Honoring the Greatest Generation
Twenty Jewish WWII vets recall war exploits and return to civilian lives
Harold Greenspan survived being wounded twice — first by shrapnel and later by gunfire — during the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa, respectively, during World War II. He considers himself lucky to have returned home.
“I’m 93 and still here,” he told the gathering of more than 20 World War II vets and their families on Nov. 12 at the JCC Jersey Shore in Deal. The Veterans Day commemoration was sponsored by Jersey Shore Post 125 of the Jewish War Veterans.
Sam Kaye of Ocean Township, son of a movie theater projectionist in Bayonne, was sent to Europe as part of the Army Pictorial Service Unit, which documented the war effort. The 93-year-old served with “Hollywood big shots” who documented the bombings of London and Coventry, among other events.
Kaye’s primary task was to repair the projectors used by his unit, and said the assignment was not without its dangers. After landing in Scotland, his unit’s train was strafed by German planes on the way to England, forcing the soldiers to spend the night under the train.
Kaye, who would become the first Jewish freeholder elected in Hudson County in 1978, would also be sent to Paris and then to Germany in 1946.
The vets, some hobbled by age, stood proudly as the anthems of the armed force branch in which they served played. Each gave an approximately two-minute synopsis of their service, speaking of brushes with danger, the horrors of war, and eyewitness accounts of history. Many enlisted or were drafted as teens right out of high school or had their college studies interrupted by their service. Some fought in the European Theater, including such famous campaigns as the Battle of the Bulge, while others were in the Pacific. Many came home and finished school or went to college on the GI Bill.
Those who were able stood and saluted during the playing of taps in memory of those who are no longer alive.
Master of ceremonies Gerald Levine of Long Branch told NJJN that the Jersey Shore Post has been honoring World War II vets since the end of the conflict, but their numbers are rapidly dwindling. When he started planning this year’s salute there were 40 potential honorees on the list; seven have since died.
To keep the stories of valor and sacrifices alive, attendee Bernard Weinstein of Freehold, commander of JWV Oglensky-Jackson Post 359, said his collection of World War I and II memorabilia, including letters, obits, and photos, will be on display at Brookdale Community College’s Freehold campus beginning Nov. 29.
Weinstein, 90, who served in the Navy as a radar technician and has been a lawyer for 67 years, said the collection highlights everything from the role of women, Japanese-Americans, and African-Americans in World War II; to the Harlem Hellfighters of the first World War; to heroes, battles, and little-known incidents in both conflicts.
Bernard Karasic, who enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Asbury Park High School, was off the coast of Japan when the captain announced the dropping of the atomic bombs.
“We didn’t know what the hell an atom bomb was,” said Karasic, who would later practice law for more than 60 years.
David Scheinhartz was slated to be part of a Japanese mission so dangerous “I knew in my heart I was never coming home,” he said. Then he heard that President Harry Truman had ordered the atomic bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prompting Japan’s surrender.
“You never saw so many happy men just jumping up and down,” he said of his fellow soldiers. “I owe my life to Harry Truman who had the guts to drop those bombs.”
Greenspan of Long Branch enlisted after his graduation from New Brunswick High School. “I was supposed to go to college, but I knew I’d be drafted so I enlisted,” he said.
During the Veterans Day program, and later in a phone interview, he spoke of fighting in the first battle to liberate the Philippines, coming ashore on the island of Leyte with the Army’s 96th Infantry Division when he was 20.
“We were three days out and told to take the high ground,” said Greenspan, recalling in intricate detail the fight for the Philippines. “It was thick jungle and we encountered stiff Japanese resistance. We couldn’t see anything, there was such heavy underbrush. We were receiving Japanese artillery fire but were told to move ahead to see if we could dislodge the Japanese.”
During the skirmish, shrapnel from a hand grenade embedded in Greenspan’s arm. He was evacuated, but sent back to his unit about a month later. He was wounded again in the spring of 1945 while participating in the invasion of Okinawa.
“It was on the first day, around 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, that I was hit by gunfire in my left chest,” said Greenspan. “It passed within a half-inch of my heart, but didn’t stay in. The bullet just went in and out.”
About six weeks later, Greenspan had already received orders to return to the front when he was visited by a doctor from another ward who had heard his story. Noticing his last name, the physician asked if he was related to Dr. Sidney Greenspan. It turned out that Sidney, the wounded soldier’s brother, had gone to medical school with the doctor.
“I already had two strikes against me and I didn’t want to try for a third,” said Greenspan about his desire to not return to combat. Apparently the doctor pulled some strings because his orders were soon changed, and Greenspan found himself sitting at a desk in Honolulu doing payroll. He was awarded a Purple Heart with a cluster, indicating he was wounded twice during his service.
When he came home Greenspan worked in Belmar for another brother, who owned a small grocery store. Then he founded his own business, Kleen-Rite in Avon-By-the-Sea, which does building cleaning and maintenance, where he works to this day.
Scheinhartz marveled that each of the 16 young men from his neighborhood in the Bronx who fought in the war returned home.
“Hashem was looking out for us,” he said.