When Jeffrey Ullman's son broke the news, Dad was more shocked at his own reaction than he was at the actual decision itself.
Drew Ullman, age 20, after two years at college in Santa Barbara, had announced that was putting college life on hold and would join the Marines. He heads to boot camp in January, and said he wishes he could go sooner. His father, a former anti-war activist and full-fledged liberal, said at one time he would have talked his son out of it. Now he realizes he couldn't be prouder.
"My father and I have similar thinking," said Drew, who grew up in Beverly Hills and the West Valley, "what we call our 9-10 and our 9-12 thinking. I feel like I owe a lot to this country, more so than someone who needs to go into the military as a way out. I grew up with money, with a great education, had a lot of advantages that other kids don't have, so I really owe a lot to this country."
Drew's parents now live in Brentwood. His dad explained it this way: "For years I thought the military wasn't the right thing for 'my kind of people.' That came from my politically liberal background and socioeconomic class.... I was a big anti-war activist and student radical at USC and Berkley. I continued my political activism throughout the '70s. But now my thinking about many things in the world has changed, including my thoughts about the military. In World War II, where my dad was a doctor with the Navy and the Marines, it was good versus evil. The only right thing to do was to participate, whereas in Vietnam and other battles, even Afghanistan, I wasn't a supporter. Now, again, it's very clear-cut. It's a matter of morality. Drew is beginning a journey that few Jews choose to make."
Only some 3,000 out of 1.4 million active duty servicemen and women are Jewish, about two-tenths of one percent. When it comes to Marines, the numbers are even more startling. It's one out of 1,000. One-tenth of one percent. That gives new meaning to the term "minority."
Yet for Drew and his father, who both have a strong Jewish identity, that wasn't really a factor. To them, the idea is to serve your country as an American who's Jewish, not as a Jew who's American. At his first interview with the recruiter, Drew remembers them asking: "Do you want to be one of the best or one of the rest?"
Drew said: "That helped clinch it for me. If I can be a Marine I can do anything. Being Jewish in the Marines wasn't really an issue. I can't imagine too many boys like me that are raised to be doctors, lawyers or accountants becoming Marines, but if I'm going to serve my country let me serve my country. I like defying stereotypes. That's my favorite thing to do. There's a stereotype, more of an American stereotype, that Jewish men are not tough, they're nerdy. That's not true."
Of course, with the current war in Iraq, and with troops on the ground in Afghanistan, being a Jew is very much an issue. Jews have taken steps to protect their religious identity in case of capture by the enemy. The chances that we'll still be fighting in those locations by the time Drew finishes 13 weeks of boot camp and further training is remote, but real. He claims he's not worried.
"Most likely I'll be initially be stationed in Camp Pendleton. I could be on ship duty, embassy duty or, yes, I could be in a war like Iraq. I'm not looking for a fight, but I'm not signing up to sit on my ass stateside," he said.
Sounds like he's already a soldier.
Dad put it this way: "My attitude is this -- to the extent he's able to wear his yarmulke and practice Judaism while fighting under the American flag, then do that. He always calls me every single Friday night ... so I asked him 'Are you still going to call me? You better call me or you're in trouble.' He said 'I'll do what I can.' So no, I'm not worried about him being a Jew going into the military. He's going to be part of an elite club. Many of my friends, both liberals and those who are conservative politically, might be surprised by my new attitude. They think they know me so they would not have expected it. I say to them, 'what are your sons and daughters doing for this country?'"
Phil Shuman is a reporter and substitute anchor for Fox 11 KTTV News. He is also hosts news programs for Channel 35's "L.A. Cityview."