This interview with Itchy was conducted at his business,Wholesale Industrial Electronics, on East Bay Street. on September 30, 1997 and October 21 , 1997. Interviewers were Dale Rosengarten Sandra Lee Kahn Rosenblum and Ruth Bass Jacobs. Here are exerpts from that interview and our thanks to Dale and her assistant, Allysa Lee Neely, for their help
in getting us information from the Jewish Heritage Collection. \

DR: So Itchy, first let me just ask you to give me your full name, your real name, and your place and date of birth.

IS: Well, my real name is Irving. I have no middle initial. Place of birth is Charleston, 1921, June 26, on King Street, not in the hospital.

DR: At home?

IS: At home

RJ: Who delivered you?

IS: Doctor Kivy Pearlstine.

RJ: [laughing] Isaac’s uncle

DR: Kivy is Isaac’s uncle?

RJ: Yes.

IS: He was the only Jewish doctor in Charleston at that time, I think. It’s amazing what you can remember. I can’t—[what] I find hard to comprehend is that as a five-year-old boy, I had diphtheria and in those days diphtheria was almost fatal. And I can remember like it was yesterday, hearing Kivy tell my father. He said, “Mortle, if he’ll live through the night, he’ll be all right.” And then I can see my father walking out of the room and going onto the porch and just pounding his fist on the wall and crying in a loud voice Rebondina Shaloilom [Master of the Universe].

DR: You remember that?

IS: I remember. It’s amazing.


SR: You were going to tell how you got your name, “Itchy.”
IS: Well, “Itchy” is a derivative from Yitzvak, my Jewish name. And it’s amazing that my brother Philip, he has nickname “Pimpy” from Pinchas which is his Yiddish name. And my younger brother Benjamin has a nickname “Baggy,” from Banyomi. They used to tease us. They used to call us Itch, Pimp, and Bump, the eczema brothers.


DR: ....What about things from the old country, did they (Itchy's parents) bring anything?
IS: I doubt it, they were kind of poor. They really were having it rough over there. As a matter of fact, in the very beginning my father taught me the value of work. I remember when I finished high school, I told him I wanted to go to the College of Charleston. He said, “I’ll give you a college.” He said, “You get a job and bring some money in the house.” College at that time, tuition was sixty dollars a year. Sixty dollars was a lot of money.


DR: We were just talking about how Charleston was like a family. How religious were your parents?
IS: Not really. My father, he observed the High Holy Days and he worked the other days, and he worked on Shabbos. But he made it a point that I went to cheder and all of my brothers did, too. We were bar mitzvahed, and other than that they didn’t push it real hard. As a matter of fact, you [were] talking about religion. Something happened to me not too long ago, I was in Atlanta and my oldest son told me that--I noticed he had his tefillin on. I said, “Stanley, what are you doing now?” He said, “I just started putting them on.” He says, “And I went to the rabbi and I asked him to show me how to do [it]. He was glad, and he showed me how to do it.” And I figured since he could put them on, I started putting them on. But anyway, the point I was trying to make was, shortly thereafter, we were in Atlanta for Rosh Hashanah, and we went to the services at his shul. And the rabbi started talking, and you know how you get these sixth senses? All of a sudden I had a chill go down my back. And so the rabbi started talking about how something wonderful happened to him recently. I said, “I know he’s going to talk about Stanley.” And sure enough, he said one of his young congregants had just come to him and asked him to do him a favor which he enjoyed doing which was to teach him how to put on a tefillin. He didn’t [mention] my son’s name, but he was talking about Stanley. You know how you get those feelings that something is going to happen?

After a few questions about his sons' affiliation with conservative rather
than orthodox synagogues, Itchy says:

Like I said, the services (at the conservative synagogue Stanley and Kenneth attent) are exactly the same as ours, and I’m Orthodox, with the exception that the men and women sit together. As a matter of fact, Mickey and I were there one Simchas Torah. And, you know, on Simchas Torah they call everybody in the synagogue up for not an aliyah, but they bring them up to the Torah and they utter a portion of the prayer. And I said, “Come on Mickey, this is as close as you’re going to get to that Torah, so you may as well go up there with me now.”

But listen, I have no complaints. I’ve been very fortunate. All three of my sons married nice Jewish girls. I have six terrific grandchildren. I’m just as happy about it as I can be. Believe me, if I died tomorrow, I’d have no regrets other than the fact that I’d be leaving my family and friends. And then on the other side of the coin, I look at it from the standpoint that I’d be seeing my family again. So it’s a tradeoff. I have no regrets.

(Not in answer to a particular question, Itchy talks about his war experience)

I flew in B-17’s and was miserable, cold. I don’t know how you could work under those adverse conditions. Flew in the B-29—jacket, no oxygen mask. The oxygen mask used to grab my face after a while and the longer I was up there, the perspiration and all from it was just like a vice. But it was that or die. I mean, at twenty thousand feet you can’t live very long without oxygen. But that’s another reason, Ruth, I was telling you about, strange things have happened. The only time that I recall ever taking an oath to God that I broke was just before we ditched. I said, “Please, God, get me out of this alive. I’ll never fly again. I promise.”

SR: When you ditched, how long were you in the water?

IS: We ditched on November 14th in the water we ditched about eleven o’clock that night. And we were in the water till about five o’clock the next afternoon........

What had happened was--again the weirdness of things--we were about eighty-five miles from home. What had happened really, to back up on this, the first time we went up in Japan, we turned at Fujiyama which was our initial point to go into Tokyo. Soon as we made the turn, the jets’ winds were so strong we were down and over the target before you even knew it. So they figured the second time we go up, we go upwind to Nagoya. We’d have plenty of time. We had too much time. Instead of being at the altitude for thirty minutes, we were there for almost 20 hours and consumed a lot of gas. On the way home we were within eighty-five miles of the island and at that distance, we could have seen the lights from the island. But at that particular time there was a rainstorm over the island and we couldn’t see it. So while the pilot still had a little gas, he decided to put it in hot. And he had already lost one engine from lack of gas and another one was sputtering. So like I said, he said, “Get into your ditching position because we’re going in.” So that’s when I said, “God, if you get me out of this alive, I’ll never fly again.” But then I got to thinking after I got back to the island. You know, I trained for this thing. I can’t quit. I just can’t quit. And fortunately, I survived the rest of it.


SR: Sounds like you had a good time in the Air Force.

IS: I did not have a good time. I’ll tell you right now. I was as scared as I could be. I sweated out every--as a matter of fact, just as we were starting down the runway I used to watch the air speed indicator on my desk because I knew how fast we had to get up to fly. I’m doing like this and this radio operator said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m taking a hex off this mission. Don’t worry me right now.” But, no, no, I was petrified. I never took it lightly. The only time I relaxed was coming back and I used to--when we’d leave Japan at night, say around two o’clock in the morning we’d start back. I used to get up in the astrodome. I used to love to shoot the stars, and you just felt so close to God. Everything was so pretty. As a matter of fact, there’s a beautiful poem here that this fellow—“High Flight.”

DR: Go ahead and read it.

IS: You want me to read it?

DR: Yes.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
and danced the skies, I’ve lapped the silvered wings.
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
of sunsplit clouds and done a hundred things
you’ve not dreamed of. Wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlight silence. Hov'ing there,
I have chased the shouting wind along and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew,
and while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

DR: Beautiful. Now, who wrote it?

IS: John Gillespie McGee, Jr. I always loved that poem.

High Flight" was composed by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was born in Shanghai, China, in 1922, the son of missionary parents, Rev. and Mrs. John Gillespie Magee; his father was an American and his mother was originally a British citizen. He came to the United States in 1939 and earned a scholarship to Yale, but in September 1940 he enlisted in the RCAF and graduated as a pilot. He was sent to England for combat duty in July 1941. In August or September 1941, Pilot Officer Magee composed "High Flight" and sent a copy to his parents. Several months later, on Dec. 11, 1941, his Spitfire collided with another plane over England, and Magee, only 19 years of age, crashed to his death. His remains are buried in the churchyard cemetery at Scopwick, Lincolnshire.