BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Navy pilot-turned pharmacist reflects on global adventures

Interview by Leigh Blander. *Disclosure: Hurwitz is the interviewer’s father.

Name: Paul Hurwitz

Age: 87

Place of birth: Lynn

What is your fondest childhood memory? My parents would come in and kiss me goodnight  every night when we were living in the Brickyard in Lynn.

CAPTION:  Paul Hurwitz flips through the pages of an old Navy squadron deployment book.  CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

How long have you lived in Marblehead? 45 years

What jobs have you had and what was your favorite? I was in the Navy for 20 years flying airplanes and that certainly was the highlight. Before I joined, I got my college degree in pharmacy and after I retired I renewed my license and worked in hospitals in Lynn, Gloucester and Beverly.

As a pharmacy student I knew I was too young to go to work in a pharmacy. It was a sedentary life, completely boring to me at the time. I knew I would need my license someday in the future, but I also knew I needed something else.

I read a book in the library by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry about his flying experiences in the 1930s and I said to myself this is what I want to do. As it turns out, I duplicated just about everything he did.

From 1957 to 1978, I flew 16 different airplanes, including P2s, P3s and C47s. I think I hit every airfield in Europe and a number in North Africa. In 1962, I flew in Cuba during the blockade. Later, I flew missions off the coast of China, dropping listening devices and intercepting submarines and ships that might be carrying weapons.

What is the biggest change you see in the world? The biggest change is probably computers and the availability of information. But the one constant seems to be fear — fear of being attacked, fear of another war. When I was a child, we worried about German bombers coming overhead. Then during the Cold War we worried about Russian missiles. Today the world is still at war. That has never changed.

What is your biggest accomplishment? When I retired from the Navy I remember telling my fellow officers that my biggest accomplishment was being a cog in the wheel to prevent World War III. When I joined the Navy, we thought there would be a nuclear war. When I retired 20 years later, there were Russian ships in San Francisco Harbor dropping off cargo. Whatever it was, it worked.

Pual Hurwitz in a cockpit in 1969. COURTESY PHOTO

Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met? I met President John F. Kennedy twice. First, on a high school trip to the Capitol. He was our representative and came out to welcome us. Then, after Bay of Pigs, he came to Key West to thank the various air crews. He mentioned to my crew that he saw our pictures of the missiles being taken out of Cuba by Russian ships.

What moment in history is most vivid in your memory? A very hot day in August 1945. I was nine years old trying to sleep in the morning. I heard a loud noise outside, pots banging, people yelling. So I quickly got dressed and ran out. It was a bunch of women from the neighborhood saying, ‘The war is over! The war is over!’ And I’ll never forget that because the war was such a struggle. There were drills, practice air raids and so forth. That night we went to Central Square and thousands and thousands of people were ripping up newspapers, throwing them up in the air, screaming and celebrating.

What’s your advice to the younger generation? Work hard to contribute to social security!  I need a pay raise!

What are your secrets to living a long life? It’s pure luck. I lost about 30 fellow military members during the war and I’ve lost a number of relatives to diseases. I cannot explain how I survived.

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