I love my country in an old-fashioned way; she has allowed an immigrant boy to realize every opportunity available to indivduals who work hard.
I WAS BORN in Poland, then a part of Russia. I was not allowed to attend public schools because of my Jewish faith. However, starting at the age of 4, I attended a religious school where the only learning was from the Old Testament, in Hebrew. School hours were from sunrise to sunset, six days a week. On the seventh day, we attended the synagogue a good part of the day.
I remember the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. A company of Russian soldiers, wearing white trousers and carrying rifles, marched through our village looking for a bivouac for the night. The school served their purpose -- we pupils had to leave.
I also remember the first time I ate an orange. Each year, just before the holy days, the Jewish settlers in Palestine, nearly all of whom had come from Russia or Poland, shipped boxes of oranges to the Jews in Russian and Polish towns. It was the duty of each family to buy at least one orange to help the settlers. So once each year, my mother bought an orange and shared it with my sister and me.
My father immigrated to the United States shortly before 1900, and saved enough money from his work to send tickets for my mother, my sister and me. My mother packed as much of our possessions as she could carry in a sheet. This included bedding and 10 days' supply of kosher food.
For two days we traveled in a canvas-covered wagon to the border between Poland and Germany. At one time, a company of Cossacks on horseback rode by. They whipped the sides of our wagon and the horses. The driver had a hard time controlling them.
We came to the border at night. My mother and sister walked across the wide border; I was carried on the guide's back. We then went by wagon to the railroad station where we boarded a train which eventually got us to Antwerp. There we stayed one night in an old hotel near the waterfront.
On board ship, we, and many other immigrants, were in steerage. The only food the ship provided was a barrel of stale bread and a barrel of salt herring. But my mother had brought her own food, because it was unlawful for us to eat anything made of parts of a pig. She feared the bread has been baked with lard.
My sister and I ran around the lower decks while my mother sat on the steel deck the entire time, guarding the sheet with all our worldly possessions. The second-class passengers from the deck above occasionally threw us children an apple or orange, as we looked up at them from between decks.
The night before the ship reached New York harbor, the ship's purser gathered all the immigrants and told them they should send a telegram to their next of kin to assure being met at Ellis Island. My mother gave him all that was left of the money my father had sent for the voyage. But, apparently, the purser kept the money and did not send the telegram, because my father was not at Ellis Island to meet us. In fact, he did not greet us until day 10, the last day our family could remain at Ellis Island before the steamship company was required to return us to the port of departure.
It so happened that a man who knew my father and mother in Poland came to Ellis Island to meet his wife who just had arrived. He saw my mother sitting in a large hall with her bundle of possessions and reported this to my father. He came just in time to retrieve us. During my naval career, many contractors have probably cursed the man who reported my arrival and thus prevented my being shipped back to Poland.
I started grammar school at the age of 61/2 in Brooklym, knowing only a few words of English. Shortly thereafter, my mother, who worked at a Catholic hospital washing clothes, brought home for me a number of old St. Nicholas magazines, given her by the nuns. It was my first gift. I read them avidly. They greatly helped me learn English. Twelve years later at the Naval Academy, I finished near the top of my class in English.
I was probably as poorly prepared academically as any plebe who had ever entered the Naval Academy. Each week of the years at high school, I worked more than 70 hours a week, with no vacation during the entire time.
I remember those high school years vividly. Trying to study a book while delivering Western Union telegrams was difficult. It would have been wonderful to have had the opportunity for more study, for reading good books. But I did not have that opportunity.