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Berger’s Burg: Jews have served in U.S. military from the beginning

Berger’s Burg: Jews have served in U.S. military from the beginning
By Alex Berger

Nov. 11 is Veterans Day. Today, thousands of Jewish men and women are in the U.S. military continuing the tradition of Jews fighting for our country. But the common perception is that Jews never served in any of our wars. In fact, they have fought in every one and suffered equally while earning many combat ribbons and medals. This column will prove it by listing the wars and some of the Jewish soldiers who fought in them.

In 1895, the national press, politicians and celebrities promoted the untruth that Jews never served in the military in times of war. To disprove this, on March 15, 1896, 75 Jewish Civil War veterans met in New York City to refute this remark. Throughout history, the patriotic voice of Jewish Americans has been loud and clear.

In 1655, early Jewish leaders were successful in their fight for the right of Jews to serve in the Dutch militia of New Amsterdam — today’s Manhattan. In 1802, the first class of cadets to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was 50 percent Jewish. Historical records confirm that in all U.S. wars, the percentage of Jewish military was greater than their total population. During the American Revolution, there were approximately 4,000 Jews in what was soon to be the United States. About 400 of them, 10 percent of their total population, fought the British.

Lt. Col. Solomon Busch was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, Capt. Jacob de Leon, whose son served as surgeon general of the Confederate army, won many awards and Maj. Benjamin Nones — the “Jewish Lafayette” — came from France to fight the British.

During the War of 1812, Commodore Uriah P. Levy commanded the USS Argus. He was the first to eliminate the practice of flogging seamen in the U.S. Navy.

Jews fought in other 19th century wars: the Mexican and Seminole wars in 1845 and in Western frontier outposts throughout America.

Capt. Dr. David DeLeon, known as the “Fighting Doctor,” was cited for gallantry during the Mexican War and other battles.

During the Civil War, Jews served on both sides. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the Union army from a total Jewish population in America of less than 150,000. Sgts. Abraham Cohn and Benjamin B. Levy of the Union army were the first American Jews to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In World War I, more than 250,000 Jews answered America’s call to action: 3,500 were killed, 12,000 were wounded and 1,100 decorations were awarded for bravery.

Capt. Elkan Voorsanger, the “Fighting Rabbi,” went out of the trenches to join his men in attacking German soldiers.

In World War II, 550,000 Jews served in the armed forces of our country — including a secret corps of German-speaking Jewish commandoes who operated behind enemy lines. Approximately 11,000 were killed, 40,000 were wounded and 52,000 medals were awarded for bravery.

Capt. Harold Segal shot down 12 Japanese planes and Capt. Joseph Huber, Lt. Ralph Morgenbesse, Sgt. Phil Fleishman and Cpl. Solomon Mosner, who was killed in action, were all from Queens.

Jews fought in the Korean War, in which the United States suffered 135,000 casualties, including many hundreds of Jewish casualties. Cpl. Abraham Geller, the son of a rabbi, was awarded a citation.

In Vietnam, the heroism and casualties of Jewish combatants were high. Col. Jack Jacobs is the only living Jewish recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Jews have seen combat in the Haitian Campaign in 1915, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia and other campaigns. There have been 17 Jewish recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In 2001, Congress passed the Jewish War Veterans Act. Previously, official recognition of battlefield accomplishments by Jewish war heroes was institutionally overlooked. Of 3,455 Medals of Honor granted, only 13 have gone to Jews. The act directed the review of past uncommon valor displayed by Jewish soldiers in battle and many were given citations, including Medals of Honor.

Korean War soldier Cpl. Leonard Kravitz was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing himself to save his unit.

Jews have given their lives to insure and preserve American freedom and democracy. I, for one — former Staff Sgt. Alex Berger, U.S. Air Force — am proud to have been part of the less than 1 percent of our country’s total Jewish population who served in the U.S. military.

And Jews will continue to do so as long as our nation exists.

Contact Alex Berger at [email protected].

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