Memorial Day

A Bissel of This and That

With Memorial Day taking place next Monday, May 31st, I started thinking about all the Jewish men and women who have served in the U.S military in general, as well as those who sacrificed their lives during their time of service.

Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971. Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season and is a time for stores to advertise their “Big Sales”.

Needless to say, Memorial Day should mean more than that to all of us. It should be a day to learn about and remember the thousands of Jewish men and women who lost their lives protecting our country’s citizens. Jews have served honorably in the military since colonial times. They fought and died for American independence in the Revolutionary War. They fought on both sides of the Civil War, and among the troops were nine Jewish generals. The Hebrew Cemetery in Richmond, VA, with its section for 30 Jewish Confederate soldiers, is believed to be the only Jewish military cemetery in the United States.

Among the estimated quarter-million American Jewish service members who fought with U.S. forces in World War I was 19-year-old William Shemin, who sprinted across no-man’s land in France three times to drag wounded soldiers to safety. Recognizing many of his unit’s leaders were dead or wounded, he took command of the remaining unit and led them until wounded himself.

Over half a million Jews served in World War II. For perspective, the Jewish population in the United States at the time was around 4.7 million, and just over 16 million Americans served in World War II. Another 150,000 Jewish service members served in Korea, and 30,000 more served in Vietnam. More recently, thousands of Jews served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and an estimated 10,000 American Jews continue to serve across all six U.S. military branches today.

Beyond the sheer number of Jewish service members throughout American history, tens of thousands of our service members have been decorated with military awards. Among them are 17 recipients of the nation’s highest recognition of military valor, the Medal of Honor. 

On Memorial Day, a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3:00 p.m. local time. This is a designated moment in time where we can remember and give thanks for those who lost their lives. On Monday, May 31st, let us take the time during the day to remember the many Jewish military members who gave their lives for our country.

And if you are a veteran or currently enlisted any one of the U.S. Military armed forces, thank you for your service.

Further information may be found at: This is the website for the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America. On Memorial Day, their members plant flags on graves of service members, participate in community events, and tell their stories of service to local organizations. The Jewish Education Project Article from the JCC Association of North America website Military History of Jewish Americans from Wikipedia