On a July day in 1944, Capt. Benjamin Salomon, a dentist working as a medic in the U.S. Army, lost his life holding off enemy fire during a surprise attack on his base in Saipan. His sacrifice allowed more than 30 wounded soldiers to escape to safety, but went unrecognized in the military's records.
Fast-forward almost six decades, to Memorial Day 2002. It is the annual holiday program at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Memorial Park and Salomon, who has no surviving family or friends, is finally being honored for his service to his country, thanks to a determined group of local veterans. The veterans, like Salomon, are USC Dental School alumni, some of whom had been petitioning for a medal for Salomon since the early 1960s (see accompanying story).
About 600 people attended Monday's ceremony, which began with two members of the San Fernando Valley Jewish War Veterans Association's Post 603 carrying a wreath in Salomon's honor up the steps of the Court of Liberty to the ceremony platform. The pair followed the bearers of another wreath honoring all the fallen soldiers in United States history. It was an interesting juxtaposition, Salomon's wreath of white flowers surrounding blue in a Star of David pattern, alongside the other wreath in red, white and blue, symbolic of a man who was both a patriot and a Jew.
Army Reserve Ambassador Howard Schwartz then introduced Gen. Robert B. Ostenberg, commanding general of the U.S. Army's 63rd Regional Support Command, a division comprised of 12,000 troops stationed in California, Arizona and Nevada.
"There are many heroes interred here and many in the audience today. Certainly Capt. Salomon is representative of them," Ostenberg declared, then read Salomon's Medal of Honor citation. The citation, awarded by President George W. Bush on May 1, details the events of July 7, 1944 and credits Salomon with "extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty ... in keeping with the highest tradition of military service."
The tribute to Salomon ended with a prayer, "El Molei Rachamim," sung by Rabbi Michele Paskow, a chaplain in the U.S. Army reserve and leader of B'nai Emet in Simi Valley.
One of the many veterans in attendance was Paul Kahn, 73, who served with the 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War. He is also a past commander and current judge advocate for Post 603, which has pledged to say "Kaddish" for Salomon.
"We believe in honoring our veterans [by] attending all the memorial services, putting flags on the grave sites at the proper time and holding dedication ceremonies when the occasion arises, like it did with Ben Salomon," Kahn said.
Kahn said the Jewish War Veterans takes pride in continuing their service to their country through activities like volunteering at various veteran's hospitals and helping homeless veterans find food and shelter. The Jewish War Veterans also maintain an office in West Los Angeles where volunteers assist retired soldiers in obtaining health care services and petitioning for benefits promised them during their military service. Kahn said his post has 500 members, of whom 300 are active; spouses are also encouraged to join the group as patron members.
"We also try to see all of our congressmen in Washington to get veterans more services and get veteran's budgets increased if possible," he said. "We do the things that are proper to do to honor, help and maintain all those who served their country."
For more information on local chapters of the Jewish War Veterans, call (310) 479-816