The legacy of Jews in U.S. Armed Forces

By Jerry Alperstein

In 2006 shortly after Representative John Boehner became Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, he met with leaders from the major veterans service organizations. When a leader of the Jewish War Veterans introduced himself, Boehner said that he did not know there was a Jewish War Veterans. Most of the other veterans leaders – as though on cue – said in unison, quote, It’s the oldest veterans organization; unquote.

Boehner’s lack of knowledge of the Jewish War Veterans and of Jews in this country’s armed services was not unexpected. While the participation and importance of Jews in our country’s armed services are well-known and recognized within the veteran community, it is largely unknown and unrecognized within this country’s population at large; including within its Jewish community.

The truth is that Jews have been a part of this land’s military history since 1654, the year after they first arrived in our corner of the New World. When in the New Amsterdam colony, the Jews were charged an additional tax because they were barred from serving in the local militia, four Jews led by Asser Levy successfully appealed to the owner of the colony, the Dutch East India Company. They were allowed to serve, and Jews have been serving and giving their lives to our country ever since.

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ST resident discovers discrepancy in veteran law, helps change it

Nov27 Vets Jerry

Vet Jerry Alperstein

By Sabina Mollot

On November 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill benefiting veterans that was written by a Stuyvesant Town resident.

While he doesn’t work in politics, the resident, Jerry Alperstein, is a Korean war vet and also the New York Department Legislative Committee Chair of the Jewish War Veterans group.

He’d been researching veteran-related legislation in 2010, when he discovered a discrepancy in a 2005 law that left some city employees who’d left their jobs for military duty ineligible for an existing pension credit.

The discrepancy in the 2005 law came from most – but not all – city employees called to active military service between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2005 being able to get the pension credit.

This was tied into a benefit program that allowed city employees called to active military service to continue receiving their full salary and benefits, including pension benefits, as long as they paid back their military pay or city pay (whichever was less) when returning to their city jobs.

However, city employees who elected not to receive their city pay while on active duty were not covered by the 2005 law. Alperstein said this wound up being 60-70 people.

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Stuyvesant Town veteran receives medals at VA

At ceremony, Maloney says vets not taking advantage of 23rd St. hospital

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney pins a medal on Jerry Alperstein’s jacket during a ceremony on Tuesday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney pins a medal on Jerry Alperstein’s jacket during a ceremony on Tuesday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot
A Stuyvesant Town veteran was among a group of vets honored at a ceremony at the VA Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon.
The ceremony, led by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, took place a few days ahead of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy to liberate France from the Nazis.
Though he didn’t serve in WWII, Vietnam War Navy vet Jerry Alperstein was presented with the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Alperstein, the former head of the local post of the Jewish War Veterans, said he only learned recently that he was entitled to the ribbons. All the others who served on his ship off the coast of North Vietnam during a period of combat in 1967 were entitled to them as well. A friend, who’d been doing some searching online, found about it on a defense website and alerted him.
“I’m grateful to Congress Member Maloney and her staff for doing all the paperwork for me,” quipped Alperstein. Maloney then pinned the medal onto his jacket.
Alperstein said the combat aboard his ship, the Charles R. Ware DD-865, involved shore bombardment, supply barge interdiction and evasive maneuvers when under fire from the shore.
Another speaker at the VA ceremony was 91-year-old Seymour “Sy” Beder of Peter Cooper Village, who’d been a lieutenant in the Airforce during WWII.
Beder said he was very grateful to others who’d served overseas since he was luckily allowed to return home before the war ended.

Seymour Beder, WWII vet from Peter Cooper Village

Seymour Beder, WWII vet from Peter Cooper Village

“They sent me home for rest and recuperation with no last mission to fly,” said Beder. He’d had the option to return to active duty after his rest period but didn’t take it.
“I wanted to be home with my wife who was pregnant,” said Beder, adding that his job as an accountant was also waiting for him upon his return. “It was a pleasure to be back.”
Alperstein also returned to his job, in his case as a unionized copy boy for the New York Post. He also went on to jobs at other newspapers, including at Town & Village, where he was the editor. He later went on to teach. Meanwhile, Rocco Moretto, a WWII veteran who fought in the Normandy invasion, worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad company.
When at the podium, Maloney asked Moretto, an Astoria resident, who now uses a cane and a wheelchair, how he managed to survive Normandy when so few others did.
He responded, “It was mostly my mother’s prayers. I got lucky.”
According to Moretto, his unit had started with 219 men and ended with just two — including him — who weren’t killed or captured.
During the fighting, Moretto recalled once running with four other men through a mined beach and watching one of the men get sent flying into the air after hitting one of them. “I just kept running and so did the other three,” he said. The fighting lasted eight or nine days.
“We fought whatever was in front of us,” Moretto said

Honoree Jerry Alperstein of Stuyvesant Town, Vietnam vet

Honoree Jerry Alperstein of Stuyvesant Town, Vietnam vet

Vets not taking advantage of Manhattan VA, Maloney says
During a presentation, Maloney pointed out that they’re all now in their 80s and 90s and their numbers are dwindling.
“The services we promised them have never been more important,” she said.
Later, when asked about recent news reports about vets having to wait long periods for badly needed healthcare at VA centers, Maloney said she never heard complaints from any of her own constituents about long waits. Still, she recently called the Manhattan VA hospital anyway to ask about wait times and was told there’s no backlog. “And I’m not hearing anything different from the vets,” Maloney said.
What is a problem, she noted, is exactly the opposite, which is that veterans aren’t taking advantage of the East 23rd Street center for their health needs.
Once, after a veteran in her district came into her office and Maloney realized he was sick (she couldn’t recall with what), she personally brought him to the VA’s emergency room. But then, she said, “The guy gets up and leaves.”
Maloney added that she often recommends veterans go to the Manhattan facility, which she called “one of the best in the system,” but they don’t always heed her advice. “They’re independent people and they don’t want to be in a hospital.”
As for long wait times at other VA centers, Jodi Jackson, the Manhattan VA’s associate director for finance and information management, said the hospital is looking into ways to help veterans from other areas.