bahamas. What followed were 30 years of perfecting the best ribs and sauce in Chicago at Sally's Bar-B-Q on the city's north side. Somewhere along the line he married my mom and took on a snot-nosed stepson. He affectionately called me Chief, and took me to my first White Sox games at Comiskey Park, where we once marveled at a colossal homerun in the right center upper deck by the Twins' Harmon Killebrew.

Seymour rarely talked about his combat experience, and he never said a word about the Ghost Army, maintaining the code of secrecy that surrounded the 23rd. Most of what I've learned about his two years in the European Theater have come from records, photos and letters. I do know he helped liberate one of the concentration camps. He never told me about what that experience was like as a Jew. I never asked.

So, almost without fail, every day I wish Seymour were still alive and we could talk about Chicago, politics and the White Sox.

Every day, that is, until this year.

Had Seymour witnessed that spectacle of flat-earth whiners who have never sacrificed anything for this great country, he'd of grabbed my favorite Louisville slugger, called up a few of his Chicago "off-the-books" pals and they would have piled in his rusty, four-door Oldsmobile 88 and headed to wherever these fascist mouth-breathers were displaying their hate. And, believe me, woe to anyone holding a pro-Nazi symbol. Social distancing be damned. Trust me, Seymour had one hell of a temper.

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Stephen J. Lyons contributes commentary and journalism to a variety of national and international newspapers and magazines. He the author of five books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is "West of East," published by Finishing Line (more...)

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