Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memories of My Dad on This Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my father. My dad, Murray Befeler, was born in New York on November 24, 1913.  He grew up first on a farm in upper New York and then in Brooklyn, the youngest of seven children.  His mother died when he was about seven and his father remarried.  He dropped out of school in about the tenth grade and lived for awhile with his brother, my Uncle Jack and his wife, my Aunt Miriam.

I never knew much about his childhood as he would never talk about it nor his Jewish heritage.  I only met my uncle and aunt in 1965 when I visited them in Brooklyn on my way back from Europe.  Later when I was in Poughkeepsie for a training class with IBM, I took the train to New York City for a visit.  Uncle Jack and Aunt  Miriam came to visit us in Long Beach in the early seventies.  I also went to Uncle Jack’s funeral in about 1983.

My dad became a photographer and moved as far away from his family as he could, first to San Francisco and then to Honolulu.  My dad had a very difficult childhood according to Uncle Jack, but I never learned any particulars.

In 1942 Murray was credited as a base correspondent through the Navy Department and served as the Honolulu bureau chief for the still photography pool and in 1943 was assigned to the army. He had his home-base in the Star Bulletin building on Bethel Street.  During the invasion of Iwo Jima my dad played a key role in the history of Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag raising photograph.   While on Guam he often sent home money he earned by staying sober during the intense nightly poker games played by the war correspondents. 

After the war was over, he started his own business, Photo Hawaii, which he ran until his death. .

In 1954 my dad went to the Pacific to do a ten-year-after-the-war photo shoot. When he returned he had a heart attack, the result of a weakened heart from having rheumatic fever as a child.  From that time on he came home in the afternoons to rest.  He was an early riser and worked mornings and often had jobs in the evening as well.  He did a lot of work for United Air Lines, Matson and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.  He often covered arrivals of important people at the Honolulu airport.  He once took pictures of the Truman family and got a thank you letter from Margaret Truman.  He later did a lot of aerial shots of Honolulu from a helicopter.

In 1968 he had another heart attack and couldn’t come to our wedding when my wife and I were married.  He died in August of 1968.  At his funeral a huge crowd turned out to pay him tribute.  I flew his ashes out to sea in a helicopter and dropped them into the Pacific.

My dad always wanted the best for me. Because of his heart condition, he couldn’t play sports, but he watched me play tennis.  He paid my way through Stanford, but then said that was enough education, so I was on my own for my MBA.

He had very high ethical standards.  He was honest and told the truth.  One time when someone telephoned whom he didn’t want to talk to, he said to tell them he was out and he went into the yard.

He tended to be outspoken and said what he believed.

He was extremely intelligent, even though he had little formal education.  He told puns such as when viewing a lava flow saying, “isn’t that lavaly.”

My dad was a creative photographer, and I’m looking at some of his pictures on the wall as I’m writing. Last night I watched a program on PBS about Iwo Jima. I took out a book I had saved titled Immortal Images by Tedd Thomey. It quoted Joe Rosenthal about the famous flag raising photograph: “If the fact that I took this picture is important, then I deem it important to recognize the part played in the handling of it by many people. At Guam the picture-pool coordinator, Murray Befeler, had to see that my films were processed. The darkroom men had to do their job well to get good negative results. The censor had to pass the picture and Murray had to decide it was good enough to be scheduled via radiophoto, or it would have been passed over and been nothing but a piece of film.”

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