‘Bone Spurs’ Kept Donald Trump Out of Vietnam. His Neighbor Wasn’t So Lucky.
Down the page of the draft board ledger that lists our president as unfit for military duty is the name of a boy who did not get out of his service—and paid with his life.
What would later become the most famous bone spurs in the world were cited in a doctor’s letter to Local Draft Board No. 63 in Jamaica, Queens, New York.
The official response was recorded with a notation beside the 10th name on page 20 of the board’s classification ledger.
“Trump, Donald John… 4F.”
That meant Trump had been deemed physically unfit for military duty, as confirmed by the added notation, an abbreviation for disqualified.
Seventeen names further down was a young man who did not have a doctor’s note.
“Warshawsky, Joel B… 1A.”
This meant Warshawsky had been found fit for military duty. He also had an added notation.
Trump went on to the White House. Warshawsky is consigned to Block 81, row 14L, grave 32 at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. The top of the granite stone reads “SON.” The face reads:
“CPL JOEL B.
JUNE 12, 1946 – SEPT. 22, 1967
KILLED IN VIETNAM USMC”
One row up is a stone whose top reads “FATHER.” The face reads:
DIED JAN. 30, 1967”
An observant visitor would note that the father predeceased the son. The visitor would be right to figure that the son returned home from war to attend the funeral only to go back and get killed nine months later, at the age of 21.
To the right of the father’s grave is a stone whose top reads “MOTHER.” The face reads:
BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER
DIED JAN. 11, 2000
The visitor would also be right to deduce that the mother buried her husband and then her son before taking her own place in this tale of three graves.
Joel lives vibrantly on in the heart of his younger sister, Linda Chalson. She remembers him as a fun-loving kid who was devastatingly handsome and had blue eyes and a ducktail hairstyle.
“He was like Fonzie,” she told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “He was that kind of kid.”
She added, “The girls loved him and he loved them, too.”
Joel had a girlfriend whose father was in the diamond business and was training him to be a cutter. He might have gone on to a happy life working in Manhattan’s storied Diamond District.
Not that his own father was exactly wild about Joel looking like Fonzie.
“My father was a policeman,” Linda recalled. “He did not care for the ducktail.”
But the father must have figured that the ducktail was about to go when Joel was notified that he was being drafted into the Army. Joel decided to be more a master of his own fate and enlisted before he was inducted.
“He didn’t want to just go in the Army,” Linda remembers. “He joined the Marines.”
In Vietnam, Joel was assigned to the Headquarters Battery of the 4th Battalion of the 11th Marine Regiment. Joel was just starting his tour when he was notified that his father had suffered a fatal heart attack on his 50th birthday.
Joel returned home on bereavement leave to attend the funeral. The burial was at Montefiore Cemetery, in a section administered by the NYPD Shomrim Society, the Jewish police officers’ association. The society provides a plot to all members in good standing, along with their spouses. And Sidney had become a highly regarded cop, patrolling Harlem and making a number of arrests that were documented in news clippings that his wife kept.
“He was always in the newspaper,” Linda recalled. “He made a lot of arrests. I think he said he arrested Ray Charles. But I don’t know if that is folklore.”
After standing with his grieving mother at his father’s grave, Joel was not ready simply to leave her and return to Vietnam. The older son, 24-year-old Harold, was grown and had already served in the Army, but the mother still had 17-year-old Linda, 11-year-old Ellen, and 3-year-old Hollie at home. Charlotte faced having to go back to work after a quarter century as a mom.
And Joel must have known what it would do to his mother to have the added worry of him again in harm’s way
“He didn’t want to go back,” Linda recalled. “It was terrible.”
But he was a Marine now and there was a war on. He returned to his unit, which fired 11,123 artillery rounds on 3,241 missions in September 1967. The Vietcong attacked their emplacement with mortars and satchel charges early that month, and three of Warshawsky’s comrades were killed in action. The official command summary states:
“KIA from Headquarters Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Marines: L/Cpl A. L. MATHEWS, Cpl W. O. WAGMAN, Cpl J. D. JOHNSON.”
Warshawsky almost surely attended the memorial service, which was for Marines of all faiths, their common faith being in each other.
“The service was at 1100 on 5 September 1967,” the chaplain, C.E. McFarland, wrote to the family of one of the three fallen Marines. “The entire Headquarters Battery of the 4th Battalion, 11th Marines were present to honor the memory of these brave and courageous men… The Scripture passages that I read were the Twenty-Third Psalm, John 14 and Timothy 4:7. I used the words of Paul as a fitting memorial to your son and his friends, ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.’ The Memorial Service concluded with the praying of the Lord’s Prayer and the playing of taps. My prayers, interest and sympathy are with you in these days of loneliness and adjustment. May God’s Spirit be sufficient during this time of need.”
The Marines then resumed risking the same fate. The command summary subsequently reported an event at 9:22 p.m. on Sept. 21, denoting the time and date in the military way:
“212122HSep SSgt DECONINCK and Cpl WARSHAWSKY wounded and med-evac.”
The next report is logged at 10 p.m. the next day.
“222200HSep Cpl WARSHAWSKY died of wounds.”
No further mention is made of Deconnick, so he apparently survived. The date happened to be Linda’s 18th birthday. She marked the day in an all-American way, not yet knowing her fun and fabulous Fonzie had been killed.
“The first day I dove a car,” Linda told The Daily Beast.
When the family was notified, Linda learned few details beyond one ungraspable fact.
“He was killed by friendly fire,” Linda said. “I never understood it.”
The Shomrim Society usually does not provide plots on its grounds at Montefiore Cemetery to the grown children of members. Former society president Harold Schiffer says the organization made an exception in this instance, given that Sidney was well regarded and predeceased his son, and Joel had made the supreme sacrifice for his country.
When Charlotte attended the unveiling of her husband’s grave a year after Sidney’s death, she was also standing by her son’s grave. And when she returned for the unveiling of her son’s grave, her husband was nearby.
And all the while, she was in a daily struggle, working at a cleaning company and then as a bookkeeper at Toys R Us. She seemed to have already suffered more than any person should when she was struck by a debilitating and excruciating neurological disorder. She lost her normal reflexes and was unable to walk, and suffered unrelenting pain.
“Like steel tearing,” Linda said. “They said she’d live for three months. She lived for 17 years in this misery, but she didn’t complain. She was very strong.”
Charlotte died at 79 and was buried alongside her husband and near Joel. Linda felt that Joel was a protective presence when a health crisis of her own a decade ago left her in urgent need of a kidney transplant.
Linda sought help via an online site that seeks to match you with a potential donor. She posted a biography and mentioned that she had lost a brother in Vietnam. She soon after received a reply from a man in Colorado.
“He said, ‘I can do this. I always wanted to help a Marine,’” Linda recalled. “And he gave me his kidney.”
The transplant was a success, and Linda felt sure that Joel had been with her.
“I said he was looking out for me,” Linda remembered.
The name Warshawsky, Joel B remained with Trump, Donald, John and 28 others on page 20 of the Queens draft board classification ledger. Only seven of the 30 appear to have entered military service, four inducted, three enlisting, though two of them told The Daily Beast it was when they otherwise would have been drafted. Only Joel was killed in the war.
Trump’s bone spurs are now the most famous in the world, but he was just one of 23 among the 30 who managed to avoid the draft. Only a working-class minority ends up fighting our wars even when there is conscription. The percentage drops to 1 percent or less when the only draft is economic.
And that makes it all the more important to remember the one who gave all. The person to think about among those 30 on page 20 is the cop’s kid who rests in peace in the Shomrim Society’s grounds, killed by friendly fire at the age of 21 when he could have been home learning to cut diamonds and helping his uncomplaining mother.
Joel Warshawsky still comes alive again every time his sister speaks of him.
“He just stayed with me,” Linda said.