Tuesday, November 6, 2007


My friend Heinz Jaffe came to central Florida with his wife Betty after Katrina did a number on their New Orleans home.

He was bar mitzvah in his native Nuremberg Germany in 1936 and fled to the US, earned his US citizenship as a soldier, and survived a combat war injury.

He is in remarkable mental and physical shape for a man his age (84), playing golf and tennis and serving as a volunteer office manager for our Jewish congregation.

Heinz wrote the following for the D-Day Museum in New Orleans in 2001. I think it is well worth reading about an immigrant who fought for his adopted country and contributed to the US in so many ways.
Ira Glickstein

Heinz A. Jaffe

Company B 12th Engineers Combat Battalion 8th Infantry Division

The Early Years

I was born in Nuremberg, Germany on February 22, 1923 into a middle-class Jewish family. I was a twin but my brother was still born. I was the second child, having a brother 15 months older.

My childhood was uneventful until Hitler came to power in 1932. I am sure I don't have to dwell on the fate of the Jews in Europe. Fortunately, my parents decided to send my brother and myself to the United States in 1936 to live with an uncle. I cannot imagine the state of mind of my parents that led them to that decision, not knowing if they would ever see their children again. However, my family was lucky. My parents and all my other relatives except my paternal grandmother made it out of Germany by 1938.

We lived in Newark, NJ and I graduated from High School in 1941. As I was financially unable to go to college, I started as an apprentice Pattern Maker while I went to engineering school at night. Since I was a child, I always wanted to be an Engineer. As a pattern maker I learned to make wooden patterns that were used to make sand molds for castings. It led to a lifelong appreciation of wood and also taught me to use my hands and to fix things.

The War Years

I was drafted into the Army in April 1943. I was inducted at Fort Dix, NJ and then shipped to Fort Belvoir, VA for basic training in the Corps of Engineers. During the summer months I contracted Scarlet Fever and was hospitalized. I felt well after a few days, but my throat culture remained positive for six weeks. During that time I was quarantined in a room the size of a bathroom in a one-story barrack that was not air-conditioned! I am sure the temperature in my room hovered around 100 degrees for weeks.

During my stay at Fort Belvoir I also became a United States citizen. Since I was still a minor, the only way I could become a citizen was by being in the Armed Forces. I appeared before a judge in Washington, DC and was sworn in. It was a proud day in my life.

After I was released from the hospital, I completed my basic training and in the fall of 1943 was shipped to Camp Reynolds near Pittsburgh, PA. This was a replacement camp from which soldiers were assigned to their permanent units either in the United States or overseas. After a few weeks of waiting to be assigned I came down with a low-grade fever which I could not shake. I was not sick enough to be hospitalized, but not well enough to be on duty. I spent weeks either loafing around the barracks or playing pool in the day room. I got to be a pretty good pool player!

In March of 1944 I was sent to Camp Kilmer, NJ to be shipped to Europe as a replacement. On March 13, 1944 we embarked on the Ile de France. She was a luxury liner and the former pride of France. She had been reworked as a troop ship and there was nothing luxurious about her! My quarters consisted of a canvas bunk with about two feet of space above and below me. We did not travel in a convoy because the ship was supposed to be fast enough to avoid the German U-Boats. At least that was what they told us! The crossing was uneventful and we arrived in England on March 21, 1944.

I had looked forward to getting to England because my family drank tea instead of coffee. This was common among German Jews, probably because of our Russian background. I looked forward to a good cup of tea, but was bitterly disappointed when I found out the British drink their tea with milk! I only like it with sugar and lemon.

We were lodged in a small English town whose name I have forgotten. About a week after I arrived I wound up in the hospital with double pneumonia. It was probably why I had that low-grade fever at Camp Reynolds earlier. I was still in the hospital on D-day and remember the excitement that swept through the hospital when everyone realized the invasion of Europe had finally begun.

About the middle of June I left the hospital and was sent to Northern Ireland to join the outfit I would spent the rest of the war with. I was assigned to Company B, 12th Engineers Combat Battalion, 8th Infantry Division. After a short training period with my new outfit, we embarked on a Liberty ship for the beaches of Normandy. The trip took about a week and the weather was beautiful. We spent most of our time sunbathing on deck. We arrived at the beach on either July 4th or 5th. We climbed down the side of the ship on nets into landing crafts that took us close to shore and we had to wade the rest of the way. This was similar to the situation on D-day, except no one was shooting at us! We relieved the 82nd Airborne which had dropped behind the German lines the night of D-day. They had taken tremendous casualties and were pretty shell-shocked. I watched them deliberately run over bodies of Germans with their Jeeps. War will do this to people.

While relieving the 82nd , I experienced my first artillery fire. I dove into the nearest hole and can still hear the laughter of the veterans as they told us it was outgoing mail, not incoming. One of our batteries had opened fire from right behind us! It didn't take us long to learn the difference!

Below are listed some of the war stories that I experienced and will never forget.

1. Gas Attack.

One night I was on guard duty about a half mile from where we were camped out for the night. In the middle of the night my partner and I heard people yelling off in the distance. The yelling got louder and nearer and we finally heard the word GAS! We had gas masks, but they were safely stored in our trucks in the camp area. We briefly discussed what to do and then decided to abandon our post and run for our masks. The run was all uphill and I ran out of breath about halfway there and decided gas or no gas, I couldn't run any further. It turned out the Germans had fired some phosgene shells which set off a gas alarm throughout the beachhead. No one ever said anything to us about leaving our post, which of course is a court martial offense.

2. Roadblock.

The Allied Armies broke out of the beachhead and most headed east toward Paris and Germany. The 8th Division however, headed west towards the Brittany Peninsula and the city of Brest. A major U- Boat base was located there and had to be neutralized to protect our ships in the Atlantic. One day at the outskirts of Brest we were called upon to remove a roadblock that was holding up the attack. It so happened that some of our troops had just liberated a wine warehouse. There was lots of wine around and we had our share of it. As we approached the roadblock, the Germans opened up with sniper and machine gun fire to keep us from removing it. Feeling pretty heroic, a few of us at a time ran to the roadblock and removed portions of it until the fire got too heavy. None of us were hit and we eventually removed the roadblock. We were rewarded with a Bronze Star for our heroism. In retrospect, I have no doubt our heroism came out of a bottle!

3. Luxembourg.

In late November of 1944 we had long since left the Brest area and driven across France to the main front. On the way we drove through Paris shortly after it was liberated and our platoon leader deliberately got us lost so we could see more of the city. The inhabitants of Paris welcomed us with flowers and wine, but we were forbidden to leave our trucks and so had no close encounters with the people.

One day we were in a village in Luxembourg when the Germans unleashed an artillery barrage on us. One of our sergeants yelled at me to jump into a jeep and move it to the back of a building for better protection. When I told him I could not drive, he could not believe that an American soldier could not drive a car! However, I had grown up in a city and my family didn't own a car and I had not learned to drive one.

4. Minefield.

Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge our platoon was called upon one evening to go to the front and try to get wounded soldiers out of a minefield they had entered during that day's attack. We got there after darkness had set in and could do nothing until daylight arrived. It was not possible to clear anti-personnel mines in the dark. All through the night we heard the soldiers calling for help and it was apparent that some didn't make it through the night. Listening to their cries for help all night and unable to do anything was a terrible experience. The next morning we went in and cleared paths to all the soldiers that survived and helped to get them out

5. The Enemy.

One night we were up front with the infantry and it was bitterly cold. I spent the night in a foxhole with nothing but my uniform and my topcoat. Waking up after a restless night, I had great difficulty straightening my legs because they seemed to be frozen. Fortunately, I managed to get the circulation going and they were all right.

Shortly after daylight we saw two German soldiers leave their fox hole and run toward their line several hundred yards away. Some of our guys opened fire upon them, but didn't hit them and they disappeared over a hill. These were the only German soldiers other then those wounded, dead, or captured that I saw during nine months of combat! I also never fired my gun during all that time.

6. Roadblock #2.

This next incident happened in January 1945 somewhere in Germany west of the Rhine River. We were called up to the front lines and asked to remove a roadblock. It consisted of one of our tanks that had been hit and was blocking a road needed for the next day's tank attack. Our plan was to use some dynamite and blast it off the road. We were told that the road was clear and there were no Germans around. The road was bordered by open fields except that a wooded area started on one side right about where the disabled tank was. We started down the road in broad daylight toward the tank. Just as we approached it a German machine gun opened up on us from the corner of the woods. Fortunately it missed all of us and we dove into the ditches on each side of the road. My first thought was I hoped the ditches weren't mined. My next concern was whether the machine gun could traverse along the ditch. We were lucky and safely made it back to our starting place. We were then told to try again after it got dark. We were also told that the machine gun nest would be eliminated. Based on what had happened earlier, I am not sure that was very reassuring to us!

After dark we started down the road again. I remember carrying a case of dynamite on my shoulder, but no rifle. I felt kind of naked! We got to the tank and my assignment together with another soldier was to go about fifty yards beyond the tank to remove some barbed wire that the Germans had stretched across the road. We carefully checked the wire for booby traps and started removing the wire when a loud explosion went off behind us. I first thought it was a mortar shell, but quickly realized I had not heard any shell coming in. We worked our way back to the tank and found that the guys placing the dynamite had set off a booby trap. Several members of our squad were wounded, including our platoon commander, Lt. Cohen. We managed to get all our wounded back to our lines and then went back down and blasted the tank off the road and removed the barbed wire. The Germans never bothered us that night, but it was a horrific experience nevertheless.

The next morning the tank attack started and almost immediately bogged down. I remember walking back to our trucks along the road lined with tanks with the rest of my squad and cursing at the men on the tanks for not going forward. I guess the experience of the night before left us less than understanding of their problems.

I, together with several others of my squad, received a Bronze Star for our efforts. This one I can say I deserved!

I never learned if our wounded comrades survived or not. In war, information is hard to come by.

7. My Last Battle.

In mid-February I found myself in the small town appropriately named Krauthausen. The town was divided by a river with all bridges across it destroyed. We were on the west bank of the river and the Germans on the east bank. The town was about 60 miles west of Aachen. The weather was cold and wet, but no snow.

An attack was planned and a night patrol was ordered to cross the river at night to learn something about the German positions. The river crossing was to be made by a small assault boat manned by three engineers and carrying a squad of infantry. This was the standard method for this type of operation.

I was not selected for this operation. The river current was very strong and the boat was swept downstream and never made it across. Fortunately, all occupants made it safely back to our side. The next night the operation was attempted again with the same result. The following night it was my turn to go.

I went with two of my buddies to the assembly area and met with a squad of infantry commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant. This time someone decided a small assault boat wouldn't do and they brought up an amphibious vehicle known as a Duck. It was operated by two African-American soldiers who had no idea that they were at the front and what they were being asked to do. One must remember the Army was not integrated in those days.

We were briefed and started toward the river in the Duck. It was pitch black and raining. As we left the main road the Duck got stuck in the mud! I remember thinking, great, we don't have to go. However, someone had the foresight to bring an assault boat along and we were going to attempt the river crossing in a way it had failed two nights in a row.

The standard way to approach the river was for the squad leader to lead the way followed by one of the Engineers carrying some of the paddles. The infantry men would carry the boat and the other two Engineers would bring up the rear with the rest of the paddles. The Lieutenant started toward the river and I followed at about twenty yards as the lead Engineer. I could not see the Lieutenant ahead of me in the dark, but caught up with him near the river. He had encountered some barbed wire and was attempting to remove it. I asked him to let me do it because I was trained to do this, specifically to watch for booby traps. However, he told me he would do it and I turned around to stop the rest of the patrol from getting too close. Just as I turned away he set off a mine!

I was hit and fell to the ground. I did not feel any great pain, but had difficulty breathing. I heard the rest of the patrol drop the boat and hit the ground. I realized that the Lieutenant must have been hit also. Everything was quiet for a while, but I knew my buddies would come looking for me. I remember taking off my helmet and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible, but I still had difficulty breathing. Eventually my buddies reached the Lieutenant and me and started carrying us back to the road. They got hold of a jeep and we went off to the nearest aid station. I remember the Lieutenant lying next to me on the jeep, but I never knew how badly he was hurt or if he survived. I never even knew his name!

Upon arriving at the field hospital, I was operated upon immediately. I had never lost consciousness. I later learned the extend of my injuries. My right lung was punctured and collapsed. Several ribs were broken. My intestines and other organs were perforated, I had a deep flesh wound in my thigh, and the fingers on my right hand were injured. I am sure if I hadn't carried the paddles on my right shoulder and turned away just before the explosion, I might have had serious head injuries.

Luck was with me that night. The surgeon on duty, I believe his name was Major Satan, was a chest specialist from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. I remember as they cut my clothes off that the nurses were kidding me because my feet were so dirty. The fact that I hadn't taken off my shoes and socks for days and slept in a coal cellar for protection from shelling probably had something to do with that!

I am pretty sure that the mine the Lieutenant set off was one of ours. First of all we were on our side of the river and the barbed wire was probably placed by us. Also, I saw an X-ray of my chest taken before any of the shrapnel had been removed and a piece in my lung looked like the corner of an American personnel mine.

8. The Road Back.

I spent about a week in the field hospital. During that time a Red Cross worker wrote a letter for me to my parents as my hand was bandaged and I was unable to write. I had never told my parents that I was in combat and always wrote as if I was still in England! The only one who knew the truth was my brother, who was serving in the Pacific Theater. That letter arrived home before the official notification from the War Department arrived! I am sure it saved my parents from the shock of receiving a telegram from the War Department. When it did arrive they already knew its content.

I was transferred by ambulance from the field hospital to a hospital in Liege, Belgium. Two weeks after that I again was transferred by ambulance to Paris. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to enjoy that great city! After one week I was flown to England to a military hospital that specialized in treating chest injuries. That was my first airplane flight! It was a C-46, the military version of the DC-3. It was outfitted to carry stretchers and had nurses aboard. I still remember that the landing was as smooth as any I experienced since. The pilot must have been specially trained to land a plane full of wounded soldiers!

I went through several more operations at the hospital and by May was an ambulatory patient. I became friends with two soldiers from the 101ST Airborne and the Rangers. For some reason we started to march through the wards and hallways of the hospital singing A duck must be somebody's friend to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever at the top of our voices! I think it was to wake everyone up in the morning. I also had the distinction of being the only one in the ward who did not have a drain tube in his chest.

There was great enjoyment at the hospital when the war in Europe ended in May of 1945. Shortly thereafter I left for home on the hospital ship "George Washington", arriving in Hoboken, NJ in mid-June. Walking off the ship I was handed a container of milk by the USO. I hadn't tasted fresh milk since I left the USA and it tasted terrific.

We went from the dock to a hospital in Staten Island before being sent to convalescent centers throughout the U.S. Since I lived in Newark, NJ, I was allowed to go home the next day for a reunion with my parents. I remember going to a restaurant with them that night and being the only one being served a steak because I was a wounded veteran.

The next day I was moved to Camp Upton on Long Island where I continued to recuperate until I was discharged in November 1945. While there, an announcement was made one Sunday morning that a bus was going to the Polo Grounds in NY for those of us who wanted to watch the NY Giants play football. We had special seats set up right behind the Giant's bench. This started my interest in professional football and I am still a Giants fan.

The Post War Years

The return to civilian life was not difficult. I went back to school under the G.I. Bill of Rights and graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1949. I married my wife Betty in 1954 and we have two children, Linda and Peter. They have blessed us with four grandchildren that we love to visit. We pile up a lot of air miles as they live in Connecticut and Seattle!

I spent most of my working career in the aerospace industry. Job changes and transfers took us from West Orange, NJ to Huntington, NY to Charlotte, NC to New Orleans where I retired in 1991 at the age of 68.

Final Thoughts

When General Sherman said, War is Hell, he was understating it. Being caught in an artillery barrage or on patrol at night raises fears that cannot be described to someone who has not experienced it. The fear eats at your guts, but we all overcame it and did what we had to do. I did not volunteer to serve, even though I probably had more reason as a Jew from Germany than most of those who did. I do not feel that I have to apologize for this, as I did my job when called.

My greatest wish is that our children, grandchildren, and future generations do not have to go through what we went through. Unfortunately, I am afraid that mankind has not advanced enough to make this come true!

September 2001


joel said...

My wife Joanna and I sincerely thank your friend Heinz for his service. -Joel

JohnS said...

A very interesting story. I was also drafted in '43 and served in an infantry division in Europe. I was with the troops who took the Dachau concentration camp - a horrible experience. His experiences were very typical of those of the average soldier who was in the front lines. JohnS

Ira Glickstein said...

Veterans Day gives us a special opportunity to thank those, like Heinz and JohnS, who answered the call of our country in times of special need.

What is extraordinary about their stories is how absolutely ordinary they are!

In WWII, some 16,112,566 Americans, including JohnS and Heinz, served in our armed forces, of whom 291,557 gave their lives in combat and an additional 113,842 while in non-theater service. Some 671,846 were, like Heinz, wounded in service.

US population has approximately doubled since WWII, so these statistics should be doubled to give a true feeling for their proportional level of contribution.

See http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004615.html for an accounting of deaths and casualties in America's wars from the Revolution on.

Let us take this Veterans Day as a special opportunity to thank each and every one of them for their service to the establishment and continuation of democracy in the US.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Veterans Day was noted at the start of the Polo Match here on Sunday with a special celebration. The following appeared in the Program:


o It was the VETERAN not the REPORTER, who has given us the freedom of the press

o It was the VETERAN not the POET, who has given us the freedom of speech

o It was the VETERAN not the LAWYER, who has given us the right to a fair trial

o It is the VETERAN who salutes the flag, who served under the flag and whose coffin is draped by the flag.

As a non-veteran, I salute those veterans who have answered the call and served our country.

And those who continue to do so.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

Heinz shared the link to his war story with some friends he has known for decades. Apparently they were unaware of this aspect of his life. Here are some reactions (with names removed):

1) "Thanks for sending your War History. I read it immediately. Found it very interesting. Also interesting that though we are friends for more than 60 years you never chose to tell us the details of your experiences until now.

"My main comment is that I think the great strength of the article was in the final paragraph where you stated how you felt about it all and I would have liked to see much more of that.

"As to your club, I skimmed the comments about God Delusion and believe that everybody in the group is not a clear thinker and relies on faith. I have just read that book, agree with it fully and recommend it highly. Read the comments on Amazon about it to get a good crossection of opinions."

2) "Thanks for sharing your war story. I never was aware or you never talked about it.

"Your website is very interesting, and I will spend more time to read it all."

3) "During lunch I thought some more about your life, Heinz. Many of our path were the same, although I think I was under a lucky star.

"[My wife] and I emigrated with my parents via England to the States, arrived here Dec. 6 1939. The war in Europe had started. We settled in Newark eventually, just like you, but did not meet you till after the war. I had diphtheria before I went into the army, ended up in isolation hospital in Bloomfield or in that area.

"I had basic also at Fort Belvoir, became a citizen in DC, but we were a truck load of recruits. Ended up in England and landed in Normandy D+2 to be part of a replacement package of troops to the 4th Infantry Div.

"Fortunately they had only one casualty in the Combat Eng'r during D-day landing. I was told that they looked for somebody to speak German in Bat. Hdqtrs. I was assigned to the S-2 [Intelligence and Security] and spend the rest of the war at Hdqts.

"Fortunately the S-2 captain was more interested to reconnoiter the rear, and the S-3 [Operations] was nosey so he went up to the line companies.

"I was in artillery range but never small arms fire. I can thank my lucky stars."

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

The Villages Daily Sun has a front-page story today about Heinz Jaffe who you may remember from this Nov. 2007 Blog Topic.

It is an excellent story. However, they are in error when they write that Heinz came to the US from Germany in 1932, when the Nazis first came to power - he actually came in 1936 and lived as a Jew under Hitler's rule for several years.

The newspaper recounts how he became a US Citizen in 1943, joined the Army, and was injured in combat in Europe. More details are in the Blog Topic above.

If you live in central Florida I recommend that you read the Daily Sun story.

Ira Glickstein