Remembering Veterans and the Legends They Leave Behind

27 May

My father was a U.S. Air Force veteran. He served in ROTC and after college in between WWII and the Korean War and, lucky for our family, never saw combat. Today, as every day, I remember him.

But, today I remember two family members whose service to our country has become the thing of legend, and a local veteran whose continuing service to our country inspires me. I only know tidbits of their stories, but through them, I see how service to our country creates ripples in ponds for generations.  In alphabetical order they are: Colonel Abraham Garfinkel (U.S. Army), Jimmy Proffitt (U.S. Marine Corps), and Samuel Rosen (U.S. Navy).


Memorial Day Flag Display, Boston Commons (Photo courtesy of Global Jet (Flickr). Click image for more information.)

Uncle Abe

Colonel Abraham Garfinkel

Abraham (Garfunkel) Garfinkel (d. 4/11/1962): My great-grandfather’s brother Abraham faked his age to enlist in the Army in 1900. That would be legend enough, I think, given his subsequent 45+ years of service. But he went on to be the oldest survivor of the Bataan Death March and an inspiration to soldiers around him. Colonel Garfinkel was, according to the research my mother has done, one of the highest ranking Jewish Army officers at the time of his retirement. Born in 1885, Uncle Abe was near retirement when WW II broke out. Having served most of his career in the Philippines, Colonel Garfinkel continued to serve in the Pacific Rim. He was one of the highest-ranking officers on the Bataan Death March and remained a POW in various Japanese internment camps until his liberation from Mudken on August 20, 1945. Uncle Abe survived his son Lt. Harold Garfinkel  who was KIA in April 1945 in the European theater. His oldest son Capt. Bernard Garfinkel survived the war.

My distant cousin Sheldon Zimbler, a great-nephew of Uncle Abe, immortalized the men of the Bataan March in Undaunted Valor: The Men of Mudken…In their Own Words. As one reviewer wrote, it’s not a new history, but it  is one we mustn’t forget.

Jimmy Proffitt: Jimmy would blush silly if he knew I was writing this. Jimmy is a Vietnam-era Marine. He was injured stateside and never saw combat. My understanding is that he suffers survivor’s guilt because he trained many men who went to war and never came home. Jimmy is, simply put, the salt of the earth.


Jimmy Proffitt (photo from

More than 25 years ago, Jimmy and his wife found themselves with leftover Thanksgiving dinner. They made about 30 sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and headed to downtown Chicago. Once there, they found homeless men and distributed the food. Recognizing the incredible need, Jimmy and Virginia continued to make sandwiches for Chicago’s homeless. Every Sunday, with the exception of Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day weekends, they circle Chicago’s loop with their small army of helpers. The Chicago Homeless Sandwich Project today distributes more than 1,500 bagged lunches each week. They also provide hot and cold beverages, clothing, and a ready smile to the increasing number of homeless on our city’s streets.

We have been privileged to ride with Jimmy many times, handing out sandwiches and seeing firsthand the need he fills. Jimmy tells us that more than 75% of the homeless on our city streets are veterans, men (and now women) who have come home from war so damaged that they cannot hold a job, or who lost everything while they were serving (job, home, family) and have not been able to get back on their feet.

Jimmy was called to serve his country, and while his own life has been modest compared to many more visible philanthropists, he may be the most philanthropic person I know. Next to the hospital that saved our child, The Sandwich Project is our favorite charity and I encourage to click the link above, read about the supplies they use each year, and find out how you can help.

Samuel “Sonny” Rosen (d. 12/27/1944): Growing up, I always knew that my Aunt Ethel had married a soldier just before he shipped out on the USS Spence in the fall of 1944 and that he never came home.  Samuel Rosen left behind a widow and son, my cousin Eric who was born in June of 1945.  My cousin Eric and my father grew up together in their grandmother’s home until Aunt Ethel remarried (or my grandparents moved out, never have been sure which happened first). Though my father was 13 years older than Eric, they were quite close. My dad made sure that we knew about Samuel, but I’m sure I never quite understood what it meant, really.Samuel "Sonny" Rosen

Samuel Rosen was only 35 when he went to war . His ship, and three others, sank in a typhoon on December 27, 1944. just three months and 17 days after Samuel married Ethel. He perished along with 800 servicemen and his body was never found.

What I never understand is how viscerally affected Eric was by the loss of a father he never knew. A founding member of the American WWII Orphans Network, Eric has searched his whole life to make meaning of his loss, of the emptiness he felt, and of (in his words) “growing up fatherless in the 1940s and 1950s” shaped the man he became.  Since retiring from his long career as an attorney, Eric has studied theology and has used this study to explore the feelings he harbors about his fatherless childhood. The result is a play, The Trial of Abraham and Abraham’s Choice . This brief tome sums up all the questions about G-d and faith that Eric has had as a result of the guiding absence that has shadowed his life, situating them in the biblical tale of Abraham’s sacrifice.

Eric’s book is suspenseful and moving. It raises as many questions as it attempts to answer and it is, I think, a must read for anyone who has lost a parent in war. When I finished reading it, I felt I knew my cousin’s anguish just a bit more.


One Response to “Remembering Veterans and the Legends They Leave Behind”

  1. Walery February 7, 2015 at 7:31 am #

    My father Matyas Zuckerberg was col. Garfinkel second line cousin living in Poland. My father was alo a soldier during WWII fighting as a tank crew member with Nazists. Matyas grandmother and Col. Garfinkel grandfather were sister and brother. I knew about col. before internet era because Matyas sister Sara Kriegel was in touch with col. Garfinkel and she mentioned it to my father before she left Poland in 1948 and my father since that time had no sign of her life. He passed away in 2002. I have been seraching for her since middle of 90ies but no results. Col. family is the the only potential source of her fate which is unknnown to me. I will appreciate your help if you could pass my message to col. family members who might help.
    I will appreciate any help.

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