The long journey from POW to veterans’ advocate

Harry Corre, held as a prisoner of war during World War II by Japanese military forces in the city of Omuta, was behind a brick building when he saw a “tremendous flash.” Looking around the building, he saw an enormous cloud 30 miles across the bay, above Nagasaki, and assumed there had been an air raid in an oil tank field.

In the work camp the next day, said Corre, who was honored by Union Bank and KCETLink at the 16th annual Local Heroes Awards on Oct. 22. “We knew something big had happened.” His fellow prisoners heard the number 25,000, and then 50,000, and presumed there had been a big battle. But on the third day after the flash, the guards of the work camps disappeared. The war that had made Corre a POW twice over had ended.

Raised Jewish in Boston by a single mother, Corre graduated from school at 16, during the Great Depression. 

At 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. “I was out of a job at the time,” he said. “The war was getting pretty fierce in Europe,” so he chose to go to the Philippines, the place he thought was least likely to see any fighting. He was “entirely wrong.”

Before the war, American soldiers in the Philippines enjoyed having services like laundry and cleaning done for $1 a month, Corre remembered. When, in 1941, fighting commenced, U.S. Army supplies were sparse and in very bad condition, Corre remembers. “Unfortunately, 90 percent of what we had was from World War I, and a lot had deteriorated.”

Several months into the war, Corre was transferred to Bataan to train Philippine civilians to be soldiers. He remembers it quickly became “an on-the-job type of training,” because of aggressive attacks by the Japanese military. Corre’s men lived on “one-third rations,” less than 800 calories a day. They ate transportation animals, including horses and mules, and, eventually, snakes and monkeys.

Corre recalls his fellow soldiers maintained good morale, but the superior officers ordered them to surrender. “They just did not realize the difference in the culture between the Japanese and American military discipline,” Corre said. “In the American discipline, a superior cannot lay a hand on an American soldier, whereas the Japanese discipline was very harsh physical abuse, such as beating them, and in many cases they would shoot them or cut their heads off.” Corre said the Japanese emperor had declared they should be treated as less than animals.

The infamous Bataan death march followed. By Corre’s estimate, 60,000 Philippine soldiers and 10,000 Americans were forced on the 100-mile trek without food or clean water in sweltering heat. “The men were in very poor physical condition … to begin with,” said Corre, who marched for 24 hours a day with very few stops. Anyone who stopped for any reason, including to get food or water, was shot, bayoneted or beheaded. 

“I found that, after two days, I thought I would not be able to finish [the] march without getting killed for some reason, so I escaped at night in the middle of a storm,” Corre said. He built a raft of any buoyant material he could find and swam four miles in the middle of the night to Corregidor. As he approached, American Marines shot at him, believing he was an infiltrator. Four days after his escape, he arrived in the city of Mariveles. 

Four months later, Corregidor surrendered, and Corre became a prisoner once again. He was moved to the “zero ward” of a prison camp in the Philippines so that he would not spread his recently contracted diphtheria to Japanese soldiers. The disease made him lose control of his right foot, but he could still walk, and he was made to bury some 50 to 70 bodies a day, sometimes as many as 150. 

In 1943, Corre was transported to Fukuoka, Japan, in “more of a rust bucket than anything else,” to work in the coal mines. He worked for a year and a half in a mine that was so hazardous it had been closed to Japanese soldiers, until the atomic bomb was dropped 30 miles across the bay from him, and the war ended.

After spending two months in the aftermath of the nuclear explosion, Corre found a way to return home by boat. Discharged months later at Long Island, N.Y., he sought out a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital to inquire about his benefits. The man sitting at the desk in front of him rudely accused Corre of just wanting a “handout.”

“So I gave him the finger and told him to put it where the sun don’t shine and walked out,” said Corre, recalling that the reputation of VA hospitals at that time was “very bad.” 

Corre worked various jobs while attending night school to become an electronics engineer. He worked in the aerospace business for about 30 years, including helping to launch spacecraft from Cape Canaveral and to develop various types of missiles. His last project was at the White Sands Missile Range, in New Mexico, working on the “Star Wars” missile defense project. He worked for 26 years for TRW in Redondo Beach, leaving as an assistant project manager. 

After retiring from the aerospace industry, Corre worked in electric repair, before retiring for a second time. Still, he wanted to stay busy. He became a service officer for the American Ex-Prisoners of War organization. After about five years of this work, the director of the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center asked him to work part time as a patient advocate for the hospital, a job he has now been doing for more than five years. 

Corre guides veterans through the system, helping them access the care they need. He believes veteran services have “100 percent turned around” since he was first snubbed after his return from World War II. The benefits department is now committed to helping all veterans, he said.

Working for the hospital has even allowed Corre himself to access treatment that he had been missing for decades. He said he did not know he had severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) until he began working in the hospital. Now in his second marriage, he realizes his first wife had a “very, very hard marriage” because of his PTSD symptoms. When asked if he thinks if veterans these days are more aware that they might have the syndrome, he responded, “A crazy man does not know he’s crazy.”

“There is no soldier who has seen any kind of combat action … who has witnessed any kind of horrible scenes of bodies being blown apart, or suicide bombings or IEDs [improvised explosive devices], who can come home without having PTSD,” Corre said. 

Corre knows the war changed his perspectives in many things, including religion. “Yes, I am still Jewish, I will always be Jewish,” he said, but his practice is different from the way that he grew up. “The war changed that. … My viewpoint is very wide open,” Corre said. 

He believes he would now be considered an agnostic. “I have a very dim view of religion and what it can do for you. I will respect everybody for their own views and what they believe in. I have my own views, and now I am 90 years old, and I still feel the same way.”

Get out of jail free

Candles in the wind

Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-18: Prisoner swap controversy continues

Video headlines from Israel 2008-07-18: Prisoner swap controversy continues


On eve of prisoner swap, Israel recalls 2006 Lebanon war

(JTA)—For many Israelis, the timing of this week’s scheduled prisoner swap with Hezbollah serves as a bitter reminder of the failings of the Second Lebanon War.

Two years since the 34-day conflagration—sparked by Hezbollah taking two Israeli soldiers captive in a cross-border attack—the war’s ostensible goals appear to be unrealized.

Rather than suffering a long-term blow, Hezbollah has managed to rearm and refortify itself in Lebanon. The Iran-backed group has gained veto power over Lebanon’s government and more than tripled the number of missiles in its arsenal from before the war, according to Israeli estimates.

Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, rather than being cowed or damaged by the war, has emerged as a popular hero in the Arab world, inspiring confrontation with Israel from Gaza to Tehran.

And Israel, rather than recovering its two captive soldiers in the war, was reduced to negotiating with Hezbollah to bring its boys, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, home.

Two years on, there is a sense in Israel that the war’s lessons have not been internalized by a government distracted by other things, from the profane to the profound.

“Reading the newspapers this week, on the eve of the second anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Yoel Marcus wrote in Ha’aretz last week.

Marcus cited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s legal troubles, accusations of embezzlement against former finance minister Abraham Hirchson, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon’s sexual harassment affair and ex-President Moshe Katsav’s demand for perks, including a new office and a car and driver, while still under indictment for sex crimes.

“Flip another page and you discover that the government debate on the Haim Ramon affair was two hours longer than an urgent Cabinet meeting this week to discuss the arms race being carried out by Hezbollah and Iran,” Marcus wrote. “Instead of holding symposia on the past, which nothing is going to change, we need to focus on the immediate future.”

Chief among those concerns is the threat of a nuclear Iran, which is inextricably connected to the Hezbollah problem. If Israel carries out a strike against suspected nuclear sites in Iran, the Jewish state must expect a retaliatory attack from Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon.

According to Israeli assessments, Hezbollah now has some 40,000 missiles, with ranges of up to 185 miles. That puts most of Israel’s population within range of rocket attack, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and possibly even Dimona, the site of Israel’s nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert.

During the 2006 war, Hezbollah’s missiles reached no more than 45 miles inside Israel.

Over the past few days, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni both have spoken up about the failure of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war. The measure called for Hezbollah’s disarmament and a beefed-up U.N. presence in Lebanon, UNIFIL, to prevent Iranian and Syrian arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah.

“Resolution 1701 is being violated,” Barak told a Labor Party meeting Monday. “Hezbollah continues to get stronger with the ongoing and intimate assistance of the Syrians.
“The delicate balance that exists on the northern border should not be violated on the two-year anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. We should make an explicit statement: Resolution 1701 did not work, it is not working, and all indications are that it will not work in the future. It is a failure.”

What many Israeli pundits want to know is why government officials only now are complaining of the failure to implement the U.N. resolution.

The government’s lack of action in the face of the growing Hezbollah threat raises questions about whether the government has a clear plan for how to confront the more complex and multifaceted Iranian threat.

Professor Yehezkel Dror, a key member of the Israeli panel that reviewed the government’s performance in the 2006 war, created a stir earlier this month when he said that Olmert’s lack of a coherent defense strategy is harming the country.

Dror added that he regretted not calling explicitly for Olmert’s resignation in the final report by the Winograd Committee.

“The current state of affairs worries me greatly; I would not trust this government with making critical decisions,” Dror told Israeli reporters. He called on Olmert to resign, saying the prime minister clearly “does not show strategic thinking.”

“It might be tragic for the prime minister, but better have this than a tragic outcome for the state,” he said.

Dror’s call has been echoed in the Israeli media. A recent editorial in Ha’aretz called on Olmert to go on vacation immediately and let someone else steward the country while he sorts out his legal troubles. The Jerusalem Post urged Olmert’s political party, Kadima, to elect a new leader.

If there is a silver lining to Israel’s failures vis-a-vis Hezbollah, it is that the 2006 war served as a wake-up call for the Israel Defense Forces.

In 2006, the army found itself ill prepared to fight the war in Lebanon due to its almost exclusive focus on Palestinian terrorism over the preceding five years. Now, military analysts say, the IDF has resumed intensive training for battles of the sort it saw in Lebanon. That could be helpful not just against Hezbollah but if the IDF has to fight Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Indeed, Israel’s stalemate with Hamas in Gaza is a byproduct of the IDF’s shortcomings in the Lebanon War.

Taking a page from Hezbollah’s playbook in 2006, Hamas was able to use rocket fire from the Gaza Strip to leverage a cease-fire from an Israel reticent of repeating in Gaza the mistakes it had made in Lebanon – namely, launching a major military offensive against a guerrilla army in hostile territory with unclear long-term goals and the likelihood of high casualties.

But some Israeli commentators say Olmert was wrong to apply the lessons of Lebanon to Gaza, since the failures in Lebanon were in the implementation of military strategy, not the decision to go to war.

“They didn’t learn about the limits of military power, they learned about the limits of military power when it’s used ineffectively and poorly led,” Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, said of the conclusions Olmert and his Cabinet drew from Lebanon. “The army could be more effectively led, more disciplined.”

“Every time we are on the edge of victory, we stop the battle one step too soon—two years ago in Lebanon, and now with Hamas,” Israel Harel wrote in Ha’aretz. “This allows the enemy to recover and claim victory, continuing the struggle, justifiably from his point of view, until the Zionist Jewish entity comes to an end.”

Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11 — Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue

Video headlines from Israel: 2008-07-11—Did Olmert double-bill? Shalit talks continue

Lawsuit re POW swap involves L.A. family; Student writes guide for U.K.

Lawsuit Filed to Block Israeli Prisoner Swap Involves L.A. Family’s Missing Son

A day after the Israeli government agreed to trade five Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the 2006 war with Hezbollah, a lawsuit was filed in Jerusalem by the families of 12 Iranian Jews who have been missing since they attempted to emigrate from Iran in the early 1990s.

Six of the families now live in Israel. But one, the Tehranis, moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and still await their eldest son’s arrival. The lawsuit argues that any deal with Hezbollah, which would reportedly include information from Israel about the fate of four Iranian diplomats who went missing in Lebanon in the early ’80s, must advance the effort to locate and free the missing Iranian Jews, ages 15 to 60 when they disappeared.

“For the families of the missing Persian Jews, the decision to release information on the whereabouts of the disappeared Iranian officials means that they simply will have no other leverage from any quarter to influence the Islamic regime to provide information about their loved ones,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “Several of the wives are agunot [‘ chained’ women who cannot remarry], and many of the families are on the verge of economic collapse after 14 years.”

“The High Court promised the families two years ago that it would compel the [Israeli] government to undertake every possible step to secure information concerning the missing Jews from the Islamic regime, and now the Cabinet has recklessly voted to simply turn over the information without making any effort at a quid pro quo,” Darshan-Leitner continued. “Being the guardian of the world Jewish community is not merely something our officials should only pontificate about at Israeli bond dinners, its something they are obligated to fulfill at every juncture.”

Israel National TV talked to one of the missing Iranians’ family in Israel

Babak Tehrani was 16 and evading military service when his parents paid smugglers to transport him into Pakistan. Babak’s parents and two younger brothers planned to meet him in Vienna and then continue on to Los Angeles. They haven’t heard from him since they said goodbye in 1994, their only hope a 12-year-old report from a friend who said he saw Babak in a notorious Iranian prison.

The Iranian government has denied any knowledge of the missing men. During a 2006 visit to the United States, Mohammad Khatami, a relative moderate who was Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, was sued by the families for ignoring their pleas, despite allegedly being aware of the missing Jews’ whereabouts. A decision is pending in Virginia District Court.

“There is not even a moment when we don’t think about the situation,” Siamak Tehrani, Babak’s younger brother, said after the 2006 lawsuit was filed. “We open our eyes in the morning, and we think about this until we go to bed at night.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

L.A. Rabbinical Student Writes Guide to Aid Reform Movement in Great Britain

In a country where a high percentage of Jews are Orthodox — or, as the joke goes, the synagogue they don’t attend is Orthodox — other movements often struggle to attract more people.

That’s where the American Jewish Reform community — particularly Los Angeles’ — comes in.

Danny Burkeman, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, wrote “Leading a Community in Prayer,” an educational resource to accompany the new prayer book for Great Britain’s Reform movement. The siddur, “Forms of Prayer,” is the first egalitarian prayer book in England to use gender-neutral language, and it also includes traditional songs and prayers that had been left out of the 1977 Reform prayer book.

Burkeman, on the phone from London, where he is visiting for the summer, said he has learned much about spirituality from living in Los Angeles. “It’s such a wonderful and warm community,” he said. “The American Reform movement is such a confident movement; there’s such a variety of programs and projects that the Reform movement in England hasn’t been able to do.”

The new prayer book will bring the British Reform movement more in line with the U.S. Reform movement, Burkeman said. His guide discusses how to lead prayers and what it means to be a prayer leader, and provides prayer planning sheets. It can be useful to Reform Jews everywhere.

Once Burkeman, 29, is ordained as a rabbi, he plans to return to England for some years to share what he’s learned here in Los Angeles, such as the music and the synagogue atmosphere. (“There’s more Jews in Los Angeles than there is in the whole of England.”)

But the good news, he said, is that the new prayer book will help move Britain’s Reform Jews into the new millennium.

“It’s a dynamic Judaism that continues to grow,” he said. “A new siddur is necessary to speak to the next generation.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Local Soccer Coaches Make Cut for 18th Israeli Maccabiah Games

The 18th Israeli Maccabiah Games are still more than a year away, but the team selection process has already begun. Two local soccer coaches, Wendi Whitman and Michael Erush, have made the cut.

Whitman, head assistant coach at Cal State Long Beach, will be assisting Barry Kaplan in coaching the junior girls team. Whitman, a former Maccabi USA soccer player and goalkeeper for Stanford University, coached the junior girls team during the 17th Maccabiah Games in 2005 and last year’s Pan American Maccabi Games.

Erush, assistant coach at Loyola Marymount University, will serve as assistant coach on the Maccabiah men’s soccer team. He played defensive midfielder for Loyola from 2000 to 2003 and took silver during the 2005 Maccabiah Games.

— Molly Binenfeld, Contributing Writer

Sinai Temple, Sinai Akiba Celebrate Major Renovation Completion

Sinai Temple and Sinai Akiba Academy joined together to commission a major redesign of Sinai Akiba Middle School by architect Zoltan Pali. The $9.5 million improvement project included raised ceilings, wider hallways and new classrooms, along with updated equipment and technology, computer lab, renovated gym and an expanded library that is also open to the congregation.