This past weekend I had the distinct honor of being the keynote speaker for my fraternity’s annual convention. When I was first approached to do this, I asked myself what you are probably asking yourself now – “why on earth would they pick me to be a keynote speaker?”
For those of you unfamiliar with the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, it is the premier Jewish fraternity and the only fraternity that has maintained its Jewish character from its inception in 1913 to today.
I never considered myself a “frat” guy, especially since I did not attend college until after nearly six years of enlisted service. However, when my (now) wife met with an AEPi representative at a General Assembly they thought Virginia Tech might be a good candidate for a new chapter and that I might be a good pick to lead this first group of young Jewish men. It turns out she was right. We established a strong Jewish presence on campus and since my departure from Virginia Tech, the chapter has grown to over 50 Jewish students and occupies one of the premier houses on campus. However, it wasn’t my status as a founding father that brought me to Arizona to speak to my fellow brothers.
It was because I’m a Marine.
AEPi International decided that this year they were going to honor brothers who have served or currently serve in the armed forces. The evening’s ceremony was opened by a color guard from the Phoenix chapter of the Jewish War Veterans and was focused on numerous military guest speakers.
AEPi’s renewed commitment to veterans goes far beyond a weekend in Arizona. The organization has pledged to make this the “Year of The Veteran” and plans on not only recognizing brothers who have served, but also resurrecting programs to support those in uniform that haven’t been in place since WWII. In addition to my own participation in these programs, JIG has pledged to partner with AEPi to assist them in these efforts.
It’s no surprise to any of our readers here, but the public at large are often are unaware that Jews have a long and proud tradition of serving our country. So it should only make sense that an organization that attracts and develops Jewish leaders would also have a tradition of military service.
In 1940, the fraternity had an Armed Services Committee to keep in touch with brothers wearing their country’s uniform. This committee also sent men in service gifts in the name of our fraternity, including AEPi stamped wallets and portable checker sets. AEPi even had a fundraising Serviceman’s fund to finance the fraternity’s efforts.
On January 28, 1942, AEPi lost its first brother in combat – Lt. Arthur Amron, who lost his life serving with General MacArthur in the Philippines. By late 1942, more than 400 brothers – 1/6th of AEPi’s entire membership – were in the armed forces. By 1943, that number swelled to as many as 600 brothers, rapidly approaching half of AEPi’s entire membership. By the time the war was winding down, more than 2,000 members of AEPi were still in the armed services, and 67 brothers had made the supreme sacrifice.
This is but one tiny glimpse at the decades of Jewish service provided by the brothers of AEPi. Over the coming year, we will feature more stories about this unique connection between the fraternity and Jewish service in the military.
If you were to ask me to make a list of things that define me as a person, right behind “father” and “husband” would be “Jew” and “Marine”. This weekend I was able to wear those traits with great pride and share that pride with many of the young men who will be the future of Jewish leadership both in and out of the military. I am eternally grateful to the brothers of AEPi, especially our newly appointed Supreme Master Elan Carr (a Jewish war veteran himself), for allowing me that opportunity. I look forward to what will be an exciting partnership with JIG and AEPi over the next year and beyond.