Jewish Americans have served in the United States Armed Forces since before the founding of the nation, when they were members of the militias of the Thirteen Colonies. In fact, Jewish Americans have served in every major armed conflict in which the United States has been involved. Today, the Jewish Chaplains Council estimates that about 10,000 Jewish American servicemen and women are serving on active duty throughout the world.
Jewish contributions to the American services are in great disproportion to our rather small representation in the population. Three Jews have served as U.S. secretary of defense in recent times: James R. Schlesinger (1973-75), Harold Brown (1977-81), and William Cohen (1997-2001). Another Jewish American, Hyman Rickover, rose to the rank of full admiral in the U.S. Navy.
American Jews have played a significant role in the development of military science and technology, including physicists Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Feynman, and Edward Teller, who, collectively, represented the backbone of the Manhattan Project.
There are myriad Jewish military success stories. During World War II, of the approximately 500,000 American Jews who served, roughly 52,000 received medals and decorations. Among them was sergeant Joseph Liebgott, who served in Easy Company, 506th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his bravery.
Air Force Col. Mark Polansky, a native of Edison, flew on three Space Shuttle missions, serving as commander of STS 127 in January 2010.
During World War II, Major General Maurice Rose commanded the 3rd Armored Division, the first to breach the Siegfried Line, and negotiated the surrender of the Germans in Tunisia; he was killed in combat.
David “Mickey” Marcus, a lieutenant colonel in the Army and a division commander during World War II, volunteered to join the D-Day airborne assault and received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Bronze Star. He later gave his expertise to the defense forces of the newborn State of Israel — becoming the first general of an Israeli army since Judah Maccabee.
Since its inception, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, has been given to at least 29 American Jews. The first two were Civil War combatants Henry Heller and David Orbansky.
Another Medal of Honor recipient, in 1969, was New Jersey’s own Jack Jacobs. When his advancing battalion came under attack from the Viet Cong, although wounded and with complete disregard for his own safety, he repeatedly charged through heavy fire to evacuate his wounded comrades, saving the lives of 13 American soldiers.
The most recent awarding of the Medal of Honor to a Jew occurred in 2005, when Tibor Rubin, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp as a teenager, joined the U.S. Army upon his liberation, and was cited for his actions during the Korean War.
How do we say thanks to our veterans, especially as Veterans’ Day approaches? One way is to support the Jewish War Veterans, which has a record of service and commitment second to none. The Fischer House and the Wounded Warrior Project are organizations with outstanding track records in helping the veterans.
My favorite way to say thank you is to just say it. Approach a service member when you see one and offer a smile and a handshake.
Share your pride with the next generation. Explain to your kids that we remain “the land of the free” because of the brave members of the armed forces.
Visit a VA hospital, and take your teenagers; there is no better way to impress upon them the true measure of valor the veterans attained.
Hire a vet. The unemployment rate for returning veterans can be 2 to 4 percent higher than the national average. Contact “The Champion Mentor Program” at Rutgers or america.org, which specializes in finding employment for disabled veterans.
A mortar exploded in my father’s landing craft approaching Omaha’s “Dog Green” beach on June 6, 1944; only two who were on the boat survived that day. By June 12, my dad was the only one left. Seven long months, three Purple Hearts, and a Silver Star later, Dad, an Army medic, was finally sent home.
To all of the men and women who have worn the uniform of this country; to all those who have served on the home front or in harm’s way; to all who continue to preserve, protect, and defend our great nation; and to my Dad: thank you.