As a tail gunner stationed on bombers during World War II, Mort Schecter frequently found himself a sitting duck.
Seventy years later, however, the 89-year-old was standing proudly on the 50-yard line at the Rose Bowl as he received the Veteran of the Year Award from the County of Los Angeles Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The Nov. 3 presentation, made during a UCLA halftime break, recognized a lifetime of accomplishment.
Schecter, a Northridge resident and congregant of Temple Ahavat Shalom, served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945, after graduating from Fairfax High School. He flew 35 combat missions in France and Germany aboard a B-24 Liberator bomber in the 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force, manning a weapon underneath the aircraft, which made him an easy target. During his service, he rose in the ranks to become a staff sergeant.
A member of Jewish War Veterans and the American Legion, Schecter also volunteers three times a week at the Sepulveda Veterans Ambulatory Care Center. There he provides clothes for underprivileged veterans.
Every year, the County of Los Angeles Veteran of the Year Award recognizes a veteran who is selected from nominations that are received from veteran service organizations. Last year’s winner, World War II and Korean War veteran Hy Arnesty, nominated Schecter for this year’s award.
“Morton is a war hero, and also he does a mitzvah like you can’t believe,” said Arnesty, who attended high school with Schecter.
Schecter’s military service frequently threw him into precarious situations. He recalled being on a plane that was carrying six 1,000-pound bombs when it made an emergency crash landing and the wheels collapsed.
“The bombs didn’t explode, otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
A star athlete during high school, Schecter played semi-professional baseball in Los Angeles after his stint in the military. He said that he could have played professionally, but at the time wasn’t any money in it. Instead, he joined the toy business, spending nearly 40 years with now-defunct wholesale company Pensick and Gordon Toys.
Veterans from around Los Angeles joined Schecter at the Rose Bowl ceremony. In fact, American Legion Post 43 chartered a bus to send veterans to the game. Major Peter Gravett, Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, presented the award to Schecter.
“It was a very nice affair,” Schecter said.
The November award was only the most recent for the local veteran. In October, he received the French Legion of Honor. It is the nation’s highest honor and is generally, although not exclusively, awarded for military service. Elie Wiesel is among its recipients.
Being Jewish did not factor into Schecter’s thoughts when he fought the Nazis, he said.
“I was 19-years-old, and just out of high school. You don’t know from anything.”