To commemorate Memorial Day, Rabbi Mark Kiel translated the following article about a local man who was both a legitimate World War II hero and a cantor – Robert Blumstein (born March 6, 1921; died December 10, 1989). By the time of the war’s end, Blumstein was said to have shot down more enemy planes in the Pacific than any other flier. He also led High Holy Days services for Jewish troops in what was said at the time to have been the largest congregation in the world.
“Bob worked with me as cantor at my first congregation in Ridgefield Park in the late 1970s,” Kiel explained. “The following is taken from a clipping that I acquired from Bob. It was printed in the Yiddish The Morning Journal. It appeared sometime in 1944.”
Some of the language is jingoistic, but very common to reporting at the time.
One of the great heroes of the war in the Pacific is a 23-year-old Jewish young man from the Bronx.
The Jewish soldier distinguished himself in the Pacific Theater and especially in the Battle of New Guinea. The Army publicity bureau in Australia sent the Morning Journal a full report about this remarkable Jewish hero. His name is Robert Blumstein, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Blumstein of 1738 University Avenue, Bronx, New York.
Blumstein is a technical sergeant. He serves as a radio-gunner in bomber aircraft. Recently, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Medal, the Bronze Star (for his action in the New Guinea campaign), and two citations from the president himself. His comrades in New Guinea call him “the air Apache.” He is merciless to our enemies – the enemies of America and the Jewish people.
Here are a few of Blumstein’s qualities, as related by an official communiquÃ© from Army Headquarters in Australia.
Robert Blumstein is a “born flier,” one would think that his parents and grandparents were fliersâ€¦.He is impatient with remaining on landâ€¦; all he wants is to fly.
Soldiers who know him tell how Blumstein is particularly restless when he hears that the Japanese need to be taught a lesson somewhere or other. And the captain [of his unit] is quick to send Blumstein on the mission, knowing that otherwise Blumstein will pester him until he gets what he wants, which is to make mincemeat of the enemy. And, he is far and away the boldest and heroic flier.
Few soldiers sacrifice themselves like Blumsteinâ€¦.
He distinguished himself, and was wounded, in one battle especially; the Battle of Kavieng in New Ireland, one of the strongest Japanese air bases. Military command wanted the base destroyed at any cost. Sgt. Blumstein joined a group of the bravest fliers. They flew over the enemy airfield while the Japanese were still asleep, dropping incendiary bombs and destroying their base….
To this point [in the war], this young man has flown 300 hours and fought 65 sorties..
He flew in the most dangerous places. He also destroyed many planes on the ground, flying very low.
Interestingly, Robert Blumstein is a religious Jew and a chazan in his spare time.