Saturday, June 23, 2012

Breakfast at Denny's

Reuben "Ruby" Goldstein

The following is from the preface to my book "A Mile in Their Shoes":


Have you had breakfast? Perhaps you’ll join me at Denny’s. I’d offer to pay, but Cliff Merrill insists on picking up the check. Cliff is a retired colonel. Who are we to argue?
Cliff’s wife Jan will join us, along with Reuben and Sue Goldstein. Ruby is fond of reminiscing about the Great Depression and is a big fan of the $1.99 Grand Slam breakfast – these are 1994 prices, mind you!
Let’s take this table in the corner. It’s Sunday morning, and the restaurant in Bradenton, Fla. – where the veterans of the 712th Tank Battalion from World War II are having their annual Florida “mini-reunion” – is crowded. Soon the waitress brings our plates, with their neatly arranged sausage patties, their bacon, pancakes and sunnyside up eggs. She disappears momentarily and returns with two thermal decanters of coffee.
Before long, as it always does at these reunions, the conversation shifts from restaurants in the Boston area – another favorite topic of Ruby’s – and salmon fishing in Alaska, an annual pastime of Cliff and Jan – to Normandy and 1944.
Cliff is solidly built, even as he pushes 80, with pale, chiseled cheeks and a splash of red beneath his eyes. He could still fit into a uniform, while Ruby, with the exception of his facial features, bears little resemblance to the rail-thin cavalry sergeant in 50-year-old snapshots.
When the battalion experienced its first combat on July 3, 1944, in the Haye du Puits sector of the Normandy battlefield, Cliff was a company commander in the 712th. Ruby was a tank commander in his company.
“Do you remember,” Ruby says, “we had these flare guns in the tank?”
“Smoke,” Cliff says.
“Yeah, smoke mortars,” Ruby says, although the next few times I hear him tell the story it will still be a flare gun. Memory is funny that way.
“I had mine wired to the inside of the basket of the turret,” he says with his Boston accent, “and I took it with me after the tank was hit.” This was on either July 4th or 5th, 1944. A few days later Cliff would be wounded and would miss the rest of the combat in Europe, although he would return to the European theater as a member of the tribunal at the Dachau war crimes trials, and later as a provost marshal. Ruby would be wounded too, but not until the Falaise Gap in August, and he would later return to the outfit.
“There was a machine gun nest in the field,” he says. “He was waiting for somebody to cross the opening to the field, then he’d let go. So I started to fire it [the smoke mortar] and lobbed it over the hedgerow. It couldn’t do any damage, but it must have scared the hell out of them, because I fired quite a few shots. But he caught one paratrooper that was trying to go through the opening. He caught him and killed him.”
“It was a captain of the paratroopers,” Cliff says. “I tried to stop him.”
Cliff pauses amid the clinking of coffee cups and animated conversations at nearby tables. He glances down, as if he is deep in thought.
“Before your tank was hit, you ran over,” he says, staring now at his plate, his voice barely audible, “there was a wounded German. You ran over him with your tank. Did you know that?”
“No, I just kept going.”
Jan Merrill, who is Cliff’s second wife, glances knowingly at Sue Goldstein, who married Ruby shortly after the war, as if to say you’d think our husbands wouldn’t talk about these things over breakfast. But the women know it’s better to talk about it over breakfast than to not talk about it at all.
“Jesus,” Cliff says, “you flattened him right out.”
“We kept going,” Ruby says. “Didn’t stop for anything.”
“He wasn’t wounded any longer,” Cliff says. “The tracks ran the whole length of him.”

GOLDSTEIN, Reuben "Bob" Of Hull (Mass.) Entered into rest June 22, 2012, at the age of 94. Bob was a proud U.S. Army Veteran of WWII and a Purple Heart Recipient. Beloved husband of the late Sylvia (Raskind) Goldstein. Devoted father of Martin Goldstein and his wife Pamela of Randolph, Stuart Goldstein and his wife Donna Marie of Hanover, Barry Goldstein of NJ and Donna Goldstein of Hull. Loving brother of the late Melvin Goldstein, Nathan Goldstein, David Goldstein and Jack Goldstein. Cherished grandfather of Alyssa, Ashley and Philip. Services will be held at the Stanetsky Memorial Chapel, 475 Washington St, CANTON, MA on Monday June 25, 2012 at 10:00 AM. Interment Lindwood Memorial Park, (Moses Mendelsohn Section), Randolph. Memorial observance will be held at the home of Martin & Pamela, on Monday beginning at 6:00 PM and on Tuesday and Wednesday beginning at 2:00 PM. In lieu of flowers expressions of sympathy in his memory may be made to a charity of your choice. Stanetsky Memorial Chapel 781-821-4600

Ever since I began attending reunions of the 712th Tank Battalion, I can't recall Ruby Goldstein ever missing one, either the annual reunion or the Florida minis. I heard two stories at the first reunion I went to, in 1987, which were instrumental in turning me into an oral historian. Neither story was the kind of story you'd expect to hear, about courage under fire, about bravery. One of the stories, told by Wayne Hissong, was about all the things he did upon returning home to avoid facing the mother of a buddy with whom he'd entered the service, and who wanted to know how her son was killed. The other story was told by Ruby, and was about a rabbit. Those of you who knew Ruby have probably heard this story more than once, but here it is nonetheless:

Reuben Goldstein
I was in the replacement depot waiting to rejoin the battalion, and we were getting hungry. It was after breakfast, and it’s getting close to noontime, and who know when the heck you’re gonna get chow, or what you’re gonna get.
So this fellow and I, we take a walk, and we get to a farmhouse, where we get some eggs. But we bought them. The Germans wouldn’t buy them, they’d take what they want. I had some francs in my pocket. I said, “Give me six eggs.”
I put them in my field jacket, three in one pocket, three in another. We go along, go into another farmhouse, and I want some more eggs.
The woman in the house could understand what I wanted. She goes out to get the eggs, and I go to sit down – forget it! I made a mistake. I crushed the six eggs in my pockets. What a mess I had!
I got the other six eggs. I cleaned up as best I could. I cleaned out my pockets. Then I said if she had a rabbit we could buy a rabbit. So it cost me, I think it was ten francs, it’s two cents a franc, twenty cents, and I got a rabbit. It was a nice, big, fat one.
We get back to camp, we said, “How the hell are we gonna kill this and cook it?” So this one kid from down South, I don’t remember his name, he says, “I’ll show you how we do it.”
He takes the rabbit by the hind legs, on the tree, Bam! Hits the head right on the tree, holds the hind legs, puts the rabbit on the ground, puts his foot under the neck, and pulls his head right off. Then he takes a knife and guts it.
We got a couple of branches from a tree, and two forks, cleaned them off, dug a little pit, and started a fire. I got some salt from a guy, and we poured it all inside of the rabbit to clean it out, we didn’t have any water. We poured all the salt, and we’re scraping it with knives to clean it out, and everybody, their mouths were getting full of saliva, you know, we’re gonna have something to eat.
We turned that thing, and we’re turning it and turning it, it should be done by now. We break a piece off and go to eat it.
Did you ever eat shoe leather? You started chewing, you figured look, it’s better than nothing. You spit it out, you couldn’t eat it.


 One day I was driving my goddaughter Avery somewhere, she was in her early twenties at the time, and I had a recording of Ruby telling that story. I said "Listen to this," and I played it on the CD player. Two thirds of the way into the story, she made me turn the CD player off. "Ewww," she said, or a word to that effect. Maybe it was "Yuck." Only then did I realize how graphic a story it was.
One day Tony D'Arpino, who lived in Milton, Mass. -- Ruby lived in Hull -- came into Ruby's dry cleaning establishment. The two of them got to talking, and they discovered that the both were veterans of the 712th. Ruby was in A Company and Tony in C Company, so they didn't know each other during the war, but from that point on they were good friends. The last few years they were both widowers, and they would travel to reunions together; sometimes Tony's daughter Ann would drive them, other times they'd struggle in wheelchairs through airports.
When I went to Milton in 1992 to interview Tony, Ruby came over and I interviewed them together. Ruby brought some pictures and memorabilia, including a training manual. I opened it up, and immediately my respect for Ruby rose several notches.
"Wow," I said. "This was autographed by a general?"
Ruby didn't know quite what I was talking about.
"Right here," I said. "The general signed your book."
Ruby looked quizzically at the page, and then laughed. It was the page with his address.
"General Delivery," he announced. "It was signed by a general!"

"Uncle Ruby, you're my hero," George Goldstein wrote on the obituary guestbook.

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