Last Tuesday marked 80 years since Japan’s unprovoked surprise attack on Hawaii, which brought the U.S. into World War II. Among the 2,403 American servicemen who lost their lives that day were several Jews. Tabby Refael tells the story of one of them:
Private Louis Schleifer, from Newark, New Jersey, was at [Oahu’s] Hickam airfield, where he was attached to the 4th Reconnaissance Squadron. Four days earlier, he had celebrated his 21st birthday. Schleifer was headed to breakfast when he saw Japanese aircraft dropping bombs over a field. He immediately took his helmet and 45-caliber revolver and ran to move some of the American planes into hangars. He fired at the Japanese planes overhead and was mortally wounded. Later that day, he was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
During World War II, more than 550,000 American Jewish men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces; 11,000 were killed and more than 40,000 were wounded. During the war, Jews comprised just over 3 percent of the American population and 4.23 percent of the armed forces. At Pearl Harbor, Jewish servicemen performed acts of great heroism, such as saving some of the crew aboard the USS Utah to dropping depth charges against Japanese submarines.
But perhaps the most poignant observation about American-Jewish servicemen came from Senator Charles McNary of Oregon, who spoke at a memorial service on June 30, 1942 for Schleifer. “Jews have been fighting oppression and tyranny for centuries. They received their basic training in Egypt and became seasoned soldiers on the battlegrounds of Europe,” said McNary.
“Wherever tyranny threatens, wherever the rights of man are in danger of being destroyed, there you will find the Jew, joining forces with others willing to fight and die for freedom.”
More about: American Jewish History, Jews in the military, World War II