Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 11 June 2010 00:00
As it is every year, Memorial Day was celebrated on Long Island with parades, ceremonies, and air shows. At Sterling Glen of Roslyn, it was a time for memories as two survivors of The Greatest Generation recalled the fading days of World War II and their role in that epic conflict.
Saul Kurzweil and Ben Glasser are Sterling Glen residents and World War II veterans. Both are popular among their fellow residents, but as is typical of men of their generation, neither spends much time talking about their wartime heroics.
The past Memorial Day, however, Saul opened up a bit, telling stories about his adventures on D-Day, both the pivotal battle of the war and the largest amphibious operation in history.
“The movies are baloney,” said Saul, who served as sergeant and sergeant major in infantry and the airborne during his military career. “They don’t show you what happened.”
What happened to Saul and his company on D-Day was a close call. His company’s mission was to stop German reserve units during the Allied invasion. But after landing behind the German lines, Saul’s glider group was lost.
“We were told that if American troops didn’t arrive at our location in three days, our group would be considered wiped out,” Saul recalled.
Saul took the lead in trying to lead his company to safety. During the expedition, he had a close brush with death as he was shot in the chest. Fortunately, the bullet hit his dog tags and deflected through his arm. The other dog tag ended up in his boot.
For his heroics, Saul was awarded a coveted Purple Heart. But there was more to his story.
“The wound looked worse than it was,” he said. “I told my men to leave, and then I passed out alone. The next thing I remember was somebody turning me over and calling me by name. Later, I woke up in a tent, very much alive. I waited a long time for the guy who had spoken to me to come along, but he never did.”
Who was that man? It wasn’t until Saul returned to the United States that he had a plausible answer. A conversation with his rabbi shed light on the experience.
“My son is an author, and I had just given a copy of his book to my Rabbi. We got to talking, and I told him my story about being wounded,” Saul related. “He waited until I was finished and told me his opinion: it was my guardian angel.”
Saul is a man of good cheer. And for good reason. In his life, he has survived not one, but two near-death experiences.
“My family came here from Poland,” he noted. “I had caught diphtheria, and my parents thought I might die. When that happens, Jews take you to the synagogue to change your name so the angel of death can’t find you. In my case, it worked!”
Ben Glasser’s wartime experiences were no less heroic. A native of New Rochelle, he spent four years in the service. Saul Kurzweil was at Normandy. And Ben was stationed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In fact, Ben had joined the service in April 1941, eight months before the “Day of Infamy,” Dec. 7, 1941.
During the war, Ben received numerous medals and ribbons, including an American Defense Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, a Pre-Pearl Harbor Ribbon with one star, and an Asiatic-Ribbon with one star.
Ben also spent five months at Halloran General Hospital after being wounded and to this day, he carries the Sunday, December 7, 1941 edition of The Honolulu Star Bulletin, one describing the Oahu attack.