Memorial service honors veterans

Memorial service honors veterans

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

In a solemn memorial service, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA and its JWV Memorial Center of St. Louis, paid tribute to Jewish members of the U.S. Armed Forces who gave their lives in defense of their nation, as well as to Jewish veterans in the St. Louis area who have died over the past year. Several hundred members, friends and community members attended the services at Congregation Shaare Zedek in University City, which hosted the program Sunday.

In his invocation, Rabbi Mark Fasman said, “We are here also to remember and reflect on our love for our country, and those who sacrificed to protect it. Our sages taught that we should live as students of Aaron, who loved peace, but who also pursued peace. Peace must not only be loved, it must be pursued, it must be sought and protected.”

Members of Memorial Post 346, Ladies Auxiliary 346, Saint Louis-Heritage Post 644 and Ladies Auxiliary 644 participated in the program, which lasted just over an hour. Earlier that morning, over 150 local members of the Boy Scouts of America, most of them from non-Jewish troops, visited eight local cemeteries and placed 4,500 American flags at the graves of known local Jewish war veterans. A breakfast was held at the synagogue for the Boy Scouts, their troop leaders and JWV and Auxiliary participants. Joe Iken and Ralph Shower, both past Missouri Department JWV commanders, and co-chairs of the event, thanked the Boy Scouts.

Hazzan Joanna Dulkin sang the national anthem, followed by the presentation of the memorial wreath in honor of the fallen. Taking part were Jack Lite, Department Commander; Richard Bennet, Post 346 Commander; Charles Sandroff, Post 644 Commander; Rita Panitz, Post 346 Auxiliary and past national president, and Vera Heisler, Post 644 Auxiliary president.

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Ralph Shower, past Department Commander and co-chair of the program, spoke on behalf of the scheduled guest speaker, Eric Berla, Major in the U.S Army, (Retired), who was unable to attend the program because of an out-of-town commitment. Shower said that Berla had been selected as the speaker becuase of his highly distinguished service and numerous medals and citations he earned during the Vietnam War.

“As a drafted enlisted man, serving as a medic with B Troop, First Battalion, 9th Air Mobile Cavalry Division in Vietnam, he quickly earned the first of 17 American Armed Forces special recognitions, with a Combat Merit Badge. In his five years at enlisted grade, he received battlefield promotions to warrant officer, followed by 15 years as a commissioned officer, up to the rank of major. Among his 17 Armed Forces special recognition categories, he was awarded the Bronze Star medal 20 times, the Air Medal 20 times, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Army Commendation medal 60 times, the Meritorious Unit Citation, the Vietnam Service Medal with six Battle Stars.”

Shower read from the text of remarks prepared by Berla.

“I wish you an easy Memorial Day,” Berla began. “I know for some of us it is more than just a long weekend holiday at the beginning of the summer.”

Berla recalled, “Each Memorial Day and Yom Kippur, I remember my flight school classmate, Warrant Officer Stephen Cohen. We graduated from Army Aviation flight training together at Fort Rucker, Ala., in December 1968 and were both sent directly to Vietnam. We both attended High Holiday services at the synagogue in Dothan, Ala. in 1967, so I looked for him at High Holiday services at Cam Rahn Bay in the fall of 1968, but didn’t find him. I found later that he had not even made it through his first month in country. Each Yom Kippur, I say Kaddish for him.”

Berla added, “Ihave read and tried to understand why these friends were lost. Certainly the lessons that we had learned about containing the German Nazis in pre-World War II Europe were part of our thinking. Still, it was hard to learn that the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that was used as a rationale for congressional approval of the expansion of the Vietnam War probably didn’t happen in the way it was told to Congress.” Berla pointed to similarities between the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq, and expressed concern about the treatment of the wounded from both wars.

“As I have met and talked with other veterans, I have found that those of us who were involved almost anywhere in treating the stream of wounded from Vietnam, have a particular awareness of the cost of war, and bear a particular scar from having seen the endless flow of broken and battered young men….The wounded veterans of Vietnam got shabby second rate treatment from their country. The wounded veterans of the Iraq War also deserve better than they are getting,” Berla said.

Next on the program was Judy Taxman, who presented a gift in memory of her father-in-law, Phil Taxman, a Jewish war veteran who recently died. “Our family wanted to present an annual gift of $1,000 to the Jewish War Veterans in his memory, on behalf of our family, including my husband, Paul and his mother, Toby Taxman.”

The names of all known local Jewish Armed Forces members killed in combat in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, were read out by Marshall Friedman, Norman Rossin and Sidney N. Wolff, members of Post 346, and Monroe Ginsburg, David Kassander, Steve Keyser and Hal Roth.

Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek presented the Memorial Day address, which took note of the uniqueness of the United States, which from its very beginnings welcomed Jewish participation in the armed forces to defend the nation. “From the very first arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam in 1654, through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been Jewish participants. For nearly 2,600 years, Jews were regarded as a separate nation within nations in other countries. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that Jews were permitted to serve in European armies. In America, it was different, from the very start. We are a people that was born after our Exodus to freeddom from Egypt. It was only seven weeks after we left Egypt that we received the Torah at Mount Sinai, learning that freedom requires law, and needs to be protected….We have an absolute commitment to the defense of this nation.”

Hazzan Dulkin chanted El Moley Rachamim, which was followed by the leading of the Prayer for America’s Soldiers, led by Sandroff. The program concluded with the solemn playing of Taps on the shofar by Rabbi Mark Fasman.