Sam Topaz received his Bronze Star on Monday honoring his service in World War II 60 years late.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg presented the medal to the 8′-year-old Topaz in a ceremony Monday night hosted by the Concierge Club, the Teaneck retirement home in the Glenpointe complex where he lives with his wife Molly.
Sam Topaz receives the Bronze Star on Monday, an honor bestowed 60 years after the fact. Photo by Josh Lipowsky
Born in Poland, Topaz immigrated to the United States, with his family, when he was 13. In 1943, as part of the 43rd Division of the U.S. Army, he participated in an invasion in New Guinea, where he was wounded by an exploding grenade or mortar. That earned him the Purple Heart. After a few weeks of recovery, he shipped off again to the Philippines, where he took part in the Lingayen Gulf invasion.
The specifics of what happened next are known only by Topaz and the Army. Of the ‘0 men in his company, only Topaz and three others survived an ambush. He has not told anybody, including his wife and two sons, Robert and Howard, what happened that day.
"Four of us survived. I did something to save the others," he said, refusing to go into any more detail.
"He’s proud he did it," said Molly Topaz. "It’s obviously something very brave and very wonderful. I’m very proud of him."
In August, Lautenberg presented the Bronze Star to Sammy Brummer, owner of Hobby’s Deli in Newark, another long overdue presentation. When Topaz read a newspaper article about Brummer’s award, he wrote to Lautenberg about the possibility of receiving the Bronze Star himself.
"I’m so pleased you spoke up; you earned it," Lautenberg said as he bestowed the medal. "This is something I want to do and give recognition to somebody who deserves it. We’re grateful to Sam for that service."
Lautenberg’s speech quickly turned to the war in Iraq and comparisons of the veterans of the two wars.
"We’re a country of veterans over some period of time," said Lautenberg, himself a World War II veteran. "As a consequence of our engagement in Iraq, we’re more conscious of that. We’re looking at a war now that brings us some consternation, whether we enlarge our force or not."
None of America’s conflicts can be compared to each other though, he said. The last thing a soldier wants is to lose a limb or lose the ability to think straight, Lautenberg continued. But in the war on terrorism the United States is fighting an enemy that glorifies the idea of death.
"This isn’t like in Vietnam where the people on the other side were willing to die for their cause," he said. "Willing it’s a lot different than wanting."
After receiving the star from Lautenberg, Topaz also spoke of the war in Iraq.
"Senator, you are in a position now to save our boys," he said. "Please, don’t let them send ”,000 boys. We all have grandchildren. We don’t want them to die for nothing."
A retired office manager for the New York Department of Labor, Topaz and his wife lived in Manalapan for 19 years before moving to Teaneck one year ago. Joined at the ceremony by his wife, and their two sons and daughters-in-law, Topaz called the ceremony "emotionally draining."
"He’s a person who has not wanted to relive that part of his life," said Howard Topaz. "We’re all very proud of him and proud he made a political statement to bring the surge troops home."