Read Ordinary Heroes Online

Authors: Scott Turow

Tags: #Lawyers, #World War; 1939-1945, #Family Life, #General, #Suspense, #War & Military, #Fiction

Ordinary Heroes

BOOK: Ordinary Heroes

Ordinary Heroes

Scott Turow


Book Cover:

Stewart Dubinsky Knew His Father Had Served In World War Ii,
nd he'd been told how David
Dubin (as his father had
Americanized the name that
Stewart later reclaimed) had
rescued Stewart's mother from
the horrors of the Balingen
concentration camp. But when,
after his father's death, he
discovers a packet of wartime
letters to a former fiancee and
learns of his father's court-martial
and imprisonment, he is plunged
into the mystery of his family's
secret history and is driven to
uncover the truth about this
enigmatic, distant man who always refused to talk about his war.

As he pieces together his
father's past through military
archives, letters, and, finally, notes
from a memoir his father wrote in
prison, secretly preserved by the
officer who defended him,
Stewart starts to assemble a
dramatic and baffling chain of
events. Reconstructing the terrible
events and agonizing choices hi
s f
ather faced on the battlefield,
in the courtroom, and in love,
gains a closer understanding of his past, of his father's character, and of the brutal nature of war itself.


Dearest Grace--

My sickness is over, and I love you and miss you more than ever! Yesterday I got up feeling fine and ran to breakfast and I have been well ever since. I am beginning to know the routine aboard this commandeered cruise ship, where much of the civilian staff remains on duty--including Indian wallahs who serve the officers in our staterooms. We also have a wonderful band that three or four times a day strikes up sentimental classical numbers in the old first-class dining room, which is still turned out with baubled chandeliers and red velvet drapes. The enlisted men below enjoy many fewer luxuries, but even they know-their accommodations are a marked improvement over what they'd get on most of the Navy's old buckets.

With Tchaikovsky on the air, I sometimes forget we are in a war zone and distinctly treacherous waters. Yet with time on my hands, I suppose it's natural that thoughts of what may lie ahead occasionally preoccupy me. During the four days of sickness after we sailed from Boston, I naturally spent long periods on deck. For all the sophistication I like to think I acquired at Easton College and in law school, I am still a Midwestern hick. Until now, I have never been on a body of water broader than the Kindle
River, and there have been moments when I've found the vastness of the Atlantic terrifying. Gazing out, I realize how far I have gone from home, how alone I am now, and how immaterial my life is to the oceans, or to most of the people around me.

Of course, with my transfer to the Judge Advocate General's Department, I
have much less to fear than when I was training as an infantry officer. The closest I am likely to get to a German is to give advice about his treatmen
t a
s a POW. I know you and my parents are relieved, as I am, too, but at other moments I feel at sea. (Ho ho!)

I'm not sure why God sets men against each other in war--in fact, I'm no surer than ever that I believe in God. But I know I must do my part. We all mus do our parts, you at home and us here. Everything our parents taught us--my parents and your parents, different though they may be--is at stake. I know this war is right. And that is what men--and Americans, especially--do. They fight for what is right in the world, even lay down their lives if that's required. I still feel as I did when I enlisted, that if I did not take up thi
s f
ight, I would not be a man, as men are. As I must be. There are instants when I
am actually jealous of the soldiers I am traveling with, even when I see them overcome by a sudden vacancy that I know is fear. They are imagining the bullets sizzling at them in their holes, the earthquake and lightning of bombs and artillery. But I envy who they will become in the forge of battle.

I promise you that such insanity passes fleetly and that I'll happily remain a lawyer, not a foot soldier. It is late now and they say there are heavy seas ahead. I should sleep while I can.

Good night, darling. I'll see you in my dreams!

With love forever



All parents keep secrets from their children. My father, it seemed, kept more than most. The first clue came when Dad passed awa
y i
n February 2003 at the age of eighty-eight, after sailing into a Bermuda Triangle of illness--heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema--all more or less attributable to sixty years of cigarettes. Characteristically, my mother refused to leave the burial details to my sister and me and met the funeral director with us. She chose a casket big enough to require a hood ornament, then pondered each word as the mortician read out the proposed death announcement.

"Was David a veteran?" he asked. The undertaker was the cleanest-looking man I'd ever seen, with lacquered nails, shaped eyebrows, and a face so smooth I suspected electrolysis.

"World War II," barked Sarah, who at the age of fifty-two still raced to answer before me.

The funeral director showed us the tiny black rendering of the Stars and Stripes that would appear in the paper beside Dad's name, but my mother was already agitating her thinning gray curls.

"No," she said. "No war. Not for this David Dubin." When she was upset, Mom's English tended to fail her. And my sister and I both knew enough to keep quiet when she was in those moods. The war, except for the bare details of how my father, an American officer, and my mother, an inmate in a German concentration camp, had fallen in love, virtually at first sight, had been an unpleasantness too great for discussion throughout our lives. But I had always assumed the silence was for her sake, not his.

By the end of the mourning visitation, Mom was ready to face sorting through Dad's belongings. Sarah announced she was too pressed to lend a hand and headed back to her accounting practice in Oakland, no doubt relishing the contrast with my unemployment. Mom assigned me to my father's closet on Monday morning, insisting that I consider taking much of his clothing. It was nearly all disastrously out of fashion, and only my mother could envision me, a longtime fatso, ever shrinkin
g e
nough to squeeze into any of it. I selected a few ties to make her happy and began boxing the rest of his old shirts and suits for donation to the Haven, the Jewish relief agency my mother had helped found decades ago and which she almost single-handedly propelled for nearly twenty years as its Executive Director.

But I was unprepared for the emotion that overtook me. I knew my father as a remote, circumspect man, very orderly in almost everything, brilliant, studious, always civil. He preferred work to social engagements, although he had his own polite charm. Still, his great success came within the mighty fortress of the law. Elsewhere, he was less at ease. He let my mother
. H
old sway at home, making the same weary joke for more than fifty years--he would never, he said, have enough skill as a lawyer to win an argument with Mom.

The Talmud says that a father should draw a son close with one hand and push him away with the other. Dad basically failed on both accounts. I felt a steady interest from him which I took for affection. Compared to many other dads, he was a champ, especially in a generation whose principal ideal of fathering was being a 'good provider.' But he was elusive at the core, almost as if he were wary of letting me know him too well. To the typical challenges I threw out as a kid, he generally responded by retreating, or turning me over to my mother. I have
a p
erpetual memory of the times I was alone with him in the house as a child, infuriated by the silence. Did he know I was there? Or even goddamn care?

Now that Dad was gone, I was intensely aware of everything I'd never settled with him--in many cases, not even started on. Was he sorry I was not a lawyer like he was? What did he make of my daughters? Did he think the world was a good place or bad, and how could he explain the fact that the Trappers, for whom he maintained a resilient passion, had never won the World Series in his lifetime? Children and parents can't get it all sorted out. But it was painful to find that even in death he remained so enigmatic.

And so this business of touching the things my father touched, of smelling his Mennen talcum powder and Canoe aftershave, left me periodically swamped by feelings of absence and longing. Handling his personal effects was an intimacy I would never have dared if he were alive. I was in pain but deeply moved every minute and wept freely, burbling in the rear corner of the closet in hopes my mother wouldn't hear me. She herself was yet to shed a tear and undoubtedly thought that kind of iron stoicism was more appropriate to a man of fifty-six.

With the clothing packed, I began looking through the pillar of cardboard boxes I'd discovered in a dim corner. There was a remarkable collection of things there, many marked by a sentimentality I
always thought Dad lacked. He'd kept the schmaltzy valentines Sarah and I had made for him as grade-school art projects, and the Kindle County championship medal he'd won in high school in the backstroke. Dozens of packets of darkening Kodachromes reflected the life of his young family. In the bottom box, I found memorabilia of World War II, a sheaf of brittle papers, several red Nazi armbands taken, I imagined, as war trophies, and a curled stack of two-by-two snaps, good little blackand-white photos that must have been shot by someone else since my father was often the subject, looking thin and taciturn. Finally, I came upon a bundle of letters packed in an old candy tin to which a note was tied with a piece of green yarn dulled by time. It was written in a precise hand and dated May 14, 1945.

Dear David
I am returning to your family the letters you have sent while you have been overseas. I suppose they may have some significance to you in the future. Inasmuch as you are determined to no longer be a part of my life, I have to accept that once time passes and my hurt diminishes, they will not mean anything to me. I'm sure your father has let you know that I brought your ring back to him last month.

For all of this, David, I can't make myself be angry at you for ending our engagement. When I saw your father, he said that you were now being court-martialed and actually face prison. I can hardly believe that about someone like you, but I would never have believed that you would desert me either. My father says men are known to go crazy during wartime. But I can't wait any longer for you to come back to your senses.

When I cry at night, David--and I won't pretend for your sake that I don't--one thing bothers me the most. I spent so many hours praying to God for Him to deliver you safely; I begged Him to allow you to live, and if He was especially kind, to let you come back whole. Now that the fighting there is over, I cannot believe that my prayers were answered and that I was too foolish to ask that when you returned, you would be coming hom
e t
o me.

I wish you the best of luck in your present troubles.



This letter knocked me flat. Court-martialed! The last thing I could imagine of my tirelessly proper father was being charged with a serious crime. And a heartbreaker as well. I had never heard a word abou
t a
ny of these events. But more even than surprise, across the arc of time, like light emitted by distant stars decades ago, I felt pierced by this woman's pain. Somehow her incomprehension alloyed itself with my own confusion and disappointment and frustrated love, and instantly inspired a ferocious curiosity to find out what had happened.

Dad's death had come while I was already gasping in one of life's waterfalls. Late the year before, after reaching fifty-five, I had retired early from the Kindle County Tribune, my sole employer as an adult. It was time. I think I was regarded as an excellent reporter--I had the prizes on the wall to prove it--but nobody pretended, me least of all, that I had the focus or the way with people to become an editor. By then, I'd been on the courthouse beat for close to two decades. Given the eternal nature of human failings, I felt like a TV critic assigned to watch nothing but reruns. After thirty-three years at the Trib, my pension, combined with a generous buyout, was close to my salary, and my collegiate cynicism about capitalism had somehow fed an uncanny knack in the stock market. With our modest tastes, Nona and I wouldn't have to worry about money. While I still had the energy, I wanted to indulge every journalist's fantasy: I was going to write a book.

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