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Jewish veterans honored for their service

November 12, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Twenty-two miniature American flags dotted the grass in the B'nai Abraham cemetery off Virginia Avenue Sunday as Rabbi Fred Raskind led his congregation in a prayer for the veterans buried beneath.

It was the first year the synagogue has held a Veterans Day ceremony, but for Jeanne Jacobs, whose husband served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam during his military career, it was an honor that has been a long time in coming.

"I've always felt a deep respect for veterans, being born in Europe and having been liberated thanks to these men who are lying here," said Jacobs.

She said she hoped the ceremony would serve as a reminder of how many Jews have served in the U.S. military throughout history and how many continue to serve today.

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"So many people think that the Jews don't fight," she said.

Actually, the U.S. military has long been made up of a higher percentage of Jews than there are in the country itself, according to retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Greenhut, a military historian and B'nai Abraham member.

Some of the veterans buried at B'nai Abraham served in World War I, when the United States was 3 percent Jewish, yet Jews made up 5.5 percent of U.S. armed forces, Greenhut said. Many others served in World War II, which also saw a high proportion of Jewish support.

"In the first World War, we wanted to demonstrate we were real Americans, and then in World War II, we were fighting Hitler," he said.

Sue Metzner, 81, a former Army nurse, remembers those days vividly. She was shocked to learn the United States had been turning away boatloads of Jews, sending them back to the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.

Later, knowing the U.S. was fighting Hitler made it worth it to have to wake up in the middle of the night to fill in at a hospital that was short-staffed because of the war, Metzner said. It also made it easier to endure 2 1/2 years away from her fianc, who was serving abroad.

Those long months apart were documented in letters that Sidney Metzner wrote to Sue, which, more than 50 years later, gave their son, Lewis Metzner, a new appreciation for what his father and other veterans had been through.

Scribbled on a variety of paper scraps - a few letters even came on fancy stationery after their division liberated a stationery house - the hundreds of letters told the story of a 17-year-old boy's transformation into a 20-year-old war veteran, Lewis Metzner said.

He wrote of watching men mowed down by machine guns, of serving in the end of the Battle of the Bulge, of being in the first unit to link up with the Russians.

"It's the most fascinating reading material," Lewis Metzner said. "You see the whole picture of what happens to a soldier." But the real shock was asking his mother what happened to another young man who wrote to her from time to time, and learning he had never made it off the beaches of Normandy.

"You realize what this kid gave up is his children reading these letters," Lewis Metzner said.

For those sacrifices, Raskind prayed that the veterans buried in the cemetery would be remembered.

"May they rest in eternal peace, and may we never forget the freedom we cherish, in no small measure, is because of their service," Raskind said.

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