Many of our ancestors fled the countries of their birth to avoid having to fight in the armies of hated rulers. On this safer shore, they and their children were twice called upon to defend the values of their new home, and they were proud to do so. These are the stories of the boys who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.
Joseph W. Feldman
Samuel M. Harrison
Daniel I. Coltin
Only one of these boys was born in the U.S. While many of the families in Homestead’s Jewish community saw their boys go off to war — 43 went in all — none of the boys who died grew up there, though half had relatives in Homestead, married siblings. They came to Homestead to work.
(Please note that the names of the battles listed below are transcribed from government records. The misspellings are theirs. I am not able to figure out which battles or towns are intended in many cases.)
Unfortunately alphabetical order dictates that I begin this post with the one soldier I cannot identify. He did not turn up in my genealogical research. A military historian named Michael Moskow, who has spent years researching Jewish American servicemen, assisted me with this research. He has collected an enormous database of soldiers’ names and service records. He provided much of the military detail you’ll see in the entries below. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find Oscar, either.
Update September 2017: After the war ended, Homesteader 2LT Ralph Howard Lasday filled out a questionnaire for the Office of Jewish War Records. On the last page of the questionnaire, he listed the Jewish war casualties with whom he was acquainted (see image at right). He names the same five casualties the synagogue named, with finally some identifying details about Oscar — “c/o A. Gross, 8th and Mclure (sic) St.”
Gross’ was a clothing store at this location during this time period. Perhaps Oscar Cohen was a clerk here? As the correspondence below indicates, it appears that even in 1920 Oscar could not be identified, which would explain why his name never appeared in the various references Michael and I consulted.
Interestingly, I found a draft card for an Aaron Cohen who lived in Homestead and clerked for J.W. Gross & Co., which upon further investigation appears to be the very same clothing store Lasday mentioned. 1 All the other geographical details align, too. 2 I feel confident that this is the same man, imperfectly recollected and thus imperfectly honored.
Our Oscar Coen, I believe, was hit in the forehead by shrapnel during the Battle of the Marne and died five months shy of his 20th birthday. He should have never been in the war at that age, but he lied on his draft card to make himself eligible.
He may not have been well known to the Homesteaders amongst whom he worked, but his family had him disinterred from France and reburied close to them.
Joseph’s older brother, Harry, moved to Homestead by 1905, perhaps earlier. He worked in the Homestead steel mill for decades and was a life-long member of the shul. Joseph, who grew up in Pottstown, PA, came to Homestead by 1916. He lived with his brother, joined the Loyal Order of Moose and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, and clerked at shul member Leon Trau’s store until he was inducted in April 1918 and sent to Camp Lee. The following month he was sent overseas. He died four months later at the age of 23 on the first day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest American-run offensive of the war.
Louis Glucksman was born in Warsaw in 1895. He immigrated by himself in 1913 at age 18. At some point he moved to West Homestead, where he worked for Mesta Machine Company. Besides employment, I don’t know what brought him to Homestead. I can’t figure out a family connection (he boarded with other single men, probably neither of whom was Jewish, which I suspect he wouldn’t have done if he had local relatives). He joined a social club in Pittsburgh called the Maxsico Club (for the Maxwell Signal Corps, to which they also belonged), which went camping and threw dances.
Inducted in September 1917, five months after the U.S. entered the war, he joined fourteen of the fifteen members of his club who saw military service. Louis spent eight months in training, during which he was promoted three times. He went overseas in May 1918 (on the same date as Joseph Feldman, interestingly) and was killed five months later at the age of twenty-three. In May 1919 The Pittsburgh Sunday Post still listed him as missing; I suspect he remained so. His social club reported in the Pittsburgh Gazette Times in August that he was shot by machine gun snipers in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. He was was the only one member not to come home.
His next of kin was his father back in Warsaw. Poland in general and Warsaw in particular fared badly during the war. There were a couple major battles there, and even after WWI ended, the Polish-Soviet War broke out, continuing the violence.
Samuel was born in Linkuva, Russia and arrived in the U.S. in February 1907 at age 16. He came to Homestead in April 1914 from elsewhere in Allegheny County to open a store, Harrison Brothers, with his brother, Benjamin. Even though they were newcomers to the community and never joined the synagogue, one or both gave sizable contributions, including money for a stained glass window in the new building, totaling $55 ($1,300 today). Samuel made friends and became active with the YMHA, joining its basketball team and likely attending its dances.
Tragedy struck when Benjamin’s wife, Bessie, died in November, leaving him alone with three young daughters. “The firm in its short stay in Homestead has gained the confidence of the buying public and was building up a nice business, when sickness and death in the family compelled them to sell out their stock and quick,” wrote the town’s paper on March 26, 1915. Days later they closed the store and left Homestead. Samuel registered for the draft in June 1917 from Cresson, PA (between Johnstown and Altoona), where he was a clerk in a department store, and was inducted the following February in Ebensburg, PA, 8 miles away. 3) At training camp he reunited with Louis Lasday, his friend from the YMHA, who wrote to the group to say they were in the same company.
Samuel went overseas in May and shortly thereafter was promoted to private first class. He went missing in action in early October during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. In November, probably after armistice, the American Red Cross discovered him in a German prison camp, severely wounded with a broken thigh. His uncle recalled:
He was immediately transferred to one of our own hospitals where he received the proper medical attention. In December he was being sent home and infections set in and he was transferred to Base Hospital Number 13 in France. On the 22nd of December 1 letter from him was received where he stated that he received the poorest kind of treatment while being a prisonor (sic) and if he would have received one-half of the attention given him in our own hospitals he felt sure he would have been a well man, but his recovery was doubtful and we should not be surprised at anything that may happen.
He died of his wounds in France two months after the war ended. He was twenty-seven. His lieutenant, head nurse, and the Red Cross rescuer told his family that “his last words on his death bed was a praise and thanks to any-one who ever done anything for him and his request to the Doctor and Nurse to send his last Good-Bye to all of his relatives and Friends at this side.”
Though he left Homestead two years before the U.S. even entered the war, the YMHA remembered him and included his name on their war memorial plaque.
John Jacob Rome was born in Russia and immigrated to the U.S. as a toddler. At the time he joined the army, he lived in Pittsburgh, but conducted his own fruit and produce market in Homestead, possibly with his brother-in-law, Max Adlersburg. (Max and John’s sister Jennie had been living in Homestead since at least 1908.) He was a member of the Y.M.H.A., the Irene Kaufman settlement, B’nai B’rith, and the Odd Fellows of Pittsburgh.
He was inducted just after New Year’s 1918 and sent overseas within a couple months. He was wounded on the first day of the St. Mihiel Offensive, the first independent American offensive attack of the war. According to the Homestead newspaper,
he received a very serious gunshot wound in the back and chest.
The doctors and nurses who gave him all possible care all speak of his wonderful spirit and his eagerness to recover in order to get to the front. “Such a nice boy” and “a splendid soldier” to quote their own words. His injuries were too grave and after a plucky fight he died at 4:45 on October 2, 1918. He did not himself realize the seriousness of his condition and felt no apprehension as to the outcome. He was conscious to the very end which came suddenly.
Initially he was buried in France with full military honors. He was 25.
At the same time his younger brother, Peter, who had also been fighting overseas, was recovering after having been severely gassed and hit by shrapnel during the Battle of Vesle River. Peter has his own fascinating military history; at 17 he joined the Duquesne Grays and served on the Mexican border 1916-7 during the Punitive Expedition to find Pancho Villa! From there he served in the Pennsylvania National Guard until he was drafted. After the war ended, he returned to Homestead, but soon made plans to return to France in November 1920, claiming on his passport application that he intended to marry. Actually, he later explained, “I brought [my brother] home to be buried.” (The Alliance Review, 4/16/1968). On August 4, 1921, John was buried from the Irene Kaufmann Settlement. The services were led by Rabbi Ashinsky, the closest thing Pittsburgh had to a chief rabbi in those days, and the American Legion took part.
Peter and John exchanged letters and telegrams during Peter’s time in the army. Peter saved them for the rest of his life, even laminating most of them for safekeeping. After he died, his daughter donated them to the Heinz History Center along with pictures, news clippings, and other documents to round out the brothers’ story. From them we learn that they met for the last time in December 1917, when Peter was returning from National Guard duty. In John’s last letter, dated 9/1/1918, ten days before the start of the battle that fatally wounded him, John asked after Peter’s health — he had just gotten out of the hospital — and added, “we are still at the rest camp but i guess we will move very soon to get fritzes again.”
The day before John went overseas, he wrote, “dont worry as i think everything will come out alright…dear brother Goodby and God bless you until we meet again.”
The boys who were killed during WWII came from families that had been active in the community for decades. Even when the boys themselves weren’t from Homestead, it is clear that they were well-known in the community from their visits to their relatives. The community sent 133 boys in total to fight.
Jerome’s father, Sam, grew up in Homestead after immigrating to Homestead from Russia with his family when he was just 3. After marrying in 1921, he moved to Pittsburgh, where Jerome was born and raised. He graduated in 1943 from Peabody High School, where he was secretary-treasurer of his homeroom, on the cross country and volleyball teams, and in the history and motor traffic clubs.
He intended to become a pharmacist, but a few months after graduation, he was inducted into the army. After four months of training, he was sent overseas where he fought for nearly a year before dying inn the Philippines early in the Battle of Luzon. He wasn’t yet 20.
His brother, Sanford, and his uncle, Paul Carpe, fought in WWII as well.
Though his father was a member of the shul for just a short period in the 30s (he lived in Pittsburgh, after all) three generations of his family — his grandmother & great-aunt, aunts & uncles, and cousins — were all active in the community when he died. His uncles Paul and Jacob Carpe, who raised their families in Homestead Park, served terms on the shul‘s board starting in the ’30s.
I believe Jerome is buried in Los Angeles, where his parents moved by the early 1950s.
Daniel Coltin was born to Bessie and Louis Coltin, who had immigrated from Russia around 1912. He grew up in Duquesne. In the late 1930s his older sister, Yetta and her new husband, Bernard Stein, moved to Homestead Park, convenient to the hotel Bernie and his father ran on Eighth Avenue. Meanwhile, Daniel attended college and worked as a retail manager. It’s likely he spent time in Homestead visiting his sister and his niece, who was born a couple years before he was inducted into the army in 1942. He served stateside for a couple years before he was deployed a couple months after D-Day. He died in France a few months later at the age of 22. His body was returned to the U.S. in August 1948 for burial in the Beth Shalom Cemetery outside of Pittsburgh.
By that time his parents had moved next door to their daughter and her family. They began very active in the Homestead shul. They first appear in the synagogue records of the 2/2/1947 board meeting:
Pres. Abe Keizler reported Mr. L. Coltin a poultry dealer in Homestead will contribute to the congregation $500.00 if arrangements can be made to have the Jewish Community buy + have chickens checked in his establishment. Mr. Grossman was instructed to inform Rabbi Joshua Weiss to contact Mr. Coltin to prepare arrangements to the satisfaction of the Jewish community, Mr. Coltin + Rabbi Weiss. 4
Daniel’s mother, Bessie, became “the ‘matriarch’ of the congregation for decades. She and her daughter…were central in the social affairs of the shul,” recalled Ruth Seiavitch later. His father, Louis, was the long-time Vice President of the shul until he died. His brother-in-law, Bernie, was on the board for many years, was the treasurer for the last 7-8 years of formal operations, and remained actively involved even after. (He was the one called to organize the last wedding in the shul.)
A memorial to Daniel is on display at Poale Zedeck in Squirrel Hill. Yetta’s son was named for him.
A large group of Milton’s relatives, including parents, Belle Averbach and Louis Jackson (originally Yachnowicz), and maternal grandparents, Sam and Rachel Averbach, came to Homestead by 1910. (Through his grandmother’s sister he is related to the Zukerman, Burechson, Glick, and Steiner families.) Shoshana Averbach, Milton’s first cousin once removed, sent me a wonderful letter by Milton’s aunt, Blanche Averbach Levine, about how the whole family came over in stages. She recalls that in 1914 when her twin sister Belle was about 15, she “[threw] an eye” on Louis Jackson. When he needed a new place to board, Belle arranged for Louis to move in with them! “Boy did he get treated by the girls with tea + cake every nite. He didn’t have to pay for that,” Blanche remembered. “Everybody liked Louis Jackson. Before you know it he was like one in the family…Louis was smart. He was nice to all of us + we didn’t know which one he [favored]” of the three girls in the house. When Belle was 16, Louis asked Belle’s father for permission to get engaged; they married the following year.
Milton was born in Braddock in 1923, the third of their four children, but moved to Homestead when he was very young. He graduated from Homestead High School, where he played violin in the school orchestra. He was surrounded by many relatives active in the shul, especially his mother, father, and grandfather. He was confirmed in 1939 and became president of Homestead’s AZA chapter. He worked as a foreman at the steel mill before he was inducted in October 1942.
Tragically, Milton died after the war in Europe ended. An accident report provided to me by Milton’s cousin’s grandson, Keith Jackson, indicates that Milton was serving as engineer on a “routine inspection tour of 15th AF targets.” Two mistakes led the pilot to crash into the side of a mountain. First, the navigator “led pilot into a blind canyon and did not discover his mistake until too late to turn around. Second, “the pilot was instructed to fly from Bolsano to Innsbruck at 8000′. By pilot’s statement during interview, he was flying between 4000′ and 5000′ when he found he couldn’t turn around. At 8000′, he would have had plenty of safety margin.” The pilot had warned the crew, but not the passengers, of the circumstances. Of the five crew, only the pilot and co-pilot survived. Of the fifteen passengers, only two survived.
Milton was 22.
His parents moved to Freehold, NJ, near where Belle’s twin sister, Blanche, was living. The Averbach yahrzeit tablet was dedicated in the late 40s in memory of him, his maternal grandparents, and his first cousin, Betty Ann Averbach.
Ralph’s parents, Abraham Markowitz and Bella Jacobowitz, were both born and raised in Braddock, making Ralph the one only of these boys whose parents were both born in the United States. (His grandparents were Hungarian immigrants who came in the early 1880s, at the beginning of a wave of Hungarian immigration to the United States.) Abraham completed high school and college at Pitt, becoming a pharmacist and opening drug stores in Braddock, Rankin, and East Pittsburgh. He married Bella around 1914, and they had three boys who survived childhood, of whom Ralph was the oldest.
In 1929 when Ralph was 13, his mother died of pneumonia. His younger brother Edgar, only 15 months old at the time, said that afterwards, “Our family broke up. My older brother [Ralph] stayed with my grandparents in Braddock, and my other brother Arthur,” age two-and-a-half, “and myself went with my grandmother and my aunt [Molly] in Munhall,” who were already raising their older cousins, Helen and Leona Kline. Ralph’s father also moved in with them. Edgar recalled that a few years later Ralph quit high school and worked first for his father, then for an ice cream company, and finally for the Homestead mill before going into the army shortly after Pearl Harbor.
He was probably happy to get away. Helen recalled that the other grandmother “wasn’t too good to [Ralph]. She wasn’t the nicest person. She, well, we were always sorry. And then after Ralph…went overseas, the grandmother died. And Molly wrote and told him not to worry when he come home, he’d have a home with us…He’d always have a home with us, but he didn’t come back. He was killed on D-Day.” 5
Update December 2017: As a result of this post, Ralph was added to the 116th Infantry Regiment Roll of Honor. Thank you to their genealogist, Barent K. Parslow, SFC, USA Ret., for honoring him in this way. His research added some insight into Ralph’s service:
Ralph volunteered for the Army on 20 Feb 1942. After training we feel it was likely that he was assigned to A Company 116th Infantry before it shipped out for England in September 1942. He was certainly overseas before his maternal grandmother died in January 1943. He trained with A Company for the planned amphibious assault on Hitler’s “fortress Europe”. The attack took place on 6 June 1944 and he was killed in action with many other in his company on that day.
PVT Markowitz was repatriated in 1948 and re-interred in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Louis Newman was the son of David Newman and Elizabeth Markowitz. David was born in Hungary and immigrated when he was seven with his parents, settling in Braddock. Elizabeth was also born in Hungary and came over with her parents and siblings when she was 10. She was the oldest of an eventual nine siblings, all of whom grew up in Homestead. Her younger brother, Robert, became well known in town as a high school teacher and assistant football coach, as well as the recording secretary of the synagogue.
After she and David married, they lived in a number of different towns in Western PA, where he ran stores. Louis was the second of their three children. In 1929 when he was nine, his mother died of pneumonia in Uniontown and was buried in Homestead Hebrew Cemetery, where her father, Benjamin, was an active member and would later serve a term on the Board of Directors.
At the time Louis was inducted, he had finished college. Though he was living with his father in Weirton, WV, he “was well known here [in Homestead] through his numerous visits to his grandparents,” the Homestead Daily Messenger explained in his obituary (2/3/1943; the towns are 40 miles apart). After he was inducted, he went to the La Junta Army Airfield in Colorado for training as an aviation cadet. “Less than a week before he was to receive his full rating as an aviator,” the paper wrote, “Newman and a fellow airman cracked up.” Michael’s information elaborates:
Killed, with Aviation Cadet Hugh F. Ness, in night-time crash of Cessna AT-17B “Bobcat” training plane 42-39027, on January 28, 1943.
“At 2235 [10:35 p.m.] a Cessna AT-17B crashed ten miles west of Pritchet Colorado, killing A/C Hugh P. Ness and A/C Lewis Newman. The airplane had taken off from the Army Air Field at La Junta, Colorado, on a night navigation flight to Borger, Texas, and return. … Investigators could not determine what caused the students to fly into the ground.”
– Fatal Army Air Forces Aviation Accidents in the United States, 1941-1945, V 1: Introduction; January 1941–June 1943, Anthony J. Mireles, p. 253
A funeral service was held for him in Weirton the morning of February 3, and his father accompanied his body to Homestead where there was a service in the synagogue at 2:30 PM. According to the shul, he was “the first casualty of Homestead, and the first Jewish boy of the Homestead district who has fallen in this war.” 6 He was 22.
Update March 2019: Louis had more family in Homestead than just the Markowitzes. His uncle Edward Newman married my great-aunt Hazel Hepps. My cousins were his cousins. The more I research this community, the more I see how interrelated they all were too each other — but I’m still stunned to discover that this young man, about whom I still only know fragments, is in my family tree.
Within his extended family, Irwin Wilbert Newman was called Willie #2. Two brothers married two sisters, and each mother named a son and a daughter after her parents. Willie’s sister Harriet and cousin Harriet agreed that Willie’s mother “said that if the names were good enough for her older sister, they were good enough for her.”
After marrying, Willie’s parents, Regina and Louis Newman, “came to Homestead and opened up a business on Fourth Avenue below the tracks in Homestead,” recalled Willie’s younger brother, Harold. It was “a mill store, a men’s store,” that sold “clothes and cigarettes, tobacco and all that other stuff that the mill workers normally used.” Harold didn’t like the neighborhood.
It wasn’t good…Although there was quite a few Jewish people down there, but the living conditions were bad. My mother worked very hard down there. My dad worked hard…
And it was, you know, a lot of noise. There was the freight trains and cinders and so forth and so on. It wasn’t the nicest place to live…
Everybody lived within walking distance to the shul and we used to walk to shul all the time on Shabbos. We never owned a car down there. 7
Harold at one point recalls that there was a fire, and he hoped that they would have to move. I don’t know about this incident, but I came across a newspaper article, “Blast in Mill Injures Four at Homestead. Hundreds Flee Molten Metal Explosion at Plant. Wide Area is Shaken,” referring to an accident on July 21, 1931 when molten slag was poured into a large cinder pit filled with cold rainwater. “The explosion occurred 150 feet from the main entrance to the plant at Fourth avenue and City Farm lane, Homestead, and shattered windows in buildings within a two-block radius of the entrance…Four large plate glass windows in the store of Louis Newman, 540 Fourth avenue, were blown in, but Newman, his wife, Regina, and their sons, Harold, 3, and William (sic), 8, escaped injury.” 8 What a childhood!
In 1941 when the government announced plans to raze the neighborhood to expand the steel mill, the family bought a grocery store in Homeville (in West Mifflin near the cemetery). By this point Willie had graduated from high school. He had been the star singer in the High Holiday choir, was confirmed in 1939, and became active in the Homestead AZA, of which he was a charter member and religious chair. He was the only one of these boys who had joined the congregation.
His cousin Harriet Newman Kruman wrote,
Willie was a quiet boy, a little shy, but friendly and warm; he graduated from high school in 1941, and almost immediately worked in the offices of U. S. Steel Co., then was drafted into the army, with the intention of going to college when he was discharged. I remember seeing him on furloughs in his uniform, of which he was so proud.
His sister Harriet Newman Breuer, who was 9 when he died, added,
My brother Wilbert was a very loving young man, and I have many letters that he wrote to me and the family. He loved music and played a coronet very well and wanted to get into the army band, but could not.
Willie wrote home whenever he could, so the family knows about some of his experiences. He was inducted into the army at the beginning of the war and went through basic training in Mississippi. He was sent to the European theater, stationed first in England. He entered into combat on June 14, 1944, when he landed at Utah Beach. He endured many battles — earning the Purple Heart for injuries received — and died during one of the fiercest battles on the Western front. (For more about the fighting he saw, scroll of the bottom of this page.)
Cousin Harriet explains what happened next,
Because of the fierce battles at the time, Willie and others were buried temporarily. Ironically, our grandmother, Elka Hinda Klein, had died on January 17th as well, and Willie’s mother, Rivke, as well as my mother and other siblings, had just gotten up from Shiva, when they learned about Willie’s death. Perhaps because of the loss of Elka Hinda, and because of Willie’s parents’ grief at their loss, bringing Willie’s body back seemed too much to bear and more grief too difficult to anticipate. Willie’s family decided not to have Willie’s body sent home for burial. He was, therefore, buried in a military grave in France. 9
The Jewish Criterion reported, “At the Religious School Assembly on Sunday morning, February 11, Rabbi Joshua S. Weiss read a special prayer and gave tribute to Pvt. Irwin Wilbert Newman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Newman, who died in action in action in France on January 17,” reported. 10 And in the congregation’s 3/11/1945 meeting, “The pres. requested all members to stand and offer a silent prayer in honor to Mr. Lewis Newman’s son Wilbert, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who sacrificed his life that those at home may continue living under a democratic form of govt.” 11
Willie’s parents remained in the area, moving to Squirrel Hill after they gave up the store. Louis had been on the board and even Vice President of the shul for a few years in the ’30s, and he rejoined the board in ’64 just before he died. When I asked cousin Harriet about her aunt and uncle, she wrote to me, “I cannot say that there is anything special about them or their lives. They worked in the store all of their lives, and sent their kids to college. When Willie was killed they never recovered and grieved the rest of their lives.”
Willie’s sister, who visited his grave in 1965, wrote, “There were so many good memories, but our family’s tragedy never went away.”
In 2011 Moshe Katz, a first cousin once removed to Willie, visited his grave. You should read the beautiful recap he wrote of his experience. (He also retraced Willie’s steps in battle.) For him the trip was especially poignant because his grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Klein, Willie’s uncle, served as an army chaplain. Moshe recalled that in his grandfather’s book The Anguish and the Ecstasy of a Jewish Chaplain, R. Klein wrote about
how he received many letters from his nephew, Willie Newman, and each time wrote back. He even tried to find him. In each case he was too late; Willie’s unit was moving so fast and my grandfathers’ letters did not reach him. Willie wrote, “Uncle, why don’t you write me?” Willie’s mother said, “Isaac, write the kid!” Eventually all my grandfathers’ letters came back in the order they were sent out, with the word “deceased” stamped upon them. Willie died thinking his uncle did not care enough to write…
But now I am here, making the visit that my grandfather so longed to make.
I felt like I had closed a circle. I said to him, “Please know that your uncle tried very hard to find you, but I assume you know that by now, as you have met up in the afterlife.” I can picture my grandfather, with that twinkle in his eye, putting his hand on Willie’s shoulder. I know this matter gave him no rest, but now the visit has finally taken place. I am here on behalf of Grandpa and the entire family. Willie, we salute you.
Jerome Solomon — Jerry to his family — was born in Homestead in 1915. He was the second of four children born to Harry Solomon, who immigrated to Homestead around 1903, and Hannah Liner (Lenerovitz), who came shortly thereafter. They were married by 1912, around the time Harry joined the synagogue. He served a term on the Board of Directors in 1925.
The family moved to Munhall a few years later. Jerome was confirmed at the shul in 1930 and graduated from Munhall High before going on to Pitt. In February 1941, months before Pearl Harbor, he was one of the first two students to receive a certificate from a local civilian pilot training course.
He was inducted into the air force in October 1942 and went overseas in August 1944. Michael explains, “Being that Jerome’s only military award was the Purple Heart, he’d probably flown less than 5 actual combat missions prior to October 16,” the date of the crash that killed him. “Jerome was the pilot, and Solomon [Weisser, another Jewish serviceman] the aerial navigator, of a B-24 Liberator bomber in the 885th Bomb Squadron (a unit tasked with Special Operations duties – parachuting secret agents, and the like) of the Italy-based 15th Air Force. Their plane crashed during a solo (night-time?) combat mission October 16, 1944, and along with Jerome, Solomon, Sgt. Thomas Marino, and Lt. John Brascher, the plane’s other five crewman were also killed.” The four servicemen Michael named were ultimately buried together in NJ; of the others, one remains in Italy, and the rest lie in their local cemeteries. 12
Jerome’s younger brother, Sidney, also enlisted in the army. He was sent overseas four months after his brother died and returned home in December 1945.
The family remained in Munhall. Jerome’s other siblings, Florence Segall and Herbert, raised their families in Homestead Park; both Florence and Herbert’s wife were active in the sisterhood. Harry became treasurer in the late 50s or early 60s, serving alongside Louis Coltin, until his death in 1963. He took the lead in raising tsedakah for the community.
Herbert’s son was named for Jerome.
Michael alerted me to the existence of a website called The Solomon Crew, created by Enrico Barbina, a local historian who spent more than ten years researching the crash, which took place near his home.
This website is intended to remember nine American airmen, among the many who flew secret air missions during World War II, who lost their young lives when their aircraft, trying to bring some highly needed supplies to Italian partisans in the Friuli (Italy) region, crashed on the slopes of Mount Canin on the night of 16 October 1944.
Thanks to Enrico’s exhaustive research, much is known about the crash. Here are some excerpts from his much more detailed report:
At about 16:00 the crew of B-24 Liberator 42-51778 W from the 885th Bombardment Squadron, commanded by Lt. Jerome L. Solomon, had gathered for the customary briefing on their next mission. They were assigned special operation No. 89: the target was the BEAVERTON Dropping Zone in the Udine area, North Italy. It was a long trip, but the crew was experienced and had already flown several missions to that region.
Weather conditions on the route and in the target area were pointed out by the British Met (Meteorological) Officer: unstable weather conditions had been reported in the target area…
On that evening, at about 22:00, over the BEAVERTON dropping zone an airplane drone was heard but nothing could not be sighted. The heavy bomber had covered a route of some 800 miles (1,290 kilometers).
Shortly after in the val Resia villages, not so far away, a rumble of engines was briefly heard and then a violent roar happened. The B-24 had crashed on a rocky wall that is part of the south buttress of Mount Canin, below the summit of the Porton sotto Canin (Čez Dol) peak, at an altitude of about 6,230 feet (1,900 meters)…
It is very reasonable to assume that the Liberator missed its target during the low-altitude approach to Beaverton, going over ten miles (fifteen kilometers) further north as the crow flies and coming up to the area of Mount Canin where, due to very bad weather and very low visibility, it was unable to avoid the collision with rocks. The fact that no distress radio call was received from the crew testifies that the accident was sudden and unexpected.
The website is amazing and detailed, but it is only the beginning of Barbina’s work. He published an article about his research in a local magazine, La Panarie, and in March of this year he organized an event in a bookshop near the site of the crash to tell the story of Lt. Solomon and his crew. He hopes to arrange an event later this year to commemorate the crew on the spot of the accident.
It overwhelms me to think of this faraway stranger and his neighbors so devoted to remembering a nice Jewish boy from the Homestead Hebrew Congregation and his crew mates.
- Michael Moskow, for his expertise in military reearch
- Jules Diane Weisman, great-grandniece of Joseph W. Feldman
- Shoshana Averbach, a first cousin once removed to Milton Jackson
- Keith Jackson, first cousin twice removed of Milton Jackson
- Harriet Kruman, cousin of Wilbert Newman
- Devorah Segall, niece of Jerome Solomon
- Enrico Barbina, creator of TheSolomonCrew.com
- Barent K. Parslow, genealogist behind the 116th Infantry Regiment Roll of Honor
If you can add to any of these stories, please contact me.
I know these twelve stories are only one piece of our community’s contribution to the war effort. I hope in the future to be able share veterans’ stories.
The town’s directory suggests Albert was a clerk at John W.’s store, though I saw at least one mention in the paper that referred to this business as “Gross Bros.” There was clearly only one Gross store in Homestead at this period, and it was at that corner. ↩
This Aaron and his family are all buried in Greensburg, supporting the information the uncle gave the Office of Jewish War Records. The Veterans’ Compensation Application for this Aaron gives his address at the time he entered the army as Dubois, matching The Soldiers of the Great War entry for an Aaron Cohen of Dubois who died in the war. There are no draft cards for an Aaron Cohen in Dubois or anywhere near there, but the draft card for the Homestead Aaron Cohen gives the same birth location as the Veterans’ Compensation file, and the location of this family in the 1900 census is approximate to that location. And so on… the records all link up together. Though I was briefly confounded by the seemingly duplicate mention of another A. Cohen listed in some synagogue records, this is Alex Cohen of New Kensington, fiancé of Joseph Lasdusky’s niece Rose Marks. ↩
Though the book Soldiers of the Great War listed him under Baltimore, MD. His sister moved there in the 1920s; perhaps that is how the confusion arose? ↩
1940 Meetings Minutes, p. 353 ↩
All of these recollections are taken from Edgar Markowitz and Helen Kline’s oral histories. As an aside: Ralph’s younger brothers moved into quite a remarkable household — his grandmother, Sarah Markowitz (Abe’s mother) and her daughter, Aunt Mollie Markowitz, raised Edgar, Arthur, and their older cousins, Helen and Leona Kline, whose mother (Abe’s sister) died when they were very young. Helen later recalled that her Aunt Mollie “worked for [unclear] Company for nine years, and they wanted to send her to college to be a pharmacist, and she was a very bright lady…and she couldn’t do it. She had a mother and two children that she was responsible for. Then she went to work at Kauffman’s.” Years later when the boys moved in, Helen and her sister, who were about a decade older, plus Aunt Mollie and their grandmother made “four females running the household.” This grandmother “was a very sweet person, she was a doll. And they were unusual people, both of them. My aunt never, she did everything for everybody, she never said, ‘I did this for you’ or, ‘I gave that to you.’ That’s the kind of people they were.” Even though neither the grandmother or the aunt could be members of the shul, they often made donations. ↩
MSS #107, Box 8, Meeting Minutes 1940-1950, p. 239 ↩
Harold Newman’s oral history ↩
The quotes from both Harriets are from a private collection of emails amongst various family members, primarily sister Harriet Breuer and Moshe Katz, with an introduction written by cousin Harriet Kruman. ↩
Meeting Minutes 1940-1950, p. 310 ↩