In the early 1990s, I met dozens of men and women who shared the experience of our fathers dying during World War II. Nine of us, including Susan Johnson Hadler, founded an organization that grew to more than 800 members—the American World War II Orphans Network—www.awon.org.
Along with Ann Bennett Mix, Susan co- wrote a book called Lost in the Victory. She interviewed several of us and included the story about her own father, David S. Johnson, Jr., who was killed in Germany on April 12, 1945 at age 25—three months after Susan was born—when he tripped a German anti-tank land mine. He died 25 days before the Nazis surrendered.
My father, Samuel “Sonny” Rosen, was killed six months before I was born. He was serving in the United States Navy aboard a destroyer, The USS Spence, which sank in a typhoon in the Philippine Sea along with two others on December 18, 1944. Neither my or Susan’s father’s remains were ever recovered.
Both our dads have markers close to one another in a special section of Arlington National Cemetery for service men and women whose remains were not recovered. Before her passing, Susan lived in Washington, D.C. and every time she visited her father’s marker, she visited my father’s, too. And she placed the traditional stone on it in keeping with Jewish tradition.
Susan was a Christian who became a Buddhist and a disciple of the well-known Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh. Every time that our group got together and memorialized our fathers, she made sure that the Kaddish was recited, as I did for her for 30 days at TBE after her passing. It is these connections that matter most to me.