On June 6, 1944, nearly 160,000 men traveled by sea and sky to northern France in a sweeping military offensive called Operation Overlord.
Now known to history as D-Day, it involved landings along 50 miles of French beaches and airborne jumps into the coastal towns south of them.
Rabbi Brad Bloom's father, Oscar, was one of thousands of soldiers who landed on Normandy that day 70 years ago, fighting his way up Omaha Beach. A 25-year-old staff sergeant from Baltimore, Oscar Bloom was one of 500 men in his battalion who stormed the beach on June 6 -- 70 years ago Friday. He was one of only 16 to survive it, Brad Bloom said.
His son said he seldom heard his father talk about his experiences on D-Day before his father's passing in June 1999. But on Friday, as Bloom leads a Kaddish ceremony at Beth Yam Synagogue, he'll carry memories of his late father and his service in World War II as the members of the synagogue honor Jewish veterans and say prayers for the lives lost on June 6, 1944.
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In the months after the daring assault, Bloom's father fought with the 1st Infantry Division in their push toward Germany. At the Siegfried Line, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, Oscar Bloom suffered a shrapnel wound that left him unable to close his left hand for the remainder of his life. He returned home to Baltimore with a Purple Heart. Surgeries during the next two years reconstructed his hand, Brad Bloom said.
"I hope he is smiling down on us during this ceremony," Brad Bloom said. "I wish he could be alive today to receive this honor. I'm so pleased to be his son. I respect him immensely for what he did, but I can't really fathom it."
Six other local World War II veterans -- Ralph Feuerman, Marty Montag, Irwin Lindenbaum, David Elow, Paul Schild and Albert Davidson -- will take part in the ceremony by reading a passage from the Torah. Bloom will lead Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning, part of a nationwide event honoring the 149 Jewish soldiers buried in the American cemetery at Normandy and all American World War II veterans.
None of the five veterans who spoke to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette served in Normandy, but two saw combat in Italy and the Pacific. All are among the dwindling number of World War II veterans who live in Beaufort County.
Ralph Feuerman remembers June 6, 1944 vividly. The Rockaway Beach, N.Y., native was in Rome, part of the forces that liberated the Italian capital just a few days before soldiers landed on Normandy Beach.
Feuerman had been drafted by the U.S. Army in 1943, after graduating from Far Rockaway High School in the small Queens neighborhood. Feuerman was sent to Casablanca to help the 36th Infantry in its push through Africa and Italy. He fought in major battles on Sicily, at Anzio and at Monte Cassino.
Feuerman, 89, would have been part of an invasion of southern France on June 6, but a lack of resources scuttled those plans. The invasion was later reconstituted as Operation Dragoon, and Feuerman landed in southern France with the 36th Infantry on Aug. 15, 1944, before pushing on through the mountains of France toward Germany.
When Feuerman's platoon leader was wounded while taking a hill on Oct. 19, 1944, Feuerman ordered the rest of the troops up the hill while under enemy fire, taking the stronghold. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions, a medal and commendation that is framed on the wall of his Hilton Head home.
He returned to France and Italy a few years ago, revisiting some of the areas where he had fought, like Monte Cassino -- unrecognizable compared to the bombed-out landscape he had fought in. Feuerman also went to a cemetery in southern France, visiting the grave of a close friend who died in combat.
"It kind of closed a chapter for me," he said. "It is the one event in your life that shapes you. The ceremony brought back some memories. I do think of it quite often, it never leaves you."
Miller, a U.S. Army paratrooper, was in the U.S. on June 6, 1944, training to jump from an airplane. Drafted two weeks after graduating from McDonough High School in Baltimore in 1943, he went to basic training and to paratrooper school, training for combat in the Pacific.
In 1945, the Montclair, N.J., native jumped on Corregidor, an island in the Philippines, with the 503rd Infantry Regiment. It was Miller's only jump in combat, but he said it was still harrowing.
"It scares the (expletive) out of you," Miller said.
Miller, 89, said he didn't realize how much time had passed from his time serving until he was invited to his 70th high school reunion last year. Now a Dataw Island resident, Miller said though he still remembers much of what he did overseas, the memories are fading with time.
"It's getting dimmer, I can say," he said. "I have interesting memories of things I did."
Marty Montag spent most of his adult life working as a commercial artist in Manhattan, but he was supporting the war effort at home in June 1944 by working in an aircraft-parts factory in Brooklyn.
When he was hired on at the factory, there were only 15 men. By the time he was put in charge of production at the plant, its workforce had swelled to 500. To learn how to assemble the parts, Montag traveled on an airplane for the first time, flying to Nashville, Buffalo and Texas for training.
Montag still remembers the exact day he was drafted -- April 30, 1945. In Germany, he worked as an artist for the 15th Infantry Division and their newspaper, The Dragon. Montag completed several drawings of the scenes he saw overseas, including some done while aboard a cruise liner converted into a troop ship.
The drawings, sketches and watercolors were stored in a file cabinet in his home. They remained untouched for almost 70 years, until they were unearthed last year and put on display. They're on display at Congregation Beth Yam this week, in an exhibit called "A Visual History of World War II."
Now 95, Montag knows that he and the other veterans participating in Friday's ceremony are among the last of the war survivors still living.
"There are few of us left that can talk about it," he said. "It feels like a century has gone by."
Irwin Lindenbaum was in high school in June of 1944. The Brooklyn native wouldn't be drafted into the U.S. Army for another year, after graduating. He was training for an invasion of Japan when the United States dropped two atomic bombs, ending World War II.
"I guess I lucked out, in a way," he said. "If I was a year or two years older, I would have been there."
Once the war ended, the Bluffton resident was sent to Germany. He spent a year there, working part of it as a correspondent for a newspaper, The Bavarian. He interviewed Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State James Byrnes, a South Carolina native. Lindenbaum, 87, still has copies of those articles, along with photos he took of his time in Europe.
Lindenbaum said Friday's ceremony would be a "last hurrah" for the men, a thanks for their service as they grow older.
"It was just another experience in life," he said. "I'm glad I did it. I have a lot of good memories."
Another Brooklyn native, David Elow was at Brooklyn Technical High School in June 1944. He would graduate from the school in January 1945, but it would take another nine months for Elow to get his draft notice.
Elow, 87, took classes at Cornell University, where he said he and many other students checked daily to see if they had received notices. In the summer of 1945, he worked in a factory in New York making metal parts, and was there working when victory over Japan was announced.
In October 1945, he finally received the draft notice he had waited for, reporting for basic training the next February. He was sent to Korea in 1946, part of the forces that occupied the country after the Japanese Army withdrew.
Arriving at Incheon Harbor, Elow said the country was devoid of almost everything. In Korea, Elow worked on maintenance, when parts were available. He said the Army would send excess material from Okinawa, which he and others would pick through to make repairs.
"I was just an 18-year-old kid," he said. "It was overwhelming to say the least."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.