Maj. Gen. (ret.) Sidney Shachnow, who helped initiate the letter released this week by the Trump campaign from 88 military leaders endorsing the Republican nominee, says Trump “has the temperament to be commander-in-chief.”
Shachnow knows from temperament, although not perhaps of the Trumpian variety: As a child, he and his family survived the Holocaust in Lithuania, where he was imprisoned for three years in the Kovno concentration camp, by keeping their heads low and showing restraint. According to his autobiography, “Hope and Honor,” the same level-headedness guided him through the pains of assimilation as a young refugee living in Salem, Massachusetts, and then through a career in the military.
His stint, including a turn in the Green Berets in Viet Nam and as an officer in an undercover unit infiltrating East Germany (he still speaks English with a Baltic lilt, as heard in this 2012 appearance at the Kansas City Public Library), ended with his command of U.S. forces in Berlin when the Wall came down in 1989. Among the medals he has earned is the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Shachnow is also on the board of advisers of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and has appeared at a Jewish War Veterans event.
His description of his childhood in Lithuania is heartbreaking, and includes the shattering experience of witnessing a Lithuanian partisan rape his mother while his father hid under the bed. His mother had ordered his father into hiding, knowing that the discovery of adult males could mean a death sentence, but it appears as if Shachnow could never shake off the experience.
“I thought my father would go out and help,” he writes. “He didn’t. I thought he was a coward. Maybe I was a coward, too.”
His mother emerges as the hero of the book’s first part, her intuitions and bravery guiding the family to safety.
For 40 years, Shachnow did not speak of the experiences related in the first part of the book, until his youngest daughter nudged him into it – a story typical of Holocaust survivors.
He dedicated his 2006 book to his mother, Rose, his wife, Arlene, and his daughters — which is poignant, because the greatest forbearance he describes in the book is his own, in his dealings with his mother after marrying Arlene. His parents never came around to accepting that he had fallen in love with a non-Jew, and his mother, especially, knew how to cut to the bone.
“I hope the baby looks like you,” his mother tells him after his first daughter is born. “I would hate to have a granddaughter that looks like your wife.”
More often than not, Shachnow kept his counsel at such jibes. Later, telling his mother that he had purchased a home, she asks, “Did you put the house in your name?” and then she explains, “Always keep something of your own. When the divorce comes –“
“I interrupted her,” he writes. “’No divorce, Ma.’ I walked out of the room.”
Shachnow, who knew what fights to pick and when, was right: He’s still married, living on a farm in North Carolina. He has four daughters, 14 grandchildren and at last count, seven great-grandchildren.
The Trump endorsement, more broadly, is about opposition to defense cutbacks under President Barack Obama, and their fears that they will continue under Hillary Clinton.
But against a battery of claims to the contrary, including from an array of national security Republicans, Shachnow’s endorsement of Trump’s temperament, in a release from the campaign, is an extraordinary nod for the Republican nominee.