Remembering Milton Fisher

Remembering Milton Fisher

Former Marine, loving father, passionate Jew

Joyce and Milton Fisher met on a blind date.

The British-born Joyce says she wasn’t looking forward to the date and tried to cancel it more than once.

“But he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” she said, adding that she was only in New York temporarily, seeking work as a secretary after World War II.

As it turned out, his persistence paid off. “There was chemistry immediately. It was perfect.”

So, too, she said, were their 64 years of marriage. Mr. Fisher died on January 17. He was 90.

“I called him Milton the Magnificent,” Ms. Fisher, 87, said. “He was larger than life. Anyone who knew him, or whose life he touched even slightly, would remember him. He was a very positive man who didn’t see the negative in life.”

In fact, she said, what he minded most in his final day was “not being able to do things for himself — losing his independence.” Still, he was appreciative until the end, telling his family in his 90th birthday speech, “Don’t be sad for me. I never thought I’d live until 90 and have this wonderful family. I’ve had an amazing, wonderful life.”

Indeed he did, Joyce said. He died peacefully, surrounded by his four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, she added.

Born in Manhattan in 1925 — his father died when he was young, and his mother when he was in his early 20s — Milton served three years in the Pacific during World War II. After the war he tended to tell only funny stories about his experiences as a Marine staff sergeant, but according to his wife he clearly had seen more than his share of horrors.

Milton Fisher
Milton Fisher

“Bit by bit, things came out,” she said, noting that his way of dealing with it was not to talk about it. But, she said proudly, “Milt was one of the youngest staff sergeants in the Marine Corps.”

He also was fiercely proud of being Jewish.

Joyce wrote in an email, “He was proud of being a Jew and when [he was] being insulted during basic training, he threw a heavy ash tray at the anti-Semite, hitting him in the head. He was not charged, and nobody bothered him after that. He also met ignorant Marines from the South, one of whom asked if he could feel his head when he told him he was Jewish, looking for the horns.”

After the war, he became a member of the Jewish War Veterans.”

His four children — Mark, Andrea, Leslie, and John, who now range in age from 52 to 62 — speak proudly of their father’s Marine service.

Not only “was he a medaled Marine staff sergeant who served in the Pacific Arena during WWII, but he was one of the first troops to experience a kamikaze attack while crossing the Pacific at age 18 and one of the very first to visit Nagasaki after it was destroyed by the atomic bomb,” Andrea, who lives in Teaneck, said. “He also saved the lives of his platoon by trusting his instincts. One memorable story that he told was when he acted on an instinct to quickly move his troops to another area. They complained, but they did what he ordered…. Within a short period of time there was a blast at that same area where they had just evacuated. My father knew later that he and his unit were saved by divine intervention. He knew that his many close calls throughout his life were because of God.”

“He had a very deep sense of belonging to the Jewish people,” Joyce said. “He was walking with God his whole life. He never said a bad word about anyone.”

Joyce and Milton — who moved from Valley Stream, on Long Island, to East Brunswick — said they missed their synagogue when they moved to New Jersey. “It was like a family. There was a feeling of giving and helping each other. That stayed with us.” Not finding that feeling in their new community, the couple joined 17 other families in creating a new synagogue, the Reform Temple of East Brunswick.

After leaving military service, Milton attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he was a member of its first graduating class. Taking courses in design, he used that talent throughout his life, ultimately opening a successful fur store — Knauers Furs — in East Brunswick, which he operated until about 20 years ago. A tough Marine, he was really a “gentle giant,” said his wife.

He also was a lifelong student. One of his children noted that “up until two years ago, he took classes every semester at Rutgers in New Brunswick. He already had a BA but he loved learning. He especially loved the academic classroom setting that was filled with exciting intellectual challenges and with vivacious young people. He had the spirit of youth his entire life, and loved being around young people.”

A blind date led to marriage for Milton  and Joyce.
A blind date led to marriage for Milton and Joyce.

His wife said that he took many Jewish studies classes as well as classes in philosophy and ancient history. He also was a gifted writer, she added. And gardener. And actor. Not only was he a regular with the East Brunswick Community Players, but “when he retired, he did some extra work on the Sopranos, under the direction of Steve Buscemi,” his children said. “He spent time chatting with Buscemi — also from Valley Stream — and said he was a wonderful, down-to-earth man.”

Remarkably, Andrea said, “He was for many years a volunteer for meals on wheels with [Joyce] until he became weaker and the weight of his oxygen made it difficult for him to carry food. The elderly recipients — sometimes younger than they were — would gasp when they saw this vivacious elderly couple, older than themselves, delivering their food.”

Asking family members how they would describe him, the phrases “unconditional love,” “passion for living,” “giving,” and “spirit of youth” came up time and again. He was, say his children, “sharp as a tack until the end.”

“Everyone was shocked when he died,” Joyce said. “He seemed so young. He even walked fast with his walker. ‘How can one be unhappy,’ he would say. ‘The world is so wonderful.’”

And how did he get that way? “It was who he was,” his wife said. “God made him that way.”

While he was a humble man, she added, the family decided that the appropriate way to honor his life would be to celebrate it through a Jewish newspaper. “We don’t want to put him on a pedestal, but we do want people to know that there are Jews in the Marines,” his wife said. And at his funeral — held at a packed Temple Anshe Emeth in New Brunswick — he was accorded full military honors, she added.

“To see the U.S. Marines honor this beautiful soul was one of the greatest moments for his family to witness,” his daughter Andrea said.

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