In 2015, at the sixtieth anniversary of the Christmas Day 1941 massacre of several hundred Japanese American men at the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, David Lifton, a composer and dean of the music faculty at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, was among more than 200 people who gathered at the museum to honor the dead.
One woman, H.D. Swanson, had lost five family members, including her father.
One by one, the survivors and many from the rest of the country read from condolence letters from friends and neighbors.
Then, in the final speaker, Lifton looked to Swanson.
"Your father's letters, hundreds of them, were never read," he said. "You and I know why."
'The eulogy they never received': Reclaiming the heritage of Jewish American soldiers killed in World War II Share This Story
Lifton then gave a vigorous, rousing recitation of her father's words. When they were finished, he told her, Swanson sat up. "I said, 'Honey, can I hold your hand?' She says, 'Yes.' "
So, Lifton recounted at her funeral on Jan. 16, that's how they were spoken: "My dear friends and family: Thank you for caring about me and thinking of me. Please hold my hand. I cannot reply to each and every single one of you individually. I will call you in due time. It's important to me to know how my life is remembered.
"When I look at my letters, I am moved by the beauty and the hope they show. It is great to have thought of me. I would be proud of each and every one of you. I am so proud of all your accomplishments. I shall never forget your brave and noble acts. I am profoundly grateful to you for giving of yourself to so selflessly, and I thank God for the blessing of your brave and noble lives.
"I thank you for honoring me. I am truly humbled. It is never too late to move mountains."
So many words, but what about honoring, or beginning to honor, the real Jewish American soldiers who fell in World War II?
Once a source of pride for the Jewish American community, the United States military's Jewish Army Nurse Corps was forgotten for decades. It was an important contribution to World War II; and while important, many of the survivors found that, in the wake of the war, such a memorial was not easily built.
Over the past several years, many of the survivors have found a new home for their memories and the military communities that are engaged in discussions about their memorials.
The Jewish American Veterans Memorial Group was created by the survivors as a way to honor the thousands of Jewish American soldiers who gave their lives in service to this country.
The group is a joint effort of two veteran groups: the Jewish American Veterans and the American Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The JAVMG is currently in the process of raising money for a memorial to include veterans who gave their lives for their country. That work has been guided by Susan Levin of the Jewish American National Museum.
But a place for the memorial may be harder to find than the story of the Jewish American soldiers who died for us.
The number of Jewish American military veteran groups in the country continues to decrease; yet, more recently, there are groups composed of hundreds or thousands of Jewish American veterans.
Because of this diversity, many of the memorials seem to function without a central coordinating authority. It is something that Ben Betar, a painter, teacher and resident of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, who founded the garden area Memorial Gardens at Camp Greene in August 2015, aims to rectify.
Betar, who was raised in the Manhattan Beach area and who fought in the Korean War, is working with the group Veterans Greening West to coordinate planning. They plan to call for artists to submit designs to the Memorial Garden National Library in Long Beach. Those designs will be sent to the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command at Hawaii, which will select the winners. The winners will then submit their designs to the U.S. Army for analysis and then to the American Legion for approval.
Eventually, it will be the veterans themselves who will have a memorial to honor their stories and heroism.
The idea of a memorial center at Camp Greene was first conceived by Michael Rojas, an American Legion Gold Star Project committee member. A memorial was created there in 2015.
Rojas died last week, and died from a heart attack.
Services for Rojas are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, 14201 Ramona St., Culver City.
Rojas is survived by