Nation roundup for February 18
Long-missing WWII medal awarded in LA
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hyla Merin grew up without a father and for a long time never knew why.
Her mother never spoke about the Army officer who died before Hyla was born. The scraps of information she gathered from other relatives were hazy: 2nd Lt. Hyman Markel was a rabbi’s son, brilliant at mathematics, the brave winner of a Purple Heart who died sometime in 1945.
Aside from wedding photos of Markel in uniform, Merin never glimpsed him.
But on Sunday, decades after he won it, Merin received her father’s Purple Heart, along with a Silver Star she never knew he’d won and a half-dozen other medals.
Merin wiped away tears as the Silver Star was pinned to her lapel during a short ceremony attended by friends and family at her home in Westlake Village, a community straddling the Ventura and Los Angeles county lines. The other medals were presented on a plaque.
“It just confirms what a great man he was,” Merin said tearfully. “He gave up his life for our country and our freedom. I’ll put it up in my house as a memorial to him and to those who served.”
Merin’s mother, Celia, married Markel in 1941 when he already was in the military. They met at a Jewish temple in Buffalo, N.Y.
About four months ago, the manager of a West Hollywood apartment building where Merin’s mother lived in the 1960s found a box containing papers and the Purple Heart while cleaning out some lockers in the laundry room, Merin said.
The manager contacted Purple Hearts Reunited, a nonprofit organization that returns lost or stolen medals to vets or their families.
A search led to Merin.
She became “kind of emotional, because I don’t have a lot of pictures, I don’t have a lot of stories, and I’ve always been a crier,” she said. “My mother was always the stoic one, very strong.”
Markel was killed in the last days of World War II on May 3, 1945, in Italy’s Po Valley while fighting German troops as an officer with the 88th Division of the 351st Infantry Regiment, said Zachariah Fike, the Vermont Army National Guard captain who founded Purple Hearts Reunited.
“The accounts suggest that he was out on patrol and he got ambushed and he charged ahead and basically took out a machine gun position to save the rest of his guys,” said Fike, whose organization has returned some two dozen medals. “For that, he paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
He was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star posthumously, but for some reason the family never was told about the Silver Star and it was never sent to them, Fike said.
Merin’s mother never talked in detail to her daughter about Markel.
“It was a very difficult topic for her. When my father died, she was seven months pregnant with me,” Merin said.
Her mother briefly remarried when Merin was 10 but her stepfather died three years later, Merin said.
Her mother moved into the apartment in 1960 and may have placed the Purple Heart in the locker then, Merin said. Her mother lived there until 1975 before moving away, and Merin’s aunt lived there until 2005. Another aunt lived there until 2009.
They never spoke about what was in the locker, and the family must have missed the box when they took away the aunts’ possessions in 2005 and 2009, Merin said.
Merin said that in addition to the Purple Heart, which Pike kept for framing, the box contained letters and other papers, and her father’s Jewish prayer book.
“I found it very hard to look at. A lot of them were condolence letters,” she said.
Merin’s mother was told about the discovery of the Purple Heart but didn’t live to see it — she died Feb. 1 at age 94.
Congressman edges Kennedy name back into politics
WASHINGTON (AP) — He glances down the hallway to his left, takes three steps to the right and, with a smile, spins back left.
It’s another wrong turn for Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., who was raised among political royalty but is just another lost freshman on Capitol Hill six weeks after taking office. His family served in Washington for most of the past six decades, but this Kennedy exits elevators on the wrong floor, struggles to locate bathrooms and has yet to make many friends.
“It’s kind of that freshman hazing ritual where nobody really will tell you where you are,” the 32-year-old Kennedy said on a recent walk to the Capitol. “It was actually yesterday where I made it over from my office through the underground tunnels and actually popped up where I thought I was going to pop up in the Capitol. First time. I was very proud of myself.”
Indeed, carrying the weight of his family name and a self-deprecating sense of humor, he is living in relative obscurity as he eases the Kennedy brand back into national politics. It was a brand without a face following the 2011 retirement of his troubled cousin, Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, whose departure created the Kennedy family’s first extended absence from elective office since John F. Kennedy became a congressman in 1947.
The boy-faced Joe Kennedy III, a redhead with little political experience, is quietly bringing the name back.
He has no entourage. He shies away from national media interviews. He introduces himself simply as “Joe.” And there is little sign of entitlement when he talks about a new career in public service.
“This is gotta be on my own,” says Kennedy, a former state prosecutor and Peace Corps volunteer. “People have got to get to know me, they gotta get to know who I am, what I stand for, what my values are. And I recognize that takes time.”
He mentions the credibility his great-uncle Ted Kennedy built up over decades as a senator from Massachusetts in a career so accomplished that he earned the nickname “the liberal lion.” Even some of the Senate’s most conservative members respected him, the younger Kennedy pointed out.
“That just isn’t something that’s going to be given to you,” he says. “It’s something you gotta go earn.”
The Kennedy label, of course, evokes intrigue just as it stirs whispers of scandal, death and elitism. Patrick Kennedy left office after high-profile struggles with substance abuse and mental health. Ted Kennedy’s legacy is marred by the 1969 car accident on Chappaquiddick Island that left a woman dead.
And Joe Kennedy III never met his grandfather, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, or his great-uncle President John F. Kennedy, both of whom were assassinated more than a decade before his birth. His grandfather was in Congress himself when he was killed, serving as a senator from New York.
The young Kennedy flashes his family’s youthful good looks, ease with people and prosecutorial wit. But he also has an aw-shucks manner at times that won him the affection of colleagues when he served as Sen. Ted Kennedy’s volunteer state campaign chair in 2006.
“He’s a little in awe of where he is already, which is the best kind of representative to be,” said Stephanie Cutter, a senior aide for President Barack Obama’s campaign who had worked for Ted Kennedy. “I think a lot of other people think he should be in a rush. But I don’t think he thinks so.”
Indeed, Joe Kennedy III comes to Congress in the seat previously held by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., with a passionate belief in the power of good government and modest expectations as freshman member of the minority party. He says little about long-term goals, instead focusing on bridging the current political divide and helping constituents back home.
In particular, he cites an opportunity to work with Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee, in addition to protecting research and development on the Science, Space and Technology Committee. He hopes this is the beginning of a long career in public service.
“Members of my family — both my mother’s side and my father’s side — have found ways to serve,” Kennedy says. “And as long as I feel like I can continue to contribute — and if I get the support of the people that I’m representing — I hope to be able to. … I am enjoying this.”
But his inexperience is easy to see.
He nibbled on his fingernails while waiting more than an hour to speak during the first hearing of the science committee. With just a hint of a Massachusetts accent, the soft-spoken Harvard Law graduate stumbled over his words at times before asking a Texas Instruments official about the company’s effort to address cancer rates in his district.
But there is little doubt that his name gives him more weight than the average freshman.
The audience perked up when Kennedy was called on to speak at the committee hearing. And the other elected officials are well aware of his background.
“It was extra special for me to sit with a Kennedy at a presidential swearing-in,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., another freshman who sat next to Kennedy at Obama’s recent inauguration.
“But he’s one of the most modest, humble individuals you’ll ever meet,” Swalwell continued. “He stands on his own two feet. That’s what’s important. He would be in Congress regardless of what his name is. … He’s demonstrated nothing but a willingness to do the grunt work like the rest of us.”
Back in his Massachusetts district, Kennedy has drawn admiration and curiosity in an overwhelming Democratic state where the family name is an institution. Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, is still mentioned as a potential candidate for statewide office. And Ted Kennedy Jr., 51, has considered political runs.
Despite his lack of experience, Joe Kennedy III easily won his general election last fall with more than 60 percent of the vote.
“I wanted to get to know him. I voted for him. I didn’t even know if he was 30!” said Franklin attorney Deb Batog, 48, who attended a recent luncheon for the Milford Area Chamber of Commerce simply to hear Kennedy speak.
But she said his name would only carry him so far.
“He’s still going to have to prove it,” Batog said. “Can he create his own legacy? Nobody knows.”
Yacht sets record from New York to San Francisco
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A racing yacht named after one of the world’s fastest cars has docked in San Francisco after what organizers said was the fastest passage of a single-hulled sailing vessel from New York to San Francisco.
The 70-foot Maserati sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge late Saturday morning and tied up at Pier 39 Marina around 11:30 a.m. Saturday, 47 days after pulling out of New York City, said Judy Laws, a spokeswoman for the event.
The 13,225-mile journey around Cape Horn at the tip of South America is what sailors have said for centuries is one of the most challenging sailing journeys in the world.
The Maserati finished the trip in 47 days, two hours and 33 minutes, easily beating the most recent record of 57 days, three hours and two minutes set in 1998, Laws said.
“They beat it by a little more than 10 days. They smashed it,” Laws said.
“This is a big deal,” Andy Turpin, managing editor of Latitude 38, the Marin County-based sailing magazine, told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week. “This is one of the most difficult sailing records.”
The eight-member crew of the Maserati — led by its Italian skipper 47-year-old Giovanni Soldini — left New York City on New Year’s Eve.
Though calm winds late Friday had pushed back the vessel’s expected arrival by a few hours, Laws described a festive atmosphere as dignitaries, including Mauro Battocchi, Consul General of Italy in San Francisco, and others greeted the crew when they arrived at the dock.
“It’s just been a happy, happy time,” Laws said.
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