My Dad was one of five brothers — first generation American citizens whose parents emigrated from Kiev. During World War II, he worked at the Watertown (Massachusetts) Arsenal making munitions. The metallic substances he ingested there most likely caused his kidney cancer, which eventually took his life at age 48. Two of his brothers, Mickey and Alby, served in Europe. Uncle Al was a stenographer attached to General Eisenhower’s headquarters in the United Kingdom. My Uncle Mickey fought his way up the boot in Italy. He died at Anzio.

Uncle Al, the youngest, survived all his brothers. I always suspected that he kept a stash of Mickey’s letters and memorabilia. Since I was named after Mickey, and since I knew almost nothing about him, I kept pestering him to share. Uncle Al wouldn’t budge. Mickey’s death was such a searing experience – he was declared missing in action, and his death wasn’t confirmed for weeks afterward – that Uncle Al just couldn’t reopen this painful chapter. After Al died, his widow found the box of memorabilia, and gave it to me.

Here’s a portion of Mickey’s last “V-MAIL” letter sent to my Uncle Al, dated February 15, 1944. He died in combat the next day:

“There’s nothing much to tell you except that we’ve been in about five major engagements and still going strong. It’s pretty damp and rainy here and quite hard keeping comfortable. (I am, of course, smoking a cigar now.) There is no break for us in sight, as usual. I had a five day leave back in December and had a pretty good time.

“I have been getting a few packages from home and they help to keep the old morale up. That little, dehydrated Boston Herald is pretty good. I received one yesterday. When you write home, tell [Uncle] Lou to write me once in a while.

“So long, Junior, old boy, and take care.