Retired Vice Admiral Douglas Katz rose to one of the highest-ranking positions ever held by a Jew in the U.S. Navy, but he doesn’t consider his story to be one of struggle.
“Being Jewish and in the Navy didn’t negatively impact me in any way, shape or form,” Katz said, “and it doesn’t today.”
Katz will discuss his life and military experiences in a West Virginia University Pi Lamda Phi Jewish Studies Lectureship called “From Ensign to Admiral: a Jewish-American Naval Officer’s Story,” from 8-9 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12 at the Erickson Alumni Center. The public is invited to attend. Refreshments will follow Katz’ presentation.
“We thought this would be unique opportunity for the public to hear the intersection of two important topics,” Aaron Gale, associate professor and coordinator of WVU’s Program for Religious Studies said. “People can hear about Vice Admiral Katz’ experience as a West Virginian and Jewish American and his experience in the military. He will include a special message about Veterans Day.”
Growing up in Bluefield, W.Va., Katz was used to being part of a minority group. As a youth, he experienced some mild anti-Semitism – he played midget league football for a coach who insisted he attend church on Sunday evenings – but had only one memorable incident early in his naval career.
“Bottom line, religion really didn’t make a difference,” he said.
Katz graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned June 9, 1965. He was promoted to vice admiral in October 1992, commanding the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the Middle East Force just prior to its re-designation as the U.S Fifth Fleet. He assumed command of the Naval Surface Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet in September 1994 and retired from active duty in August, 1997.
His personal decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal (three awards); Legion of Merit (three awards); Bronze Star with Combat “V”; the Meritorious Service Medal (three awards); the Navy Commendation Medal (two awards); the Navy Achievement Medal; the Vietnam Staff Service Medal, First Class; Order of Bahrain, First Degree; and numerous unit commendations and citations. (For complete biographical information, see: http://www.pbase.com/crnavy/image/61161501.)
Katz’ career was a far cry from that of Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish Commodore of the U.S.Navy, a veteran of the War of 1812 and a major philanthropist. Levy faced considerable anti-Semitism and was court-martialed six times, and once demoted from the rank of Captain.
“Jews are represented in the Navy, but not in big numbers,” Katz said. “You have to go find them. There are rabbis at most bases, but, again, you have to go look for them.”
What Katz discovered through tours of duty and other naval assignments, though, was that Jews are represented even in the unlikeliest places, such as in some of Arab-dominated countries where he visited and served.
Through his visits, Katz studied and established relationships with small Jewish communities throughout the Middle East, particularly in Bahrain.
“It became an important aspect of my career,” he said. “I guess it was thought that my being Jewish gave me a unique capacity for understanding how an Arab thinks.”
The Mu Chapter Alumni Association of Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity, Inc. has established a fund with the West Virginia University Foundation, Inc., known as the “Pi Lambda Phi Jewish Studies Endowment.” The earnings from this endowment support a lectureship, the purpose of which is to advance knowledge and understanding of Jewish culture and the Jewish contributions to numerous fields including science, law, medicine, the arts and music.
Katz’ lecture is one of many Veterans Day events occurring at WVU and in the Morgantown Community.
Monday morning, Maj. Gen. James A. Hoyer will be the keynote speaker at West Virginia University’s annual WVU Veterans Appreciation Breakfast. The event is from 8-9:30 a.m. at the Erickson Alumni Center.
For a complete list of veterans-related events, see: http://wvuveterans.wvu.edu/news_and_events.
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CONTACT: University Relations-News