Local writer works to record veterans’ stories

The men and women featured in the upcoming book, ‘The Boys Of Brookdale.’Photo: Andrew Kerman

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

An upcoming book is set to chronicle the lives of veterans who reside at the Brookdale Senior Living Center on Craig Road.

“The Boys of Brookdale” will be an examination of World War II stories from 16 individuals who live in the Creve Coeur apartment complex. About three-quarters of the group are Jewish, according to author Joe Regenbogen.

“There were 16 million people who served in uniform in the Second World War,” said the author, who is also Jewish. “Only about 620,000 are still alive. We’re losing about 500 every day. To me, these are treasures and I wanted to sit down, talk to them and get their incredible stories.”

An event earlier this month welcomed the Brookdale community to honor those profiled with cake and refreshments as well as a group photo. Each of the 16 also received copies of their chapter.

Regenbogen said that he was moved to do the project after his own father moved into the facility. They were both impressed with the number of vets who lived there. Regenbogen even had several of his eighth-grade Parkway history students help out with the book and learn firsthand from their elders.


At the Memorial Day weekend’s event, the teacher delivered brief remarks regarding the significance of the conflict, which he said some have labeled as the last “good” war. 

“One reason why, I think, is that the enemy represented diabolical forces,” he said. “We are talking about fascism, racism, fanaticism, systematic murder of the Holocaust.”

Regenbogen said that both the war effort and its resulting  hardships were shared not just by those who fought in combat but also those in support roles and those who stayed home to populate factory workforces. 

“Almost every American who was alive at the time and old enough to make a contribution found a way,” he said. “Some did it through clothing drives at home. Some did it by taking jobs in war industry and defense plants while men went off to fight.”

That diversity is also reflected in the book. Three of the 16 honored in it were women, including a war bride and a Holocaust survivor.

Herman Litwack, a 92-year-old who came to see his finished profile, said he had served in New Guinea, the Philippines and Okinawa where he survived two cases of malaria and one bout of dengue fever courtesy of mosquito bites.

“To this day, if I see a mosquito, I have to get the mosquito or leave,” he said.

Litwack, who served on a combat signal team, said that he quit school and pretended to be older than he was so he could sign up for service.

“I was in almost three years,” he said, noting some of the men in his unit had children his age. “I came home and still wasn’t old enough to vote.”

He said he still had his old jacket from those days.

“The jacket comes up to here,” he said, indicating his forearm. “You know why? Because I grew the three years I was over there. I was only a kid when I went over there.”

Erich Dahl, 97, said he felt the book would give some perspective for his descendents.

“I hope that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren find out a little bit about what their old man did during the war,” he noted.

Dahl initially arrived in the United States as an 18-year-old refugee from Nazi Germany.

“Had it not been for coming over here, I probably would have been pushing up daisies,” he said.

As a European, he had hoped to fight the enemy on his home continent but was eventually sent to the Pacific. His message to future generations is simple enough.

“We did the job we were supposed to do,” he said. “God help us if we didn’t.”

He said he hates to think what might have happened if Hitler had won.

“I’ve said many times before that I’m proud of every day I served,” he said. “I wish I could have done more but I did the best I could at all times. It was very important to me.”

Sidney Yawitz said that his children and grandchildren were looking forward to seeing the book in print, which is planned to be published within the next year.

“We did what we had to do,” he said of those days. “We thought it would bring about a longtime peace which did not occur. We were hoping it would bring a new and better world.”

Yawitz, who spent his time in the U.S. Air Force in Europe, is set to turn 101 years old this week. He is a bit wistful looking back.

“I was hoping after seeing what war can do to countries that people would finally learn that no good comes of war,” he said. “However, it doesn’t seem it will ever be that way. Not in my lifetime anyhow.”