Irving Blackman (1918-2013)
Early this morning, Irving Blackman passed away at the age of 94. He was our beloved grandpa, a loving and caring father, and a dedicated husband. He has suffered long with advanced dementia. He is now at peace, and is in a much better place.
I am flying home today to New York. The funeral will be on Sunday. It is the Jewish tradition to bury the dead as soon as possible, though funerals cannot be held on the Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night).
I’ve written before about my grandpa, so I attach those posts here.
I will always remember him how he was in the below YouTube video. His honest, integrity, and passion for life shone through until the very end. I can only strive to live a life as he did.
I try not to post personal items on this blog, but when my 91 year-old-grandfather opines on our Supreme Court, I cannot resist. Enjoy this edition of GrandpaVlogs.
For some reason, Grandpa Irving really dislikes Chief Justice Roberts– especially the fact that he is so young. And you wonder where I get my opinionatedness from 🙂
My father wrote this moving tribute about my 93-year-old grandfather, Irving Blackman (whom I’ve blogged about before), who served on the USS Luce during WW II in the Pacific. I reproduce it here in its entirety.
Last man off the ship.
A tribute to Irving Blackman,
Written by Jaimie Blackman
USS Luce, DD522
Fate: Sunk by Kamikaze Aircraft off Okinawa May 4, 1945
One of my earliest memories was dad’s war stories. I was too young to appreciate it. The ship that sank. The story how dad had to fight for a life jacket. Something out of a movie. My dad was eager to forget it. However it is part of my family’s DNA.
The story begins in 1942. Dad with a newborn at home, enlisted in U.S. Navy and was immediately assigned to the USS Luce, a brand new Destroyer built on Staten Island N.Y, of the same year.
For a peaceful mild manner man, like many young soldiers and sailors during World War II, dad served with distinction and bravery. But don’t call him a war hero. Modest to the core, he would deny it.
According to the account in Wikipedia, about 07:40, 4 May, Japanese suicide planes were intercepted by the combat air patrol in the vicinity of Luce. Two enemy planes avoided the interceptors and attacked her from the portside.
Luce shot down one, but the explosion from the bomb it carried caused a power failure. Unable to bring her guns to bear in time, she was struck in the after section by the second kamikaze. The port engine was knocked out, engineering spaces flooded, and the rudder jammed. At 08:14Luce took a heavy list to starboard and the order to abandon ship was passed. Moments later she slid beneath the surface in a violent explosion carrying 126 of her 312 officers and men with her.
My dad adds an important addendum to the story.
Shortly before the strike by the Japanese suicide planes, he was moved from the gunnery position on the top deck, to the lowest deck of the ship where he was loading the ammunition for the sailors who were busy shooting down Kamikaze Aircraft. The order to move my dad to the lowest deck, usually a more dangerous location, ironically saved his life.
As a result of the power failure, the communication system did not function, and the ship’s Captain was unaware that the handful of sailors who were on the lowest deck, were unable to hear his order to abandon ship.
Still, my dad had a premonition. He felt something in his gut. Somehow he knew the ship was sinking. This was a powerful feeling he could not deny.
At the risk of court martial, he left his general quarters, and began climbing up the stairs, opened the hatch, and what he saw was devastating. The top deck of the ship was already under water. People were screaming. There was fire. There was terror. He would later learn that many on the top deck, including the position my dad previously held, had perished.
Dad tried to return to the lower deck to tell the rest of his crew to leave. They wouldn’t listen. Seconds later he was already in the water. There was one problem. Dad had no life jacket. Struggling, moving, my dad was determined to survive. With a wife and a young infant at home, he was determined that this would not be the day to die. Not today.
He spotted his immediate officer in the water with not one life jacket but two. Dad asked him, begged him to give up one of this life jackets. The officer refused. Dad told him if he didn’t give it to him, he would either take him down with him, or if he survived would tell everyone what a coward he really was. The officer reluctantly gave in and gave dad one of his life jackets. After what seemed to be an eternity of treading water, a rescue ship was finally sent for the surviving sailors.
Quoted from a letter (pdf) mailed to dad in December 1945 from James Forrestal the Secretary of the Navy, sums it up nicely.
December 5, 1945
My Dear Mr. Blackman:
I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy’s pride in you, which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life, and to remain with you always.
- You have served in the greatest navy in the world.
- You crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart.
- You brought our land-based airpower within bombing range of the enemy and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory.
- You performed the multitude of tasks necessary to support these military operations.
No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation which you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude. The best wishes for the navy go with you into civilian life. Good Luck.
US. Secretary of the Navy
Today my dad is 93 and living in Florida with his wife Gertrude Oer Blackman. Dad has four children and 9 grandchildren.
My dad is part of a fading group of World War II veterans who served their country with distinction and bravery. He trusted his gut, and as a result was the last man off the ship.
My dad was a war hero, but don’t ask him, because he will deny it.
My grandfather Irving Blackman, who has been featured on this blog several times, will be 94 in August. He fought valiantly in the Pacific during World War II. Alas, he is fading. Thankfully, his health is strong, but his memory, and ability to communicate are diminishing rapidly. He could go on to live for quite some time, but it is doubtful that he will remember who I am, or be able to have any conversation with me, more than a few words. I can see in his eyes the struggle to fight against his own mind–it is a battle that he is losing. I also look in his eyes, and dread this future for my father, and for myself.
Irving Blackman has lived a long, proud life, and I am very, very honored to be his grandson.
Please remember all of the veterans who fought for our freedom.
My Grandpa Irving’s body will turn 94 at the end of the month. But his mind is no longer with us. He suffers from some form of Alzheimers, and in the last month he has degraded so, so quickly. My parents visited him in the beginning of July, and he was still able to walk (with help), talk (scattered words among gibberish), and recognize his loved ones. I arrived in Florida today, and he could do none of these things. He did not recognize me. In fact, the only discernible words I could make out all day were “Who is he?”
This experience was very difficult for me. Though is he here, he is not really here. Though his body is strong–he is in excellent health for a 94-year-old–his mind is not. And this pains me, immeasurably.
I recorded this video of Grandpa on March 29, 2010 (the first night of Passover). Two-and-a-half years ago. This, is how I will remember my grandpa.
The conversation began benign enough. Grandpa never liked John Roberts. President Bush, Grandpa said, picked the “youngest guy around,” who has a “complete lack of integrity.” Roberts has “learned more now, but he didn’t have that intelligence” when he was nominated. If he was “very respected, he would not be doing some of the things he is doing.”
Coincidentally (ironically?), Grandpa made these comments a few days after the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Grandpa is wise beyond his years.
Regarding President Ford’s nomination of Justice Stevens, he said “the Republicans got a hold of Ford, and said don’t ever make that mistake again.” Ford picked “a guy he thought was a good guy.” Stevens turned out to be “fair guy, but not for the Republicans.”
(If you look closely, you can see a picture of me from my Bar Mitzvah on the wall in the living room.)
But then the video gets really, really sad (for me at least).
Around 5:10, he begins to say “how he got interested in a subject like the Supreme Court.” My dad cuts him off, but what he was getting at is that he took an interest in the Court because of me. “I have hidden things in my mind that I didn’t know about,” he said.
For years, we would talk about the court and politics and the law. We never, ever agreed. I remember having a one-hour discussion with him about Connick v. Thompson. He couldn’t fathom how the prosecutor was not liable. He was livid on the phone, absolutely livid. He once clipped out some article a Rabbi wrote in the local Boca Raton paper about then-nominee Elena Kagan, mailed it to me, and asked what I thought about her. Once we got into this lengthy discussion about the Great Depression and the New Deal. He said it was good economic policy to hire people to build roads, even if no one needed the roads. I tried to explain to him about about Keynsian economics, and Amity Shales’s The Forgotten Man. He wasn’t interested. He said he lived through the Depression (his father lost his life savings), and putting people to work made him feel good, so it was the right policy.
We would have these conversations until some point in late 2010 or early 2011. I wish I had recorded more of them.
Then, at 6:10, he said something he often says. “I want more energy so I can hang around for a while.” I told him, “Stick around, I’ll make it worth it.” Truthfully, one of my many motivators in life is to make him proud. I tried to do things to make him hang around more. I’m convinced he is the only person to ever actually read my law review articles (I threw out extra reprints after I mailed him a copy). He didn’t quite understand them, but he always asked good questions. I remember when I told him about FantasySCOTUS, and the Harlan Institute. He was beaming with pride. Every single person that came by, he would say, “My grandson is doing something no one else is doing.” He knew that I was clerking, and would always ask how the Judge is. By the time I got the job at South Texas in Fall 2011, his mind was no longer able to accept new facts. I told him many times that I would be a Professor in Texas, but he could not remember that.
He said, “I’m going to hang around for a while” at 6:25.
Next, Grandpa talks about his two older sisters, now-deceased, both of whom died in their mid-90s after suffering from advanced Alzheimers (like their younger brother Irving). “I would be happy if I hit 95,” he said at 6:29.
Around 6:38, he says, “The only thing that concerns me is here,” and he points to his head. He was so cognizant of his own infirmities. “I’ll just have to sit, and write things up to keep my memory afloat.” Funny that he used the term afloat, as he was one of the few to survive the sinking of his ship in the Pacific, the USS Luce. For this he is a decorated veteran.
Then he goes off about asking people in the pharmacy division to create some drug to help him.
I stop recording then (not sure why).
Grandpa, during his final months of lucidity, had come to terms with his mortality. He said his good byes to me in the past. I wasn’t ready to receive it. Now, I recognize that while his body is firm, his mind is not.
I will always remember calling him, every weekend. I will always remember our passionate debates, though we never agreed. And, it seems, I will always remember how he nailed John Roberts on the head. Very wise Grandpa is.
I apologize for the overly-personal post. I suspect this will be of more interest to my family members than my regular readers. Thank you for indulging.