For a friendly boy from Fort Wayne, IN, Lou Curdes sure had plenty of fight in him. He fought with the Italians, the Germans and the Japanese. As a fighter pilot in WWII, Captain Lou moved from battlefront to battle front, flying “Bad Angel,” his P-51 Mustang long-range fighter into the thick of battle. Captain Lou quickly racked up a few distinctions; first he earned the title “Flying Ace,” by shooting down five enemy planes, then he became one of only three pilots to shoot down at least one plane from each of the Axis nations; Germany, Italy, and Japan. But his most unusual distinction is that he was the only US pilot in history to earn a Distinguished Flying Cross medal for shooting down an American plane. In a sense, he was the only pilot ever to be rewarded for shooting down German, Italian, Japanese and American planes.
(In the war, pilots would paint on the side of their planes a flag or emblem for each aircraft they took down. See the photo above of Captain Lou Curdes in his P-51 Mustang, with seven swastikas for the seven German Messerschmitt Bf 109s he took out, one Italian three-wing roundel for the Italian Macchi C.202 he downed, one rising sun emblem for the Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-46 he sent for a swim, and one US flag for the American Douglas C-47 Skytrain he downed.)
So why was a US pilot celebrated for opening fire on an American plane and sending it and the twelve people on board into the Pacific Ocean?
In early 1945, the US was engaged in fierce warfare with the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of WWII. The South China Sea, where all the action was taking place, is riddled with tens of thousands of islands, and many of them were in Japanese hands. The US generally had air superiority, but the Japanese were deeply entrenched on the ground, often digging huge tunnel complexes beneath the ground and using them to attack any US ground troops that tried to land set foot on their islands. They would attack suddenly and then almost “vanish into the ground.”
The US used its air superiority to try to starve out the Japanese troops, bombing airfields, supply depots, fuel tanks, anti-aircraft installations and anything else that was above ground. On the morning of Feb 10, 1945, Captain Lou Curdes led a mission of four P-51 Mustangs, leaving their base in Luzon, the largest and most populated island in the Phillipines, northward toward Formosa (Taiwan) to see if they could find any Japanese installations to take out, and by afternoon they were heading back from a relatively uneventful day.
Their commanding officer, General George C. Kenney, asked them to check out the Batanes islands, a small group of islands midway between Taiwan and the Phillipines, on their way back and see if they could find anything there. The four planes split into pairs and were scanning the islands when one of them caught side of an airfield that looked distinctively Japanese. They circled closer when suddenly anti-aircraft fire surrounded their plane and one of the American planes was hit and it’s pilot, Lieutenant La Croix caught a bullet in the leg. He flew out to sea to get as far from the Japanese as possible and then bailed out of his airplane seconds before it splashed down in the Pacific.
La Croix’s parachute backpack had an inflatable raft in it, and as soon as he hit the water he inflated it, and soon he was floating in the water, injured but safe. Captain Lou instructed the other two planes to go back to base to get additional help including an amphibious plane that could land in the ocean and pick up La Croix, and in the meantime he circled above La Croix’s raft making sure no Japanese came to pay him a visit.
About an hour later Lou saw a plane in the distance, but it didn’t look like a fighter plane, it was a cargo plane. Even stranger, it was a US cargo plane, a Douglas C-47, and it was over 150 miles from any US presence! Lou approached cautiously to make sure it was actually in US control, and indeed it had the US Air Force Insignia on its side, but it was heading toward the Batanes airfield which was in Japanese hands! Lou repeatedly reached out by radio to tell the cargo plane not to land in Batanes, where everyone on board would be instantly massacred by the Japanese ground troops, but he received no response.
Lou then took maneuvers to try force the cargo pilot to change course, but every time he forced them to change course they just turned and headed back toward Batanes. It turned out that the cargo plane was separated from its fleet during some terrible storms that also knocked out their navigation and radio instruments, and now they had no idea where they were, they had almost no fuel and they were determined to land anywhere they could, not realizing that the Pacific Ocean is a far more friendly place to land than a Japanese airfield.
With no other choice, Captain Lou Curdes, tooh his “Bad Angel” and got behind the cargo plane. Carefully, he opened fire and shredded one of its engines, then he swung around and did the same to the other engine. The C-47 glided gracefully downward, landing in the Pacific. Moments later, the door opened and two inflatable rafts were thrown out, and the twelve crew members climbed into the rafts. Lou kept circling above, now guarding three rafts, the two from the cargo plane and La Croix’s but eventually help showed up, and everyone was saved, and Lou headed back to his base.
Shortly after, General George Kenney awarded Captain Lou with the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking down an American plane and saving the lives of the twelve people on board, and he became the only Flying Ace in history awarded for taking out an American Plane.
Now imagine you were one of the people aboard the C-47 as Lou started shooting at it. You would have no way of understanding why an American pilot is shooting you out of the sky. You would be sure that he is a traitor and the worst American ever! But in reality he was saving your life, you just don’t know it because you don’t have a wide enough lens, to see everything he sees. What you thought was the height of evil was actually the apex of mercy and compassion.
In the most important declaration a Jew ever makes, we say “Hear O Israel, Hashem, Our G-d, Hashem is one.” The Sages tell us that the meaning of this phrase is that no matter how Hashem appears to be interacting with us, it is always one G-d, the G-d of compassion, kindness and mercy. And the reason this is the ultimate declaration of the Jew is because the hardest thing to understand is why bad things happen to good people and this one line states that even though we can’t see it, all of G-d’s actions are for the good.
To us it may appear that at times G-d is clipping our wings, forcing us into the ocean, destroying every thing that is holding us up, but in reality He may just be saving us from some future disaster that is far worse that we simply can’t see because we don’t have a wide enough lens. We won’t know the full picture until we get back to base, heaven, but the proud statement of the Jewish people has always been our affirmation of this truth, whatever G-d does, it is for the best!!
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Parsha contains one of my favorite verses. In Deuteronomy 8:3 it states: “For not by bread alone does man live, rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of G-d does man live.” This seems to be telling us clearly that in order to live fully one has to be connected to something greater than simple physical material. One has to be connected to spirituality, the emanations of the mouth of G-d. What does this mean, and how exactly does being connected spiritually help me live? I see many people who live long lives and are not at all connected to any form of spirituality?
In order to understand this, let us take a micro-mini class called Self- Awareness 101. Who are we? We are a combination of a soul and a body. My body comes from the earth and its primary goal is to transport my soul to wherever it needs to go in order to accomplish its goals. My soul comes from a purely spiritual world and all it is interested in is spirituality, yet it is quite immobile, so it needs the body to accomplish its takes. It tries to control the body and direct it to squeeze spirituality out of physicality (e.g. using the physical, such as wooden boards, to make a spiritual place, a Succah.)
A good analogy would be to compare the relationship to you and your car. Obviously the primary object is you (although if you see the way some people treat their cars, you begin to wonder who is there to serve who), but you can’t get far without a car. Car is to Human, as Body is to Soul. One needs to take good care of their body in order for it to continue to function well, and therefore we eat. But the minute we only feed the body we are forgetting about the primary object. This would be analogous to going on a road trip and filling up the car with gas, but not feeding the humans in the car. The car may continue running, but soon it will be running on empty (empty of inner life not gas).
If we feed only our body, giving it every gastronomical delight it desires, feeding it with eye-candy by looking at whatever it wishes, and taking it all over the world to pamper it, then the soul inside, the primary object, starts to slowly waste away. The first sign of this wasting is usually mild depression and a sense of emptiness. This is what the verse means when it days that man doesn’t subsist on bread alone. We need to feed the body, but it is much more important to feed our soul, which needs a different diet, one consisting of that which emanates from the mouth of G-d.
This parsha starts off with a great deal for the Jews. G-d tells them – you keep my mitzvot (even the little ones that people think are insignificant), and I will keep you healthy, wealthy, and wise. In addition G-d reassures them, and tells them not to fear the numerous strong nations that live in Israel as G-d will go before them in battle and help them win, just as He destroyed the Egyptians who oppressed them. As a matter of fact, the Jews had miraculous help from a special hornet called a tzirah which would seek out enemies and shoot poison into their eyes. (If only we could order a couple thousand of those for the IDF!)
G-d also tells the Jews to remember the miracles they experienced as part of daily life in the dessert, how they had spiritual food (manna) delivered to them daily, their feet never blistered, they never had to wash their clothes (the Clouds of Glory acted as a cleansing agent and kept everyone’s clothing fresh and pressed), and their clothing and shoes never wore out. Even though they are about to enter a land in which all these miracles will cease, G-d promises them that it is a land lacking nothing. It is filled with streams and underground springs that wind through the mountains and the valleys. It has seven fruits for which it is particularly blessed: wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives (and their oil), and dates (and their honey).
However ,G-d warns the people of the pitfall of becoming too accustomed to material success, forgetting about G-d, and claiming that it is you who earned everything you have. G-d warns us that when that happens, we will lose all the wealth we have become accustomed to, as it has become the source of our forgetting G-d. (Analogy: Parents buy child video game console, kid forgets about parents and plays game all day long, parents take away gaming console.) G-d even applies this concept to the spiritual affluence the Jews experienced in the desert. He tells the Jews, “Don’t think that it is due to your righteousness that you merited living with such spiritual greatness, because you rebelled against me many times, but rather because you are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and because G-d has chosen you as his nation.”
Here, Moshe reminds the Jews of the Golden Calf, about how he had to break the first tablets, and ascend to heaven for forty days to beg forgiveness, and then another forty days in order to receive the second set of tablets. Moshe reminds the people that they saw with their own eyes the miracles G-d performed in Egypt and in the desert, and that those miracles should propel them toward proper service of G-d. This will enable them to live on the land of Israel which, besides for being a wonderful place to live, has the added benefit that G-d’s eyes are always upon it, and it will only support a G-dly existence.
The Parsha ends with the second portion of the Shema, V’haya im shamoa. This portion has two main ideas, reward and punishment, and our obligation to fulfill the mitzvot. The interesting thing to note is that the Torah, unlike any other religious book, only promises rewards in this world, it never mentions the world to come. Other books are filled with glorious promises of reward in the Kingdom of Heaven, promises easy to make because people don’t come back from there to report if it’s true or not. However, the Torah promises that in this world it will be better, a promise that could only be made by a G-d Who can back up what He says. So I guess we have our H.W. cut out for us – we have to get out there, behave well, and then reap the benefits G-d promises us throughout this parsha! That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. – Mahatma Ghandi
Random Fact of the Week: Only female mosquitos will bite you.
Funnyl Line of the Week: Take my advice – I’m not using it.
Have a Jubilant Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham