How a WWII Bomber Pilot Became the “King of Artificial Trees”



He got involved in a few historical Army Air Corps associations, enjoying the camaraderie of the aviators, which included his night terrors and his late diagnosed PTSD. These social gatherings continued in decreasing number until around 2012. Now, as far as he knows, he’s the only member of WWII.

Eventually, her daughter Kazuko Spiegel introduced her father to the woman who would become his third wife, JoAnn Bastis, a real estate agent she had met in Westchester social circles. They would only be married a few years before his death in 2018, although the couple had traveled to Europe together on two separate occasions, including a visit to Reczyn, the small village where he landed on his stomach in 1945.

Mr. Spiegel now lives in a tall building with a doorman and a great view of Central Park. Although artificial trees from Mr. Spiegel’s designs are found in nearly three-quarters of American homes that plant Christmas trees, he doesn’t keep a tree himself.

He raised his children to be proud of their Judeo-Japanese heritage, and he still makes Hanukkah latkes for his grandchildren. But when his children were young, they always had a tree, first a real one, then the best of his fakes. “Do you think Christmas trees were really a religious symbol? They were pagan symbols. My children loved them.

When asked what he would like his heritage to be – artificial trees or military heroism – he closed his eyes.

The war, he admits, was probably the most exciting time of his life. But who is he staying with to talk about it?

“I can tell you,” he said at last. “We fought against fascism. We fought against Hitler’s desire for a master race.

He is surrounded by photos of his children and grandchildren, and he worries about the rise in racism. “I never thought that fascism was a possible threat to our nation’s democracy until now,” Spiegel said. “Right now, however, all I’m trying to do is stay alive.”

Laurie Gwen Shapiro is the author of “The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica”. She is currently writing about Amelia Earhart’s marriage.


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