10. A Future Star in a Bizarre Military Program
Like many American Jews, Mel Brooks was extra fired up to fight the Nazis. He was also well aware of the extra risks faced by Jews if captured by the Germans. As he put it: “My brother Lenny was an engineer gunner in a B-17, and in his 35th or 36th mission, his Flying Fortress B-17 was hit, and they all bailed out, and they landed in Austria. He knew he had an ‘H’ [on his dog tags, for ‘Hebrew’] and he had heard rumors that the Germans were taking Jewish troops and sending them to concentration camps. So in his way down, while still in his parachute, he ripped [his dog tags] off. ”
Brooks scored high in the Army’s aptitude and IQ testing and wound up in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). There, he was sent to learn important skills such as engineering, and some skills that were of dubious value in 1944, such as horseback riding and fencing. He did not get to complete ASTP, however, because the combat arms complained of the program’s absurdity, and that it deprived them of the brightest recruits. ASTP was duly terminated, and Brooks was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There, he received training better suited to the needs of the war effort, as an artillery observer.