Everyone Called Him Uncle Icky

Veteran: Staff Sgt. Irving Ziffer
Artist: Michael Koulermos
Writer: Marshall Karp 

My uncle, Staff Sergeant Irving Ziffer, was born and raised in a tough neighborhood in upper Manhattan. A true patriot, he enlisted in the NY National Guard at 18, and when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was in the first wave of troops to be sent to the Pacific.

He spent the next four years in combat.

If you asked him where he was stationed, he’d just smile. He was never stationed. He went from island to island to island. He was a moving target. One day in Saipan, he didn’t move fast enough. He was shot.

They told him at the hospital that he needed six months to recover so they could get the shrapnel out. Then he’d be shipped back to the states. He said no. He was a platoon leader. He wasn’t going home while his men were still on the front lines. He went back into combat.

Over the course of the war, he was offered two battlefield commissions, but turned them down because that might mean he’d have to operate behind the lines, and he want to be on the front with his men.

He got wounded again at Okinawa. Artillery blast. He recovered from his wounds and went back into combat until the war ended.

I once asked him if he were brave, patriotic, stubborn, or stupid. His answer — all of the above.

I don’t think so. There are no stupid heroes.

Irving Ziffer spent a total of five years and five days in service for which he received two Purple Hearts, the Presidential Unit Citation, the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic Campaign Medal with Bronze Star, the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross and Star, and many other citations for his bravery, leadership, and patriotism. 

On November 23, 2008, at the age of 90, Uncle Icky had a true American Hero’s Farewell, complete with a military Honor Guard, a bugler sounding Taps, followed by the precision folding of the United States flag that draped his casket, which was presented to my aunt with the stirring words, “on behalf of a grateful nation.”

It was a touching private tribute to a great American, a man who put his family and his country above himself. Which means he lived his life as much for you, as he did for me.  So he’s not just my Uncle Icky, he’s yours.