“Don’t forget. We need to go to Taunton when I come to visit you.”
These were my father’s final instructions to me in 1975 when I moved from Chicago to Boston to attend graduate school. It was an unusual request. I had my eye on visiting the Cape, Gloucester, Lexington, and other well-known Massachusetts treasures. But ever since I’d begun considering a move to Boston, Dad was emphatic that Taunton was a top priority.
Why this old, industrial city in the southeastern part of the state held special meaning for him was baffling, but there were many pockets of his past he rarely shared. His experiences in the infantry during World War II headed that list.
Dad had enlisted in the Army in 1943. After basic training in the South, in 1944 he joined the ranks of the 1.5 million soldiers stationed at one time or another at Camp Myles Standish in Taunton. It was a way station for troops before heading to Boston Harbor, where they embarked to join the Allies battling in Europe. He was at Camp Standish when Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, rolled around.
Recognizing how isolating it was for Jewish soldiers to be away from family during the High Holidays, the local synagogue reached out. Congregation Agudath Achim welcomed Jewish soldiers to worship with them. This kind act was so poignant for my dad, a 21-year-old Jewish soldier from Chicago, that he vowed to return one day to express his appreciation.
I finally coordinated our family excursion to Taunton in 1988. My husband and I piled into the minivan with our two kids and my parents, who were visiting. Together, we made the short journey from our home in West Roxbury.
I had contacted the rabbi at Congregation Agudath Achim in advance. Rabbi Benjamin Lefkowitz greeted us warmly, ready to give us a tour. The synagogue had celebrated its 75th year a few years prior, and he eagerly showed us the commemorative book and photos assembled for that significant occasion. And a surprise awaited: Some of the female congregants who had served the troops a holiday feast following the 1944 Rosh Hashana service had come to meet my dad.
Neither Dad nor the six or so women recognized one another, but that didn’t diminish their delight in gathering together all those decades later. While Dad remembered the kindness of those who welcomed the Jewish soldiers to the congregation, the women remembered their concern for those who were about to face combat. Within a few days, the soldiers were crossing the Atlantic, heading to Le Havre, France. Dad and the other Jews would observe Yom Kippur on the ship’s deck with a chaplain officiating. Within months, many, including Dad, would fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
We stayed at the synagogue for an hour, then drove past the former grounds of Camp Myles Standish. It had later become the grounds of the Paul A. Dever State School, before permanently closing in 2002.
Finally, I had a deeper understanding of a seminal period in Dad’s life, a context for the once-nebulous pieces of war history that he only occasionally shared. I felt the sense of community he’d experienced as he was about to step into the abyss of war.
Boston, my chosen home, had been the embarkation port for my father, Private First Class Carol C. Goodman, and now had an elevated sense of importance for me. As for Taunton, I hold it in the highest esteem. The congregants had thoughtfully welcomed Dad and his fellow Jewish soldiers, and gave them a send-off that would become a lifelong, treasured memory.
Susan D. Goodman is a writer in Newton. September 10 would have been her father’s 101st birthday. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. TELL YOUR STORY. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to email@example.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.