Veterans’ Day 2015

by | Nov 6, 2015 | Other News

I promised the Jewish News an article on Veterans’ Day long before I had my recent nine weeks in and out of hospitals and, finally, rehab at Beth Sholom. But somehow I never got around to it. So here are my thoughts on Veterans Day—today.

I may have mentioned in a previous article that my memories of what was originally called “Armistice Day,” are very clear. In elementary school, in the 1930s, we learned that at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 the “Guns of August” fell silent. We stood by our desks (five rows of seven desks screwed to the floor) as the teacher opened the outsized classroom windows despite the November chill. She wanted us to hear the saluting batteries from an armory in a nearby neighborhood. We stood in silence, much the same as they do today in Israel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut. The first modern slaughter of millions was over and memorialized.

Today, on 11/11 we will observe, not celebrate, Veterans’ Day. It will be a solemn occasion at the Jewish War Veterans’ Memorial on the grounds of the Sandler Family Campus as we remember the Jewish veterans who passed during the last 12 months. They were:
Melvin Barr, US Army Air Corp WWII
Murray Halpern, US Navy WWII
Sidney Finkelstein, US Army Air Corp WWII
Leon Saunders, US Army WWII
Harry Norkin, US Army WWII
Joe Fleischmann, US Army WWII Herman
Muni Eisenberg, US Navy WWII
Stanley Willner, US Navy
David Benson Kruger, US Army WWII
Duane Aikman, US Navy
Alan Hirsch, US Army
Herbert Bregman, US Army Air Corp WWII
Dr. Charles Mansbach, US Navy
Morton Goldmeier, US Air Force WWII
Charles “Chick” Kaufman, US Army WWII
Leonard “Myron” Diamondstein, US Army

With the reader’s forbearance, I’m going to write about some veterans I met during my recent medical sojourns.

First was a Chief Boiler Tender, U.S.Navy (retired). Junius was 16 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He lived in Newport News and, after school one day, took the ferry to Norfolk and tried to enlist. At his age he needed his father’s permission. His Dad wouldn’t give it until he turned 17, after which he growled, “I signed but don’t let me hear you complaining about the Navy.” When Junius came home from boot camp, where he had trained in mud and dust and was miserable, he was asked by Dad how he liked Navy now. He replied, “I love it.” Junius served in the Pacific, the Atlantic and north of the Arctic Circle. He served in two destroyers and in a small aircraft carrier (more about them later). Coincidentally, his two destroyers were of the Fletcher and Gearing classes and were sister ships of three destroyers I served in. Now 91, Junius’s memory of service is still crystal clear. How I thank him for his service!

Next was Sherry. Sherry was an Operations Specialist (what we dubbed a “radarman striker”) and served aboard an ammunition ship. Sherry was living in New Jersey when her husband passed away at an early age. Not sure where to go or what to do, she remembered her Navy Days in Tidewater as a happy time and returned here to live. Sherry was my night nurse during some of my worst times in the hospital. Thoroughly professional, but touchingly caring, she came to assist me even when she was assigned to other patients. It was a sailor-to-sailor thing. I thank her for her service to our country (and to me).

Then there was Donald who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a 17-year-old shortly after President Truman ordered the integration of the Armed Services. His mother was more than happy to sign permission because Donald was always in trouble and she couldn’t control him. He fought in Korea at Inchon and in the campaigns following, rising to rank of “buck” Sergeant. He’s 80 years old and looks 65. He still says the Marine Corps “saved his life.” Thank you for your service, Donald.

Finally, I met Clyde. He was an 18-year-old Boiler Tender Seaman aboard the USS Savo Island (CVE 78) during the World War II battle for Leyte Gulf—arguably the most famous battle in the history of the United States Navy. The Savo Island was a smallish escort carrier affectionately known as a “Kaiser coffin.” Turned out in five days, they were basically merchant hulls with a flight deck attached. There is no record of one surviving even a single torpedo hit. But the crews loved them. They carried 20 fighters and 12 torpedo planes but had little armament. Clyde’s battle station was as “first loader” for a “quad” 40mm gun mount. Savo Island was one of six in the squadron and there were three squadrons. The main Japanese force, two battleships, eight cruisers and 12 destroyers, attacked Clyde’s squadron thinking it was a main American force. Vastly outgunned, and with two carriers sunk, the remaining escort carriers and their aircraft put up an incredible fight, sinking one cruiser and damaging others; the Japanese force retreated. Clyde is 89 and losing his vision, but we are very thankful for his service. If you are wondering if today’s seemingly spoiled 18-year-olds could do what he did, let me assure you I believe they could. May it never be needed!

The community knows that I am proud of my service but I need to make clear how thankful I am to those who went before me as well as those young people today, serving lengthy deployments under arduous conditions. So when you thank them for their service, thank them from the heart and, if time permits, talk to them. They will make a remarkable addition to the history our veterans have created.

by Hal Sacks