Mel Brody enlisted in the United States Navy in 1951 when he was 18 years old, hoping to be stationed with his big brother, who had been recalled to active duty in support of the Korean conflict. His brother Aaron also served in the Navy during World War II, spending weeks in a life raft in the Pacific. Their family received a telegram saying he was Missing in Action, but 40 days later, the Navy found him – alive!
Brody says, “I was raised with a sense of patriotism. You owe this country.” His father was in the Army Rainbow Division during World War I, and all his male cousins served. “We should do like Israel,” he believes. “Men and women have mandatory service for two years. When you’re born into a Jewish family, ‘tzedakah’ is instilled in you. Simply put, you’re lucky to be alive, and so you give back [in money as well as actions].”
Brody arrived the only Jewish sailor on the USS Anderson. “Another sailor said he didn’t want me there, claiming Jews don’t fight,” Brody recalls. “I told him, ‘Let’s take it to the fantail [back part of the ship].’ I didn’t have any problems after that!” He also created allies, offering to stand watches for the Catholic sailors on Christmas.
Brody spent some time ashore, using mapping skills he learned as a Boy Scout. When there was a shortage of spotters, he helped the Marines plot targets for the USS Missouri and air strikes.
He was an Electrician’s Mate Second Class when his tour ended. “There was no parade when we returned from Korea. We just melted back into society,” he says. A few months ago, however, his service was remembered: He was at a local restaurant wearing his Korean War Veteran hat, and the manager – originally from South Korea – covered his bill, telling Brody, “I can never do enough for you.”
He was also selected to take an Honor Flight in May. “At the airports, people cheer you. When we were near the Korea and Vietnam Memorials [in D.C], thousands of school children hugged us. Korean visitors hugged us. They’re the most grateful people.”
Brody said he gained direction and purpose serving in the Navy. He used his G.I. Bill to finish a business degree in 1957 from San Francisco State. He retired in 1992, and after moving to Arizona, offered to help a friend with an event for Medal of Honor Recipients. “You meet these people who are real heroes … and they keep doing!” he says.
Brody also keeps doing. In 2005, he was presented with A&E’s $5,000 Lives That Make a Difference Award, but he gave it to the Arizona Veterans Home, saying, “I didn’t need it. They did.” He was elected to the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame and co-founded an alumni society. In 2007, he helped raise thousands of dollars for Victory Place and AZ Stand-down (and he continues to help Stand-down). In 2008, he raised money to erect a carillon at the National Cemetery in Cave Creek, and served as project manager. His also has been involved with the National Executive Committee for Jewish War Veterans, Former Lodge President for B’nai Brith, Former Commander American Legion 246, Bosom Buddies, and raises money by selling Legion Poppies.
Brody and his late wife Maxine raised three children, Rochelle, Alan and Paula. He has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
We hope you will join us at the 21st Annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2017, to see all our Veteran Grand Marshals. This year’s parade theme is “SILENT SACRIFICE: Honoring Our Cold War Veterans.” The parade typically boasts more than 100 entries, and this year will have a special float with nearly 20 Vietnam Veterans riding on it. The parade will also feature patriotic floats, high school marching bands, JROTC marching units, color guards, Veterans Service Organizations, animals, novelty units and much, much more.
For more information on the parade and the parade route, click HERE.