Traveler, writer, reviewer, all-round observer. I like anything cool & fast, but occasionally sit at a cafe watching the world go by.
Known as the Greatest Generation, many of the brave WWII soldiers came back home to continue to live their lives. I spoke to one of them at a memorial event earlier this year and was invited to his home. In that short visit, he shared with me a few war stories from his 47 missions over Europe, his experience coming home after the war, and different aspects of his life.
This is my final chapter of 1st Lieutenant Martin Weinstein: WWII B-17 Navigator; Widower; Husband; Father; Grandfather; and a true member of the Greatest Generation.
Martin Weinstein: Well, us guys are dying out by the thousands. There are so few of us left, and every year, of course, the toll is greater.
Judy Weinstein: I told Marty he’s going to be known as the last survivor.
Martin: We went to a reunion and that was interesting. It brought back some memories with me being the brunt of a joke. When we were in Tampa, Florida, we were getting the crew together. The picture that you saw of our crew was taken at MacDill Field in Tampa. It’s a beautiful place where we got our new airplane and where we ultimately would fly out from.
<From his folder of old photos and articles, I pulled out an old newspaper headline proclaiming “The War Is Over!”. I didn’t scan it because it was too delicate to handle and ran the risk of deteriorating from age>
Martin: I saved that. I don’t even know what newspaper it came from, but it’s tearing and it won’t be around much longer. It’s just on its last leg. And that’s my wedding picture.
So, we were in Florida picking up the airplane and we had several practice missions before we went overseas. And one of the missions was to find Macon, Georgia by air. We were supposed to theoretically bomb Macon, Georgia. It was an exercise.
Of course, the job to find Macon, Georgia from MacDill Field, Florida was mine. We take off and I’m looking around and I spent the next six hours searching unsuccessfully for Macon, Georgia.
Aki: Meanwhile, it’s just a one-hour flight.
Martin: Yes. And the crew is hysterical. They’re laughing themselves silly. Twenty-five years later, we go to a reunion in South Dakota and there’s a table with my crew sitting around. Jackie, my wife, and I were the last ones to get in. And as I’m winding my way through the tables to get to the table, my crew stood up and in unison, they said, “Did you ever find Macon, Georgia?” And they’re still talking about it. “Marty couldn’t find Macon, Georgia.”
Well, I couldn’t. But I did find the Azores Islands on our trip over the Atlantic. We went – secured the northern route. Some of the guys went the southern route to go through Belize and South America, but we went the Northern route. And the hardest part of the trip was to find the Azores before we hit Marrakesh, North Africa.
So, I found the Azores and that’s an interesting story, too – for me, anyway.
Aki: That’s a long flight!
Martin: Yes, it’s a long flight. And they were worried about their navigator who couldn’t find Macon, Georgia. So, we found the Azores and a “go-to” Jeep comes out to greet the plane as it lands.
Aki: With a “Follow me” sign?
Martin: The “Follow me” sign. I’m the first one out of the plane because I’m closest to the exit. So, I jump out and I’m very happy to meet somebody in the Azores. And it’s an Army Lieutenant – who hands me a piece of paper and takes off. I read the paper and it says, “This island has Bubonic Plague. Do not touch any dead animals that you see, and report any dead animals that you see to the health officer.”
I wrote in my autobiography that I finally get overseas. I’m gonna see the world. I’m gonna see beautiful things. And I get to the Azores Islands and they greet me with, “This island has Bubonic Plague.” I was so disappointed because I was looking forward to Marrakesh, North Africa. They had Hedy Lamarr, and Charles Boyer.
It has all the excitement and romance that my heart was filled with. I was an avid reader and I was waiting for – this poor kid from Brownsville, Brooklyn who had never seen any part of the world – is suddenly going to see something magnificent that he’s never seen before.
Aki: You had your fantasy…
Martin: It was quite a come down.
<I pulled out another photo from his folder>
Aki: This is a picture of – Jackie, is it?
Martin: Yes. That’s me and my wife at one of the reunions.
Judy: She’s gone eight years. She passed away.
Martin: We were married for 62 years. I come back from overseas and it’s December 17th or 18th, 1944. I finished my missions. I’ve taken the ship home. And I’m home. There’s a beautiful sign over 68th Grafton Street that says, “Welcome home, Martin”. And it’s wonderful. I’m very happy to be home. And now, I meet the woman who’s gonna be my wife and we decide we’re gonna get married.
Aki: You knew her before the war?
Martin: Oh, yes. I met her when she was 14 and I was 15. So now, she’s 19 and I’m still 20 and we go to the city clerk to get a marriage certificate. I’m dressed in my uniform with my bars and my wings and my medals. And when the woman at the city clerk’s office looks down, she says, “You’re 20 years old?” I said, “Yes.”
She says, “Go home and get your mother.” At that time in New York, the age of age of emancipation was 21 for men, but only 18 for girls. So, my wife, at 19, did not need her mother’s consent, but I, at 20, needed my mother’s. So, with my bars and my wings and my medals, I had to go home, get my mother, and come back to be married.
But the marriage didn’t last. After 62 years, she got sick. About four years from the end – and as very often happens with Alzheimer cases – the last one to recognize it is the spouse. That was me. Now looking back, I realize that I was taking her from place to place to place and she was a very compliant woman. She was a wonderful woman.
Aki: She’s very beautiful.
Martin: She was very compliant, but she was in a fog and kept getting worse and worse. And when I came up in ’06, we were living in Florida. I retired from practicing law, and gave my two sons-in-law the practice.
Aki: You returned to New York after selling your practice to them?
Martin: Yes. In ’06, I guess, when my two daughters went down to see my wife and they said, “Mom is really sick, Dad. And she can’t stay here anymore.” I said, “Okay.” So, I sold the house, and drove myself from Florida overnight -’cause they were here in New York.
We went into an assisted living situation for her. She wasn’t happy there and it was $11,000.00 a month – a month!
Aki: Makes you wonder where does all that money go?
Martin: And happily, we were provident all our lives and we’ve done nicely. I have no complaints. America was very good to me. I was raised in the depression. Lived through it. Went through the war. And the post-period.
I practiced law for 40 years – did very nicely; saved a buck – and I’m now living on the proceeds very comfortably. I have no complaints. And after my wife died, after quite a period, I met that gorgeous woman sitting over there who’s very good to me.
Aki: She’s very proud of you. I could tell.
Martin: And I’m proud of her. So, what more can a man ask for? And next month, on the 19th of August, I’ll be 91.
Judy: He gets on that bike and treadmill every day, or I’ll kill him.
Martin: Yes. She makes me ride a bicycle and walk on the treadmill every single day. So, I’m not using a cane. I don’t need anybody to help me. I –
Aki: You do not look 91 years old!
Martin: Thank you.
Judy: He loves to tell everybody how old he is ’cause he loves to see their reaction. He can’t get over it, you know? But it’s true. He doesn’t look it.
Martin: That’s due to you, babe.
Aki: You keep him young.
Judy: Oh, well, maybe I’m keeping you young, but your voice is your voice. Your mind is your mind.