I have known my hero my entire life. They were present at my birth, they chaperoned at my Bat Mitzvah, and they cheered for me at my high school graduation. I’m very close to them, my hero, who is also a protector, guardian, and friend, of sorts. My hero is a family member. No, my hero is not a sibling, cousin or parent. My hero is my paternal grandfather – Sgt. David Berkowitz. (I have changed his name to protect his identity. I hope you do not mind.) Of course, I look up to my parents and appreciate the heroic things they’ve done for me and for others and for each other. But their life accomplishments can’t come close to my grandfather’s.
Just a few years into college, after enduring a poor, nightmarish childhood in the Bronx, New York, my grandfather enlisted in World War II. He was a first-generation American, born of Polish parents of Jewish descent. His father was a failed businessman who became a drunkard too young, who took the family down with him. Everyone except Ira. He managed to graduate from high school with honors and got a scholarship to Columbia University in Manhattan. He was going to be a doctor, or so he thought then.
Right after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, my grandfather enlisted in World War II. He was only 20 at the time, just a junior at Columbia. Like so many other heroic men and women of 'The Greatest Generation', he sacrificed his dreams and goals for his country and countrymen. He had just been named the editor of the school newspaper. When he enlisted, he was ready to battle the Nazis and protect the world from evil. Nonetheless, a few months later, after basic training at Fort Bragg, he was shipped to Washington, then to Paris, Amsterdam and finally Dresden, where he was to be a war correspondent. During his few years in Europe covering the Great War, he wrote 153 stories about the war.
After the war, he graduated from college on the GI Bill and started writing scripts for fun – films, sitcoms, dramas, radio plays. He remained a journalist on the side, of course, writing first for The New York Times and then The Paris Review. He sold his first script at age 30 to Universal Studios – and then on was able to write scripts each year to live on comfortably enough to raise my three uncles and my mother. My grandma, Lora, was able to quit her job at the library to help my dad manage his records and keep track of hundreds of manuscripts. Now – today – they live in sunny California, in Los Angeles, where Grandpa is close to those he works with in the film industry. He drives nice cars, has a large home with beachfront and mountain-top views, he is happy, wealthy and happy – and the work he does every day 'is far from work', he says. 'It’s more like playing around with toy soldiers and play fighting than actually working or doing a job. A job is being a reporter. That is work. This scriptwriting stuff I do ever day is the most fun I’ve ever had by myself'.
I am so proud of him, my grandpa Ira, because he went from nothing – a life of struggle, poverty, hardship – and created a legacy of freedom, self-respect, creativity and success. He has lived selflessly, diligently and intelligently. I look up to him in so many ways, and I want to emulate his life. His children never embraced writing and storytelling like he did, and says I have his penchant for doing it. He often says: 'Talent sometimes skips a generation'. Grandpa Ira is my hero – and he has earned that title. His life has been anything but ordinary, and he’s left an impression on me that I will be holding onto for the rest of my life.
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