The name Krulak is always familiar to me, as General Charles Krulak (the son of the subject of the book) was one of the few Commandants of the Marine Corps I have personally met. I never would have guessed that he had some Jewish blood in him.
After reading the article, Victor “Brute” Krulak’s story is a bitter-sweet one for us Jews. Here is an excerpt from an interview with the author:
Q. What was his background?
A. His grandparents on both sides were Orthodox Jews from Russia, part of the great 19th-century migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to America. Instead of staying in the East, they went west, where the Jewish experience was very different. In short, there was less discrimination. He grew up quite secular in Colorado and Wyoming.
Q. You wrote, however, that he completely obscured his Jewish background later in life.
A. When he went to Annapolis, he told people he had grown up Episcopalian. He walled off his past at the Naval Academy. It left him with no grounding – he had no roots essentially – and so he created his own life and identity.
Q. What did Krulak have against his real heritage?
A. Some people would say he turned his back on his Jewish heritage. But he never changed his name or volunteered to be baptized, so I think he honored his heritage in his own way.
Q. But why hide his background?
A. It was enormously difficult to be Jewish in the Marine Corps at that time. It was an intensely traditional, biased environment. Jews in the Marines got no further than captain and were usually just driven out.
Q. But he didn’t resent the Marines for this.
A. In fact, the Marine Corps became his new tribe. The Marine Corps did for him what it has done for hundreds of thousands of other misguided young men and turned them into, in Krulak’s words from one of his books, “citizens into whose hands the affairs of this nation can safely be entrusted.”
It’s disheartening that there was a time where Jews could not achieve the same things their Christian counterparts could. I am fortunate to serve in a time where this is not the case, so I could never judge someone from that time period for abandoning their faith and heritage. I’ll simply be thankful that no one has to make that kind of decision anymore.
If you are of the belief that conversion in Judaism is a one-way door (entrance only), then Brute Krulak is another achiever in the long line of Jewish servicemembers.