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Fallen Jewish Service Members, From Civil War to Iraq, Honored on Memorial Day Weekend

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A Jewish headstone stands amid crosses at the American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer in Normandy, October 11, 2009. Reuters /Finbarr O’Reilly / France Conflict Anniversary Society

Leading global Jewish organizations and Jewish veterans on Memorial Day honored the soldiers who have fallen while serving in the United States armed forces.

“Among them are thousands of American Jewish service men and women who paid with their lives to protect their country,” said the World Jewish Congress (WJC).

According to the WJC, 550,000 Jewish soldiers served in the US armed forces during the Second World War and 11,000 were killed in combat. Among them was war hero Meyer Levin, a bombardier and pilot, who fought 60 combat missions and is remembered for being the first American to blow up a Japanese warship and for saving the lives of three crew members. His plane fell into the ocean near New Guinea in 1943 during a combat mission.

Major General Maurice Rose — the highest-ranking Jew in the US army during the Second World War, and the son and grandson of rabbis from Poland — fell in 1945 while fighting in Germany. Rose was the highest-ranking American killed by enemy fire at the European front.

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“Throughout history Jewish Americans have played a key role in protecting our country from the Revolution to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jewish Americans and Jewish Gold Star families have made immense sacrifices for our country,” New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer said, during an online event honoring members of the Jewish Gold Star families of fallen heroes, organized by the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council and the National Museum of American Jewish History

“I promise to stand by your side and fight for you every day in Washington. We must care for our Gold Star families and never rest until we build a country worthy of your sacrifices,” he added.

In New York, the New York Army National Guard soldiers and leaders honored Pvt. Benjamin Levy, the first Jewish soldier to receive the Medal of Honor, during a short May 21 ceremony at Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn. Levy was honored for his heroic actions in combat on June 30, 1862. Then a 17-year-old drummer boy, Levy picked up the flag of the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry under a hail of enemy fire and rallied his regiment, preventing a retreat. He received the Medal of Honor in March 1865 and died at age 76 in July 1921.

“Levy was the child of immigrants,” said Col. Richard Goldenberg, the New York National Guard public affairs officer, “and like so many New Yorkers of his time and now ours, he volunteered to serve his family’s adopted country in a time of crisis.”

In San Antonio, Jewish veterans started Memorial Day weekend by planting small flags on headstones at Rodfei Sholom Cemetery on Friday, the San Antonio Express News reported. Among them was retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. A. David Marne, whose grandfather, Army Pvt. Arthur Mermelstein died fighting the Nazis in Italy and now rests at the American Cemetery in Florence.

“I’m sure there’s someone that’s going to be in Florence, Italy, doing this for my grandfather,”  Marne, 57, a five-term mayor of Shavano Park, told the newspaper. “And I’ll be doing this for someone else’s grandfather who can’t be here.”

Marne said Jews traditionally have served in the armed forces beyond their representation in the general population — particularly in World War II, when at least 11,000 Jewish troops were killed in combat, with nearly five times that many wounded.

Since 2018, 57 Jewish women and men serving in the US armed forces have died in military operations, according to the WJC.

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