When I began writing Life Stories late last year, I reached out to a relative who is a member of the Canadian Forces.
I asked if he knew any old soldiers who might want their stories told, or young people who might want me to write about a parent or grandparent who served in the Forces.
During a bit of back and forth, he made the point: “Military men are reluctant to tell tales ... There is a code and that code is hard to crack.”
I made it clear I was no longer working as a journalist, that these Life Stories are private, to share with family, and only posted on my website archive with permission.
That’s how we left it, my last communication on the subject.
But I still want to connect with veterans – because I’ve been drawn to stories about soldiers since my earliest days in the news business.
Today is Jackie Robinson Day, when every major league player wears his No. 42 to remember the man who broke baseball’s color barrier seventy years ago, on April 17, 1947.
He died October 24, 1972 at the age of 53.
My first baseball reporting assignment was covering Jackie Robinson’s funeral.
On October 27, 1972, a taxi dropped me off in front of the grand entrance to Riverside Church in Manhattan. It was a sunny day with a bit of a chill, World Series weather.
I waded into the crowd outside, celebrity mourners on a Friday morning in their best Sunday suits, middle-aged men looking like they were gathered for an old-timers’ banquet.
I spotted Pee Wee Reese being interviewed by Howard Cosell. Nearby, Roger Kahn, who had written The Boys of Summer about Robinson's Dodgers, was chatting with Don Newcombe.
I was a 25-year-old rookie reporter for United Press International. I’d grown up in the city, a Brooklyn fan, like my dad.
He’d taken me to games at Ebbets Field. Duke Snider, Robinson and Reese were my childhood heroes.
On this day, I felt like a kid again.
I added stories of immigration to my Story Menu recently, inspired by some news about my Great Aunt Adah (pictured above), who died in 1981.
Adah was married to Ted Lewis, the bandleader and showman famous for his battered top hat and asking audiences, “Is everybody happy?”
I wrote a story about my Uncle Ted a couple years ago and sent a copy to the Ted Lewis Museum in Circleville, Ohio, his hometown. That began a correspondence – and one long phone conversation – with the museum’s curator, Joseph Rubin.
Anyway, I received an email from Joseph last month, informing me he had found my Aunt Adah’s birth certificate, dated November 17, 1897, in the municipal archives in New York.
“The interesting part is that her parents were from Russia – not Germany as you had thought,” Joseph wrote.
This knocked me off kilter, like Kyle in the Ancestry ad, who had his DNA tested and traded his lederhosen for a kilt.