U.S. Army Technician Fourth Grade James Camill Haboush was just twenty-two years old when he died on the field of battle.
Born in Indianapolis on November 24, 1922, he was the child of Syrian immigrants. His father immigrated before World War I from Aitanite, a tiny village in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley located near the Litani River. Edna, his mother, did not come to the United States until 1920. She was from the town next-door, Mashghara. When he was a boy, Camill’s father, also named James, worked as a machinist at a railroad car shop, while his mother was a homemaker. In the 1930s, the family joined the ranks of Indianapolis’ Syrian grocers as proprietors of H & B Market on 2706 Southeastern. They lived nearby at 2510 Southeastern next door to a Methodist church and just a couple blocks south of the P.C.C. and St. Louis Railroad yard.
Camill attended Arsenal Tech High School and also worked in his parents’ store. In 1938, the year before Hitler invaded Poland, Camill Haboush composed a poem that eerily foreshadowed a time when he would give up play-fighting for the real thing. He was about 16 when he composed “Days of the Saber,” which was featured in the high school yearbook called The Arsenal Cannon:
Oh, those were the days of my childhood joys, / Me and my gang of barefoot boys. / We sailed the seas in a rocking chair. / The tales we told would stiffen the hair. / We needed a ship to fight with Drake. / So, for a mast we used a rake. / On a chair for a cabin stood / My sister’s dollhouse made of wood. / Our blood sabers we’d swing through the air. / If mother hid the catsup, our sabers were bare. / Oh, those were the days of my childhood joys! / We had good times, me and my barefoot boys.
Camill Haboush came from a patriotic family. As President Roosevelt put the country on a war footing after 1939, many immigrants were anxious to show that they would be loyal to the United States. In 1941, the local chapter of the Defenders of Democracy staged a rally and parade, and invited Serbians, Greeks, Romanians, and Syrians to join. As a member of the board of directors of the Syrian American Brotherhood, which was a strong supporter of the war, father James Haboush was selected to serve on the planning committee.
Camill Haboush was one of a dozen people from Indianapolis with the same last name to register for service. Hi brother, Victor, also did so. Camill served in the infantry of the Sixth Army, which was responsible in 1943 and 1944 for expelling Japanese military forces from New Guinea and securing the island as a base for further military operations in the Pacific. In October 1944, the Sixth Army began its invasion of Japanese-occupied Philippines. It is not clear exactly what happened, but at some point James Camill Haboush died “in the line of fire,” as his U.S. Army hospital admittance papers said.
He would not be the only member of the Arab Indianapolis community to do so. Half a world away, Mitchell Tamer would make the same sacrifice for his country.
Mitchell Tamer was born July 11, 1916, in Appalachia, Virginia. He was the son of Frank and Mary Tamer, who came to the United States in 1892 from Zahlé, located today in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. They were Melkite Christians, sometimes called Greek Catholics, who used an Orthodox-like liturgy in their worship service but aligned themselves with the Roman Catholic Church. Frank Tamer made his living as a dry goods salesman. Mary passed away in 1925, and Frank moved to Kentucky, but a couple of the brothers came to Indianapolis. Mitchell lived with Michael, who was one of Arab Indianapolis most active community volunteers in the 1930s. Mitchell was socially active, too, participating in the Syrian So-Fra Club and attending meetings at the Syrian American Brotherhood.
Two of Mitchell’s brothers also served during the war. Lt. A. F. Tamer was stationed in Hawai‘i. Private First Class Samuel F. Tamer was reportedly in the European theater of operations.
In the meantime, Michael Tamer, who would later become well-known as a key figure in the founding of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, was one of Arab Indianapolis’ most successful fundraisers for the war effort.
Mitchell Tamer enlisted on August 11, 1941, at Fort Benjamin Harrison. His regiment left in 1942 for Tidworth Barracks in England. More than a year and a half later, on June 6, 1944, the battle to liberate the European continent from Nazi Germany began on the beaches of Normandy. This was D-day. On June 7, D plus one, Private Mitchell Tamer’s regiment joined the fight. He was part of the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. Some of them landed on Omaha beach. They marched from the seaside, at times facing intense resistance from German forces. They captured Lison on June 9. On July 24, Private Tamer was promoted to Corporal. He performed the jobs of mortar crewman and field artillery crewman, perhaps supervising others when he became Corporal. His regiment fought in Normandy and then was assigned to help in the Battle of Brest. On August 30, 1944, Mitchell Tamer, 28 years-old, was killed in action.
He was buried in the Brittany American cemetery in Normandy, France, with thousands of other service members who lost their lives in the Normandy and Brittany campaigns. He was also remembered at home. On September 26, 1944, family and friends attended a requiem mass for Mitchell Tamer at Little Flower Roman Catholic Church.
Mitchell Tamer and James Haboush were two of over 12,000 service members from Indianapolis who gave their lives in World War II. They are memorialized, like those who perished in World War I, at the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District in downtown Indianapolis.
Research assistance for this post was provided in part by Ronnie Kawak and Jay Brodzeller.