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11/15/2023 04:15:00 PM


Compiled by Alan Bergman

Bet Torah community members were asked via a Facebook and blog questionnaire to comment about their own or a family member’s U.S. Military duty. The responses follow below.


Richard Stern (Pictured below: Richard Stern (right) being promoted to Specialist 5, U.S. Army)

When and where did you serve?
I served from July 1965 to June 1968. I was stationed at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Vietnam from January 1967 - June 1968.

How did you celebrate Jewish holidays while serving?
Except for attending Friday night services when I was home on leave, I did not participate while on active duty. I now realize I missed something by not participating.

Were there any Jewish experience stories that occurred during the time you served?
While stationed in Germany for a few months, I experienced the cognitive dissonance of a Jew seeing middle-aged Germans 20 years after the Shoah, and wondering what they did during the war.

Are there any other comments about your service?
I volunteered out of high school, and I am glad I did. I got a chance to see places and meet people that otherwise I might not have. When I was discharged, I was ready for college.


Rolf Bergman (father of Cindy Bergman)  

My Dad escaped Nazi Germany in 1937. He crossed the ocean on the Queen Mary at 13 with his little sister in tow, anxious to reunite with their parents. They had a visa that allowed them to escape sooner, as they were warned that the Gestapo was searching for them. 

My father enlisted in the US Army as soon as they would take him. 

Since he spoke German, he was placed in Intelligence and became what is now known as a Ritchie Boy. He served proudly in Patton's army, interrogating captured German soldiers and participating in the liberation of the camps. We recently received a commemorative pin from the US Holocaust Museum, recognizing his service by being bestowed the Elie Wiesel Award, the Museum's highest honor.

Irving Cohen (father of Susan Silberman) 

Dad was stationed in Germany during the Korean War.  Dad was smart, funny, and a great teacher his whole life.  He knew how to tell a great story and make people laugh. He was a teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens for 35 years.  

Dad was promoted to Sergeant after a priest, who was a good friend of the officers, walked into his classroom where he was teaching the infantry about German history. The priest recognized what a great teacher Dad was, and he was then recruited to teach all classes for his troop. He served two years until the war ended.




Leo Schlissel (father of Andrea Goldberg) 

How did your family member celebrate any Jewish Holidays while serving?
While in Australia during World War II, my Dad went with a fellow Jewish sailor to a local synagogue to pray on Rosh Hashanah.

Do you have any Jewish experience stories that occurred during the time your loved one served?
While in Australia, after attending Rosh Hashanah services, my NY-based father was invited to not only eat with a local Australian Jewish family but to stay for the night. The three adult daughters of the house were single, and all flirted with him. Their father even tried to get my father to commit to an engagement with one of them. As my father was already dating my mother, he was not swayed. But he always talked very fondly of how well they fed him and how great they treated him. The food was very similar to what his Mother served. It was a very welcome break from living in close quarters on a Navy ship, and it made him realize how connected he was with the Jewish people no matter where they lived.

Is there anything else about your relative’s service that made a lasting impression?
My father was very proud of his Navy service. It was an experience that shaped the man he became.


Charles M. Stern, Jr. (uncle of Richard Stern) 

When and where did your family member serve?
He enlisted in August 1940.  Assigned to Battleship USS Oklahoma April 9, 1941. He was an Ensign. Killed in action on December 7, 1941; at age 26.

Were there any Jewish experience stories that occurred during the time he served?
Unknown, but he married Joan Mayer in a ceremony performed by a Chaplain at Pearl Harbor in June 1941.

Are there any other comments about your family member’s service?
He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1936 and went to work on Madison Avenue.  He joined the Navy in 1940 because he saw that war was coming, and he understood that those who enlisted earlier would be discharged earlier after the war was over.  He was assigned as an engine room officer aboard the Oklahoma. On that Sunday morning, he was on duty because he had volunteered to take the watch of another officer who had just married.  The Oklahoma was hit by as many as nine torpedoes and capsized, trapping men in the engine room. His remains were identified in 2018, and we buried him in the family plot in 2019 in Beth Emeth Cemetary, Albany, NY.  Other than at Pearl Harbor, no American battleships have ever been sunk by enemy action.


Walter Bergman (father of Alan Bergman) 

Upon turning 18 in 1944, my dad promptly enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He traveled cross-country by train to the Port of San Diego, where he was assigned to the USS Goss, a destroyer-escort. The Goss ultimately was involved in many battles in Asia in the Pacific Theatre. Arriving at the ship's gangplank in San Diego, my father said, "Walter Bergman, reporting for duty." The response from his fellow sailor came with a Southern drawl.  "Welcome aboard, kike." My dad spent the next two years on that ship.

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784