Friday marked 71 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor that led us into World War II, killing more than 2,400 servicemen and civilians and wounding close to 1,200 more. It’s a day that needs to be remembered just as much now as it was back then.
Irving Feldman, 91, of Munster, remembers that day well and how it altered his life. At the time he was a 20-year-old living in East Chicago where he was raised by his parents, who were Russian immigrants, and working in the iron scrap business with his father.
“I was very upset and I wanted to do whatever I could do,” he said. On his first attempt to join the Navy, he didn’t pass the eye test. The second time around, he attended a huge recruiting event at Soldier Field in Chicago on the Fourth of July in 1942 and he was accepted.
He became a quartermaster serving on three different aircraft carriers, first the USS Ranger CV-4, serving for four months, then the USS Yorktown CV-10 for 12 months and finally, the USS Bennington CV-20 for 16 months. He was the guy at the wheel, steering the boat and keeping the ship’s log. He proudly notes that the USS Yorktown now resides in South Carolina where it is part of a military museum and is visited by thousands each year.
Feldman had never even been on a boat when he joined the Navy, but he said he did so because of his small stature. “I didn’t want to join the Army. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into using the guns and all that. I thought I was better equipped to go into the Navy,” he said. He served in the Navy from July 1942 until December 1945, based out of Pearl Harbor.
The Roosevelt High School graduate said an association affiliated with the USS Yorktown prints a magazine that goes out to members which recently featured a photo of him at the steering wheel of the ship. It resulted in a phone call from a 95-year-old in California asking if he’d been the man who conducted Jewish services on the ship. It indeed was Feldman.
Feldman said the Catholic priest arranged a room for him to hold services for the Jewish holidays. He also had the sad task of doing a Jewish funeral service for a sailor on the ship who was one of 10 killed in an accidental crash by a plane landing on deck. The man was buried at sea.
Other events of the war stick with him as if they happened yesterday, like when the ship was under attack by the Japanese who had the benefit of a full moon lighting up their targets. In the early morning as it got darker and the fight subsided, he wrote in the ship’s log, “The moon set. Thank God."
He also saw the devastation in Japan, going onto land in Tokyo when the peace treaty was signed.
Feldman came home from war in 1945. He returned to working in his father’s business and then opened up Star Hardware in East Chicago. He worked in the hardware business until just two years ago, retiring at age 89. His two siblings are still living, a sister, 102, and a brother in Munster who is 101. He married in 1948 and raised two sons, one now a Highland attorney and one a pediatrician who is the head of medical genetics at a Detroit hospital. All in all, he’s lived a pretty good life, but one that bears scars that can never be erased. And we owe it to men like Feldman to keep Dec. 7, 1941, in our minds and remember the sacrifices of so many men like him.