Oh, the Stories Mickey Graubard Can Tell
BY ROBIN JOVANOVICH
A few days after receiving the January 31 issue of The Rye Record and reading Chris Maloney’s brief but powerful history of the four Rye Marines who served in The Battle of Iwo Jima, Meyer (Mickey) Graubard, 94, knocked on our office door. The agile 94-year-old had no difficulty climbing the steep stairs or remembering his wartime experiences.
In 1943, Graubard was drafted and chose to serve in the Navy, even though his older brother had enlisted in the Army. “At the time, the Navy had a V12 program which offered a college education. You came out an officer,” he recalled. “I had a letter of recommendation from my history teacher, Mrs. O’Neill. Sadly, the Navy cancelled the program.” He applied to Annapolis but was turned down.
After five weeks of boot camp in Geneva, N.Y., he was one of eleven members of Rooster Company sent to aviation school in Norman, Oklahoma. After being made a Seaman, First Class, in August 1944 he picked up a ship at Pearl Harbor and soon found himself one of 1,000 men on the escort carrier CVE57 Anzio chasing Japanese battleships and on anti-submarine patrol. “We had our own planes — 12 torpedo bombers, 24 fighter planes — and got four Japanese subs,” he said proudly.
His main duty was running the aircraft elevator, working the catapult, until an air officer took a liking to him and made him his assistant on the bridge.
“We were ‘island-hopping’ and made it through three typhoons — we did lose six planes in one because they weren’t properly tied down — before being sent to help the U.S. capture Iwo Jima.” The battle raged from February 19 to March 26, 1945.
Afterwards, his ship was among those sent to liberate the Philippines. “We were under attack by air. During general quarters, I was manning a gun on the port side next to another ship when the kamikaze attacked us.” Graubard paused before adding, “I saw the face of one of the kamikaze pilots. We were only able to rescue 300 of the 1,000 men on the Bismarck-class battleship.”
In April 1945, Graubard, by that time a 3rd Class Petty Officer — there was an opening for an instrument specialist, and he took the exam and passed — heard he’d been accepted into Annapolis. “I was told I’d be put on a destroyer and then flown back to the states. I asked if I could have a day to think about it,” he said. Deciding that he couldn’t leave the men he served with, and that the war would soon be over, he turned it down.
From there, his ship was sent to Okinawa to support the invasion of Japan.
When the war ended, his ship traveled to Korea to pick up a load of soldiers who were put on the hangar deck. Weeks later, Graubard thought he was headed home, to the Bronx, but his wasn’t one of the names called and he ended up on Oahu for several months. “I’m not a religious man, despite my father’s best efforts — he sent me to a Jewish summer camp for Yeshiva — but I wanted to get home for Passover. The officer signed off on it, but the executive officer said not until he said so. I went over his head, to the commanding officer, and instead of New York I was sent to San Francisco by ship. It was the only time I was seasick during the war.”
When he finally arrived home, it was his mother’s wonderful cooking and his father’s counsel that gladdened his heart. “My father asked me what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure.” He worked for an interior decorator in Mt. Vernon for a while. In the fall of 1947, he got into New York University where he studied business, thanks to the GI Bill.
It was at a dance that he met his future wife, Helen Eisenberg. She was one of 20 girls, but he only had eyes for her. At his college graduation in 1950, he gave her his class ring. “My mother took off her engagement ring and gave it to Helen and then went out and bought herself a new ring!” he said with a smile.
For most of his career, Mickey Graubard was in the toy business, a salesman, a manufacturer’s rep. “I was the No. 1 salesman at Mattel, and they upped my salary from $40 a week to $50. Helen and I got married and with a Plymouth from my parents we drove down to Florida for our honeymoon.” He was in charge of getting the license to manufacture Barbie doll carrying cases and when the company was bought by CBS, he was made a vice president.
The Graubards moved to Blind Brook Lodge in 1997 after too many hot summers in Florida. Mickey is glad to have his daughter and son living nearby, but he misses his wife, who died six years ago, every day. “Helen was related to Mike Bloomberg. I wish she was here now.” He added, “I met Trump twice. Once was enough.”
In 2015, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, this ever-youthful veteran was honored at Citi Field. He showed us the YouTube clip.
His has been a wonderful life, he acknowledged. “Not too bad for a kid whose parents came from Poland and who grew up in the Bronx.”