Navy: Iranian drone flew over U.S. carrier in ‘unprofessional’ move


An unarmed Iranian drone flew directly over a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in international waters in the Gulf this month in a move that was “abnormal and unprofessional,” the U.S. military said on Friday.

Iranian state television said a surveillance drone flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf and took “precise” pictures during an Iranian naval drill on Friday. 

But a U.S. Navy spokeswoman only confirmed an incident on Jan. 12, when an unarmed Iranian drone flew directly over the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman. She could not confirm if it was the same incident reported by Iranian media.

The Jan. 12 overflight took place the same day Iran detained 10 U.S. sailors who it said had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake.

The drone initially flew toward the French carrier the Charles de Gaulle, and then flew directly over the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman, said the spokeswoman, Lieutenant Commander Nicole Schwegman, in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. carrier was not conducting flight operations at the time, Schwegman said.

“The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) was unarmed and posed no risk to the carrier's flight operations,” Schwegman said. “While the Iranian UAV's actions posed no danger to the ship, it was, however, abnormal and unprofessional.”

Both the American and French carriers were operating in international waters in the Gulf, Schwegman said.

The commander of Iran's navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, said the drone overflight reported by Iranian media as occurring on Friday was a sign of the Iranian navy's “readiness and bravery,” according to state television.

An Iranian submarine was also deployed to the area on Friday and took pictures of the drone and the U.S. carrier, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Four Marines and gunman killed in Tennessee shootings


Four Marines were killed on Thursday by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, before being fatally shot in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism.

The FBI named the suspect as Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, but said it was too early to speculate on a motive for the rampage, which comes at a time when U.S. military and law enforcement authorities are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by “lone wolves” to domestic targets.

“We are treating this as an act of domestic terrorism,” Bill Killian, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said earlier, adding that no official determination of the nature of the crime had yet been made and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has not ruled anything out.

“While it would be premature to speculate on the motives of the shooter at this time, we will conduct a thorough investigation of this tragedy and provide updates as they are available,” the agency said in a statement.

NBC reported that Abdulazeez was a naturalized American born in Kuwait and U.S. officials said law enforcement authorities were investigating whether he was inspired by Islamic State or a similar militant group.

According to a resume believed to have been posted online by Abdulazeez, he attended high school in a Chattanooga suburb and graduated from the University of Tennessee with an engineering degree.

“I remember him being very creative. He was a very light minded kind of individual. All his videos were always very unique and entertaining,” said Greg Raymond, 28, who worked with Abdulazeez on a high school television program.

“He was a really calm, smart and cool person who joked around. Like me he wasn't very popular so we always kind of got along. He seemed like a really normal guy,” Raymond said.

Mary Winter, president of the Colonial Shores Neighborhood Association, said she had known Abdulazeez and his family for more than 10 years and was stunned at the crime.

“We're all shocked and saddened,” Winter said. “He never caused any trouble. We can't believe that this happened. We were just planning to have a swim team banquet tonight.”

President Barack Obama offered his condolences to the victims' families and said officials will be prompt and thorough in getting answers on the shootings.

“It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who have served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion,” he said in a statement from the Oval Office.

The Department of Homeland Security was stepping up security at certain federal facilities and supporting the FBI investigation, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.

Chattanooga is a city of about 173,000 people along the Tennessee River in the southeast of the state.

The suspect, seen driving an open-top Ford Mustang, is believed to have first gone to a joint military recruiting center in a strip mall and sprayed it with gunfire, riddling the glass facade with bullet holes.

“Everybody was at a standstill and as soon as he pulled away everyone scrambled trying to make sure everyone was OK,” said Erica Wright, who works two doors down from the center.

Armed forces recruiting centers are often located in shopping centers and other prominent places.

The gunman then drove off to a Naval Reserve Center about 6 miles (10 km) away, fatally shooting the four Marines before being shot and killed in a firefight with police.

Three others were wounded in the attacks, including a police officer reported in stable condition and a Marine.

The shootings began at about 10:45 a.m. local time (1445 GMT) and ended about 30 minutes later.

At least three people were wounded in the attacks, including a Marine and a Navy sailor who is in critical condition, according to the hospital. One of those hurt was a police officer who was in stable condition.

Police blocked access to the street where the suspected gunman lived in an upscale suburb. Only residents with photo IDs were allowed to pass and all cars coming and going were stopped.

Local media said memorial services for the victims would be held in various Chattanooga churches tonight.

“We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible,” said Nihad Awad, national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Israel intercepts flotilla vessel attempting to break blockade of Gaza


The Israeli Navy intercepted an activist ship in the waters off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Commandos from the Shayetet 13 naval special forces unit boarded the Marianne of Gothenburg early Monday morning and began sailing the ship, which was trying to breach Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza, to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The takeover of the vessel and its approximately 20 passengers was short and there were no casualties, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.  The passengers are expected to be interviewed and then deported. Among the passengers is the Arab-Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab list.

The IDF said the seizure followed numerous requests for the ship to change course, in accordance with international law. Three other flotilla ships carrying about 30 passengers turned back before they were be boarded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the sailors and commanders of the Navy for their “determined and efficient action in detaining the passengers on the ship that tried to reach the Gaza coast in contravention of the law.”

“This flotilla is nothing but a demonstration of hypocrisy and lies that is only assisting the Hamas terrorist organization and ignores all of the horrors in our region,” Netanyahu said in a statement released after the takeover of the Marianne. “Preventing entry by sea was done in accordance with international law and even received backing from a committee of the UN Secretary General.”

In a letter to be distributed to flotilla passengers upon their arrival in Israel, Netanyahu said: “Welcome to Israel. You seem to have gotten lost. Perhaps you meant to sail to a place not far from here – Syria, where Assad’s army is slaughtering its people every day, and is supported by the murderous Iranian regime.

“Here in Israel we face a reality in which terrorist organizations like Hamas try to kill innocent civilians. We defend our citizens against these attempts in accordance with international law.”

“Despite this, Israel transports goods and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip – up to 800 trucks a day. In the past year we enabled the entry of over 1.6 million tons of products, an average of one ton per person in the Gaza Strip. By the way, these supplies are equivalent to 500,000 boats like the one you came in on today.”

In a statement issued Monday morning, Ship to Gaza Sweden called on Israel to return the Marianne, release the passengers and allow them to travel to Gaza.

“Ship to Gaza Sweden protests against this flagrant abuse of the freedom of navigation,” the statement said. “Israel’s repeated acts of piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean.”

In the past, Israel’s Navy has intercepted ships attempting to breach the blockade. The Foreign Ministry said aid groups may send supplies to Israel for inspection, after which permissible goods would be transferred to Gaza.

In 2010, an Israeli Navy commando takeover of the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship carrying activists armed with knives and clubs ended with nine Turkish nationals dead.

Flotilla to break Gaza blockade leaves last port


A flotilla of boats planning to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip left a Greek port.

The five Freedom Flotilla III boats, which left Crete on Thursday, are scheduled to arrive near the Gaza coast in three days.

The boats are carrying solar panels and medical equipment, according to Ship to Gaza Sweden.

The lead boat, the Marianne of Gothenburg, is carrying passengers including Israeli-born Swedish citizen Dror Feiler, a musician and spokesman of Ship to Gaza; Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a Swedish journalist, author and social critic; Robert Lovelace, a Canadian scholar and activist;  and Ana Maria Miranda Paza, a Spanish member of the European Parliament.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab List also boarded the boat in Greece.

The Freedom Flotilla’s first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists in May 2010. Israeli Navy commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

A second attempt was turned back in October 2012.

The Ship to Gaza organization is calling for an immediate end to the naval blockade of Gaza; opening of the Gaza Port; and secure passage for Palestinians between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Kristallnacht witness joined allied forces against Germany


Fred Heim remembers walking on cloud nine the day he was sworn in to the United States Navy, a cold Chicago day in December 1944.

“Joining the Navy was the most important thing in my life,” Heim, 86, told the Journal. “The day that I was sworn in, I will never forget it.”

Born Friedemann Cheim in 1926 in Berlin, when he was sworn in, Cheim was only five years removed from what ended as a traumatic and horror-filled adolescence in a city and country drowning in anti-Semitism.

In the elegant Studio City apartment where he now lives with his second wife, Gail, Heim recounted his childhood in Nazi Germany and his service as a young adult in the U.S. Navy. This year, with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht and Veterans Day occurring back to back, Heim is one of a handful of living Jews who experienced the “Night of Broken Glass” only to later join the Allied forces in opposing Germany.

He began by describing how unbearable it was to live under a Berlin gripped by hatred. “As you walk out of temple on the High Holy Days, you are looking up and down the street to see if there are going to be any Nazis who are going to do anything,” he said. 

Heim, his parents, Sol and Adda, and his sister, Suzanne, attended the famous Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin. Rabbi Leo Baeck was one of the leaders of the liberal synagogue.

Just before Kristallnacht, the Nov. 9-10, 1938, pogrom against German Jews that ignited the Holocaust, Sol received a tip that German authorities and mobs would particularly target adult Jewish males. He took the tip seriously and disappeared for six weeks before reuniting with his family.

On the morning of Nov. 10, as the 11-year-old Heim rode the elevated train to school, it made one of its normal stops just across the street from his family’s synagogue. He watched in horror as it burned. The interior of the pillaged synagogue is now one of the most famous photos of Kristallnacht.

“That has some profound effect on you,” Heim reflected, describing how he believes growing up as a hated citizen of his home country impacted him psychologically.

He and his immediate family escaped Germany one week before Germany invaded Poland, briefly stopping in the Netherlands before traveling by passenger ship to New York City.

“Going to America was everybody’s dream,” Heim said with a smile. 

Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Kansas City, where Heim said he had relatives, and also where he — thanks to his sparse knowledge of America at the time — “thought there were Indians.”

He quickly fell in love with America and was particularly shocked when people in a Kansas City movie theater hissed when President Franklin Roosevelt appeared on the newsreel.

“I got petrified,” Heim said, thinking what would have happened if people in Germany openly criticized Hitler. “I didn’t know what it was like living in a democracy. That was a moment I’ll never forget.”

After he finished high school, Heim studied briefly at the University of Chicago before deciding that he needed to fight. 

Heim enlisted in the Navy. After training in Chicago; Gulfport, Miss.; and Corpus Christi, Texas, Heim was sworn in as a radio technician. He was on a ship that patrolled the Caribbean Sea, which was infested with German submarines.

Although he wanted to fight on the front lines, the war ended before he got a chance, with Germany surrendering in April 1945 and Japan following suit in September. But Heim doesn’t shed any tears over not fighting in combat. “I think by that time I had become a typical Navy sailor — all I could think of was, ‘I want to get out,’ ” he joked.

After earning a master’s degree in business administration at Harvard, Heim journeyed westward in 1951, fueled in part by an image of California that he formed as a child watching American films in Berlin.

“I had an image in my mind of California,” Heim said. “I just wanted to come here, and I can’t tell you why.”

Heim quickly became a force in the business and political world. After working some low-level jobs for a military industrial company and a sales company, he became a successful player in the electronics and computer world, but soon left behind his entrepreneurial pursuits to enter politics. His first position was under then-City Councilman Tom Bradley.

After Bradley was elected mayor in 1973, he appointed Heim to the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, where he helped operate one of the nation’s busiest ports.

“I was not universally loved, but we reorganized the harbor,” Heim said. “There was no funny business anymore.”

Heim’s 12 years at the harbor were not unlike his life — full of ups and downs. Now retired, Heim enjoys spending time with his wife and traveling; he has returned to Germany several times.

He sometimes ponders how growing up in Berlin impacted him — and still impacts him. “What happened to me, was, I can’t say I got used to it, but I actually sort of denied it until the last 10 years,” Heim said, pointing out that his wife, Gail, helped him recognize the repercussions of his youth and of Kristallnacht.

“I think you are not acknowledging the trauma of living for six years under Hitler,” she remembers telling her husband. Thanks, in part, to physical and verbal abuse he faced as a Jewish child in Berlin, Heim said he developed an extreme aversion to physical confrontations.

Gail Heim said that on Sept. 11, 2001, Fred told her that the fear from the terrorist attacks made him feel like he did on Kristallnacht. 

Nowadays, while Heim’s hatred for today’s Germany has waned, his love for the country that took him in has only grown.

 “I was beside myself with joy [when I came to New York,]” Heim said. “I still remember watching the Statue of Liberty and saying to myself, ‘Don’t you ever forget this moment.’ ”

Israeli navy cadet killed after threatening girlfriend


An 18-year-old Israeli navy cadet was killed by police volunteers after he pointed a weapon at his girlfriend and fired on them.

The 18-year-old, identified by Maariv as Raz Attias, drove with his 17-year-old girlfriend to a wooded area near Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem on Friday, according to media reports.

Israel Channel 2 News reported that Attias had emailed the television station to let them know that he and his girlfriend would commit suicide. The station contacted police, which located Attias by monitoring his cell phone.

When two police volunteers found the two in a car, Attias pointed a gun at his girlfriend and threatened to shoot her. He then turned his gun on the officers, lightly injuring one. The second returned fire, according to media reports. Attias reportedly used a firearm he took without permission from his father, a major in the Israel Defense Forces.

A few weeks ago the couple learned the girl was pregnant, according to Channel 2.

Attias was a cadet in Israel Navy's academy, a boarding school, and was scheduled to begin active duty in the coming months.

Report: Israeli, Lebanese naval forces cooperating


Israel’s navy is reportedly cooperating with its Lebanese counterpart to prevent foreign ships from approaching Israeli waters.

Israeli naval officials say their cooperation with Lebanon has increased, according to a report in Haaretz.

In advance of Land Day last month, Lebanon reportedly beefed up its naval patrols and barred ships from approaching the maritime border with Israel. Lebanon also reportedly has assisted Israel in driving away fishing boats that approach Israeli waters with the result that “significantly fewer” such ships now approach Israel’s border.

The cooperation is apparently conducted through an international body, through which Israel relays information about boats closing in on its maritime border. The information is then relayed to Lebanese forces, which drives the ship away.

Israel reportedly is expecting pro-Palestinian flotillas to approach by sea in advance of May 15, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s birth.

Congress approves review of medals for Jewish WWI vets


Congress approved a requirement for the U.S. military to review World War I records to determine whether Jews who received decorations should be upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

The amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, which passed last week and will soon to be signed into law by President Obama, requires “the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Navy to review the service records of any Jewish American World War I veteran awarded the Distinguished Service Cross or the Navy Cross for heroism during World War I and whose name and supporting material for upgrade of the award to the Medal of Honor.”

The Defense Authorization Act shapes military policy and authorizes funding for the military.

U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.) introduced the amendment at the urging of Elsie Shemin-Roth, whose father, William Shemin, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for service in France.

Shemin was a platoon sergeant who during a battle in Burgundy crossed through gunfire three times to rescue soldiers. The third time he sustained wounds but refused treatment because his commanding officers had been killed or injured. Shemin led the platoon out of danger.

Such valor, military experts say, would usually garner the highest honor, the Medal of Honor.

Shemin believed he was slighted, receiving the lesser honor, because he was Jewish. He died in 1973.

Shemin-Roth was moved to advocate for the review in 2001 after reading of similar laws requiring reviews of medals of minorities in other wars.

Iran denies connection to seized weapons


Iran denied Israeli assertions that it sent weapons to Gaza aboard a ship intercepted by Israel’s Navy.

“The Jerusalem occupation regime is a regime of lies, production of lies and dissemination of lies. We reject all of these mendacious reports,” the Iranian army’s chief of staff, Gen. Atallah Salhi, told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Wednesday.

“God willing, this regime will sink into the Mediterranean Sea like the regime of the pharaohs in Egypt,” he is quoted as saying.

The Liberia-flagged cargo ship Victoria was seized Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea 200 miles west of Israel. The German-owned ship, which originated in Syria, was headed to Egypt via Turkey with tons of concealed weapons that Israel said were bound for Gaza.

The sophisticated missiles found aboard the Victoria came with manuals in Farsi.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials on Tuesday told The Associated Press that its military seized five trucks that entered the country carrying weapons from Sudan bound for Gaza. The weapons were to be ferried through smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, AP reported.

Clergy, Bibi urge Pollard release


More than 500 clergy signed a letter to President Obama urging clemency for Jonathan Pollard.

The letter was delivered a day before Prime Minister Benjanim Netanyahu reportedly sent a letter to Obama issuing a formal clemency request. Netanyahu was scheduled to read his letter Tuesday evening to a Knesset plenum discussion. 

“After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency—as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation—a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.”

The letter is the latest in a surge of pleas to free Pollard, a U.S. Navy analyst who spied for Israel and who has been in prison since 1985.

A raft of Democratic Congress members urged Obama to release Pollard late last year, and a number of officials who were involved in investigating the matter also have signed on to the effort.

Among the signatories of the letter sent this week was Rabbi Donald Levy of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs, Colo., a former Navy cryptologist who participated in the damage assessment after Pollard’s arrest.

“There was nothing that we came across to indicate that Pollard gave information to any country but Israel,” said Levy said in a separate statement. “Further, the information he probably disclosed consisted primarily of daily operational intelligence summaries, information that is extremely perishable. It did not appear to me at the time that the information he gave Israel should have resulted in a life sentence.”

Also signing the letter were leaders of lay Jewish groups, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, B’nai B’rith International and the Zionist Organization of America.

Valley Jewish war vets fight an old enemy on the home front: Invisibility


Listen to interviews with Jewish War Veterans:
Track 1: Seymour Bloom and Marty Falk, two members of the Jewish War Veterans Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley, talk about what it means to be an American Jewish vet. Listen here.
Track 2: A story from Korean War Veteran Seymour Bloom about his last bit of military service. Listen here.


They fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. They served in the United States Army, Navy and the Army Air Corps — the precursor to the Air Force. A few flew through anti-aircraft fire over Nazi Germany, another marched over mountains during the coldest winter of the Korean War. One even watched the Bay of Pigs Invasion from the deck of a disguised aircraft carrier floating “spitting distance” from the shores of Cuba.

Yet today, the more than 400 members of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV) Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley are engaged in a different campaign: They are battling the widely held perception that American Jews do not and did not serve in this country’s armed forces.

“There’s an old false fable out there that Jews never fought in our wars,” said Seymour Bloom of Van Nuys, 81, a Korean War veteran and member of Post 603. “And I can stand up tall and tell ’em, ‘You’re full of s—-. We were there, too.’ ”

The roots of this fable go at least as far back as 1898, when Mark Twain wrote that Jews had “an unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier.” The Hebrew Union Veterans Association, which would become JWV, had been founded in 1896 by a group of Jewish Civil War veterans in the hope of refuting exactly this type of claim. (Twain issued an apology after consulting data from the War Department that showed Jews had served in disproportionately high numbers on both sides during the Civil War.)

Still, the idea that Jews today are underrepresented in the American armed forces is alive and well. JWV says that Jews serve at a rate proportionate to the general population, but cannot provide concrete evidence, for two reasons: “One, the Pentagon does not keep any records by religion,” JWV National Program Coordinator Cheryl Waldman said. “And two, a lot of the Jews who are serving, especially since they are serving in Islamic countries, don’t present themselves as Jews.”

The veterans in the Valley are doing their part to disabuse people of the notion that Jews don’t serve. In the run-up to Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Post 603 Cmdr. Paul Cohen and Senior Vice Cmdr. Allan Hoffman spent many of their weekdays at a table in Brent’s Deli in Northridge selling paper poppies, the red flowers worn around the world to honor veterans, in an effort to raise money and awareness. And on Veterans Day itself, members from Post 603 plan to participate in the annual San Fernando Valley Veterans Day Parade, as they do every year.

The average age of a JWV Post 603 member is about 75 or 78, according to Hoffman, who is 70, and the veterans are trying to reach out to their younger counterparts. At a board meeting in October, Julian Cohen, 83, who served in the Navy during World War II, moved that JWV Post 603 train its members to deal with calls from veterans considering suicide. He also suggested they develop an online presence. (Right now, the post’s monthly newsletter is sent through the mail.)

The veterans of JWV Post 603 know that getting young men — and the returning vets are mostly men — to join a group whose board meets every other Tuesday for three hours in the middle of the day is going to be a challenge. “Young kid coming out of the service today,” Bloom said, “24 years old, what the hell does he want to go to a meeting with a bunch of old kackers talking about ancient history? They’re looking for girls; they want to get some action going in their life.

“I mean really,” Bloom added, “they’re going to sit down and listen to war stories from World War II and Korea? They had enough of war.”

Bloom and the other members of Post 603 aren’t just sitting around swapping stories, though. They spend a good chunk of their time helping veterans who are less well-off than they are.

“JWV Post 603 is one of the most active and attentive Veterans Service Organizations in the VA Greater Los Angeles area,” Marianne Davis, chief of voluntary services at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, said in an e-mail. Members of the Post, Davis said, donate clothes to the VA and help distribute them to homeless vets. They work with people in the VA’s nursing home, helping with crafts classes and weekly bingo games. Bloom even runs a photography class for patients.

“Their support and compassion has helped provide services and programs our veterans truly appreciate,” Davis said. 

For stories of individual members of JWV Post 603, click here. To contact JWV Post 603, e-mail Allan Hoffman at {encode=”ahoffman200@aol.com” title=”ahoffman200@aol.com”}.

The Jewish War Veterans of Post 603 [AUDIO]


Listen to interviews with Jewish War Veterans:
Track 1: Seymour Bloom and Marty Falk, two members of the Jewish War Veterans Post 603 in the San Fernando Valley, talk about what it means to be an American Jewish vet. Listen here.
Track 2: A story from Korean War Veteran Seymour Bloom about his last bit of military service. Listen here.


There are a few Jewish themes to the stories that the Jewish War Veterans of Post 603 tell. They tell of feeling ignored by a society that still thinks Jews don’t serve. Stories about anti-Semitism in the military ranks many decades ago are also common—and always seem to involve a superior officer from Georgia.

But most of the stories told by the vets of JWV Post 603 are ones you could hear from any aging veteran, no matter what their religious background: Tales of courage under fire, injuries sustained, near-death experiences. The Jewish vets tell of their own lucky and unlucky decisions, of their (first and second) marriages, of their grandchildren. The stories are inspiring, terrifying, humbling. With apologies to all for their brevity, here are a few sketches:


Morton Schecter, 87, flew 35 missions in the Army Air Corps during WWII as a tail gunner. He remembers, at the end of one of those missions, “coming in on a B-24 with six 1,000-pound bombs, and no wheels.” The plane hadn’t dropped its payload, and its landing gear had been shot out. “We had to come in on the belly. But we didn’t blow up, so I’m still here,” Schecter said.


Julian Cohen, 83, served in the Navy during World War II. “I was just a lousy seaman,” he said. The ship he manned was a landing craft, a bit like those that landed on the beaches at Normandy on D-day—except that Cohen’s ship was larger, and it’s mission was to land at Nagasaki, just two months after the atomic bomb was dropped there.

“I could feel the heat under my shoe,” Cohen said. “Nobody knew how bad the radiation was, how long it lasted. Nobody knew a whole lot about that.”

A few months later, Cohen began having eye troubles. “I went to see an eye doctor, and all he could do was give me glasses,” Cohen said. “I started macular degeneration. You know what that is? Macular degeneration? If you live long enough, you’re going to end up with it. Your eyes start getting blind.

“It’s called an old-age disease. At 36, I was blind in this eye,” Cohen said, pointing to his left eye, enlarged behind his thick lenses. “From macular degeneration, because of the atomic bomb.

“So that’s the end of that story,” Cohen said, making clear that he’d rather not dwell on his injury. Instead, he talked about the work that he does as the Veterans Affairs Volunteer Service Representative for JWV Post 603. Forty-two Jewish War Veterans from Post 603 volunteer at the VA campus in North Hills every week, and Cohen helps coordinate their efforts. Indeed, he started volunteering and joined JWV 15 years ago for this specific purpose. “I retired about that time,” Cohen said, “so my wife and I decided to thank the VA for doing what they do for veterans, because I’m a veteran.”


Nat Benjamin, 93, enlisted in the Army Air Corps (the precursor to the U.S. Air Force) in August 1942, and was called up on January 11, 1943. “Everybody wants to be a pilot,” Benjamin said, and although he had done well enough on the exam to go to pilot training school, he chose to be a navigator. “If you flunk the pilot training, you’ll go in with the ground army,” Benjamin said.

At the end of one of his crew’s practice flights, before they were set to deploy overseas, the pilot of his bomber came in rough on the landing and hit the tarmac, hard. Benjamin cracked his tailbone. He had to delay his deployment until he recovered, but his crew didn’t wait, and another navigator took over his spot. “That crew went in the 15th Air Force,” Benjamin said. “We heard later that they were shot down over Italy, and no parachutes came out.”

Benjamin deployed with the Eighth Air Force, and flew 35 bombing missions over Germany, including one to Peenemünde, where the Germans were thought to be manufacturing hydrogen peroxide for the V-2 rocket. “Because of our bombing, they never got the V-2 to work,” Benjamin said.

To hear Benjamin describe a bombing raid, it’s a wonder that they ever succeeded. First of all, they had to deal with enemy fighter planes. “Sometimes you could tell if the guy had a mustache or something, that’s how close you were,” Benjamin said.

As navigator, Benjamin sat in the compartment with the bombardier, just below the pilot. The noise in that compartment, with bombs exploding below and the engines roaring throughout, eventually proved to be deafening, and today the VA pays Benjamin a monthly stipend for his hearing aids.

As navigator, it was Benjamin’s job to know where the plane was and figure out in which direction they had to fly—that is, until it came time to actually drop the bombs. “Nine minutes before reaching the target, the bombardier takes over the plane,” Benjamin said. “In that nine minutes, when the enemy came at us, we could not change direction. That was the tough time for us.”

Benjamin still has his navigational instruments at home. He also has a piece of Plexiglas from the B-17, a souvenir from his 23rd mission. “Flack came in, and tore my boot off,” Benjamin said. He won medals for his service, but chose to downplay his heroism. “When you’re flying in combat, who gives a s—- about the medals?” Benjamin said. “It’s getting back home that counts.”


Seymour Bloom, 81, was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Boyle Heights, and missed serving in World War II by three months. He turned down an offer to take part in the postwar occupation of Japan. “I didn’t want any part of it,” Bloom said.

He was working as an apprentice typesetter at an advertisement printing company when the Korean War began. He remembers seeing the headlines on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean People’s Army crossed over the 38th parallel that divided the Korean Peninsula.

“I was talking to another apprentice, and I said, ‘Where the hell is Korea?’” Bloom recalled. Even 60 years later, his question sounded more resigned than inquisitive. “And I found out,” Bloom added.

“I was a runty kid,” Bloom said, especially compared to everyone else working at his company. “Half the guys were returning service guys from World War II,” he said. Nobody in his office thought he’d be called up. “I lost the lottery,” he said.

Bloom is an avid photographer; today he’s the official photographer for JWV Post 603 and teaches a photography course to veterans living at the local VA nursing home. Back when he was drafted, Bloom wanted to join the signal corps, which would’ve allowed him to pursue photography and printing while in uniform. It wasn’t to be.

One day, while Bloom was still in training, his commanding officer pulled him out of line. “He says, ‘We have a mimeograph machine,’” Bloom recalled. “‘You could run it.’”

Running the company’s mimeograph seemed to the officer similar enough to the work Bloom had doing in his civilian life. But to Bloom, it seemed overly basic.

I said, ‘Are you kidding?’,” Bloom said, “so he said, ‘OK, get back in line!’”

Bloom became a Forward Radio Operator for an 81-millimeter mortar, but he saw the mimeograph machine in action, though. In January of 1952, during what became known as the Korean War’s Second Winter Campaign, Bloom’s unit was attached to three rifle companies, marching through the Incheon valley.

“They issued us some more cold weather gear, and then we went on line,” Bloom said, “and it was 20 below zero by the time we were moving up on line. And just as we were going over this hill, over this mountain and another mountain, there was a tent. And it said, ‘Headquarters.’ So I’m marching with these guys, and I’ve got my 80 pounds and all that, and I look in that tent there,” Bloom said. “And there is a guy with a mimeograph machine, cranking it like that, with a big pot of coffee and a potbelly stove.”

Bloom smiled. “I look at my buddy and I says, ‘Kick me!’”


Marty Falk, 85, was drafted in June of 1943. “I was asked Army or Navy,” Falk writes in a two-page document called “MARTY’S WWII STORY.” He was 18 years old. “I remembered about where my father was in 1917.” Morris Falk, Marty’s father, fought in the United States Army in the First World War, and he was gassed in the trenches in Germany. “So I picked the Navy,” his son writes.

Falk became a naval electrician, and he did experience combat during his service—although he didn’t exactly see it. He was on a Destroyer Escort in the Mediterranean when a unit of German Junkers 88 planes came in from Southern France to torpedo their whole 80-ship convoy.

“My General Quarters Station was below decks in the engine room. Wondering when it was our turn to get hit with a torpedo,” Falk writes. They didn’t get hit. “We all were awarded the Bronze Star for this action with the enemy.”

Pollard Appeal Fails; Few Options Left


There appear to be few legal options left for Jonathan Pollard, after a U.S. federal appeals court last Friday rejected the former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst’s claim that he had inadequate counsel when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for spying for Israel.

The court denied his request to downgrade his life sentence. At the same time, the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied Pollard’s attorneys access to classified information they say would help in their attempt to win presidential clemency for their client.

The rulings, which affirm decisions by a U.S. District Court in 2003, leave Pollard with little recourse but the Supreme Court to change his fate. Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer, said that another option was to ask the entire appellate court to hear the case.

“We are very disappointed with the Appeals Court decision,” Lauer said. “We hope that in time, and we are confident that in time, the American judicial system will give Jonathan Pollard his rightful day in court.”

The appeals hearing was the latest in the battle to free Pollard, who was given a life sentence after pleading guilty to spying for Israel as part of a plea bargain that the U.S. government did not respect.

Pollard’s attorneys and members of the American Jewish community lobbied hard for clemency during the Clinton administration, as well as previous administrations. Israel, which granted Pollard citizenship in 1995, has also raised the issue with successive American administrations.

They argued that Pollard’s life sentence is unjust, because he had pleaded guilty and because it is harsher than the penalties given to convicted spies who had worked for countries antagonistic to the United States.

The court said Pollard’s claim of inadequate counsel was untimely, because he knew the circumstances of his claim before he filed it in 2000. Motions can be filed up to a year after sentencing or when new facts are discovered.

“Pollard knew the facts; what he now claims not to have known is the legal significance of these facts,” Judge David Sentelle wrote for the court, which was unanimous on the issue.

Pollard’s attorney, Jacques Semmelman, said in oral arguments that a conflict of interest between Richard Hibey, Pollard’s original attorney, and Hamilton Fox III, who filed a motion in 1990 seeking a withdrawal of Pollard’s guilty plea, prevented Fox from claiming ineffective counsel.

“The conflict of interest is that Mr. Fox could not bring himself to say anything negative about Mr. Hibey,” Semmelman said under repeated questioning by Sentelle.

The new attorneys claim that Hibey was ineffective, because he did not appeal after Pollard received a life sentence, even though his client had pleaded guilty and had cooperated with the U.S. government.

Pollard’s attorneys also want to see 40 pages of a declaration written in 1987 by then-Secretary of State Casper Weinberger, which outlines his assessment of Pollard’s damage to U.S. interests. That declaration is believed to be key to Pollard’s long sentence, but the court ruled that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims for access to documents for clemency purposes.

“The Constitution entrusts clemency decisions to the president’s sole discretion,” wrote Sentelle, joined by Judge Karen Lecraft Henderson.

Judge Judith Rogers dissented, dismissing the jurisdictional question, but saying that Pollard’s lawyers did not have a “need to know,” which is required to access the information. A presidential grant of clemency is a government function, she said, while assisting Pollard’s petition is a private act.

“Simply asserting that one’s assistance is needed does not make it so, especially since executive clemency is a matter of grace,” she wrote, adding that the president would have to seek the assistance of Pollard’s attorney to meet the “need-to-know” standard.

It’s unclear when and if Pollard’s attorneys will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court could hear either or both of the two issues or choose not to review the case, essentially affirming last Friday’s decision.

Pollard, who is being held at Butner Prison in North Carolina, is eligible for parole, but his attorneys said he has not sought a parole hearing, because it would be hard to argue for parole without the classified information.