2018-05-23 / Voice at the Shore

Decorated local World War II veteran, “a true American hero,” dies at 96


Bernard Friedenberg, one of the most decorated World War II veterans in New Jersey and former commander of a Margate Jewish War Veterans’ post that now bears his name, passed away earlier this month at the age of 96.

A medic during World War II, Friedenberg saved numerous lives at the battle on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“He carried five wounded men on his back, one at a time, out of a minefield. They all survived,” said Paul Stern, commander of the Garr- Greenstein-Friedenberg Jewish War Veterans Post 39 in Margate.

Friedenberg’s heroism that day earned him a Silver Star Citation, the third-highest level of honor accorded by the military. The citation described his actions saying: “At the risk of almost certain death, Sergeant Friedenberg advanced across a heavily strewn minefield and through an incessant hail of machine-gun fire to rescue several men... His valorous conduct saved the lives of his wounded comrades and served as a tremendous inspiration to all who bore witness to his deed.”

Friedenberg also received a second Silver Star as well as two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Medals, and a Medal of Honor for his heroism during the course of his military service. That service took him from Africa to Europe and included the Battle of the Bulge, an exceedingly bloody battle which helped end the war.

“Friedenberg, without question, was a true American hero,” said Stockton Professor Douglas Cervi, at Friedenberg’s funeral at Beth El Synagogue on May 13. At Cervi’s urging, Friedenberg began speaking to high school students throughout Atlantic County and beyond about his experiences during World War II. “He shared his story with probably 5,000 students” over the course of 18 years of speaking, said Cervi.

In 2016, Friedenberg was honored by the World War II Museum in New Orleans, which invited him to speak at its D-Day commemoration. Friedenberg, who was then 93 and in fragile health, was flown to New Orleans on a private plane operated by Veterans Airlift Command and was accompanied by an honor guard both while boarding the plane in New Jersey and coming off in New Orleans.

A 90-year resident of Atlantic City, Friedenberg graduated from Atlantic City High School and attended Temple University for less than a year before enlisting in the army. “I tried to enlist the day after Pearl Harbor,” Friedenberg told former NJ Governor Jon Corzine in 2009, after Corzine signed a bill establishing a Veterans’ Oral History Foundation to preserve veterans’ stories.

Although Friedenberg was initially rejected for military service due to his poor eyesight, he kept trying to enlist until he was finally let in.

After the war, Friedenberg returned to Atlantic City where he met and married Phyllis Rogers in 1948 and had three children, Susan, David, and Gregg. He began a new life as owner of the Dusty Roads Bar and Monarch Bar in Atlantic City, and later owned hotels and sold real estate.

Ironically, Friedenberg did not speak about his experiences during World War II for much of his life. In a book he wrote with the help of Stockton University’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center, “Of Being Numerous: World War II as I Saw It,” Friedenberg said that he began talking about the war—and writing his book—only after a 50th anniversary commemoration of D-Day at Fort Dix.

That event stirred up his wartime memories, and the nightmares he had after returning from the war 50 years before began to recur. To end the nightmares, a Veterans Hospital psychologist suggested that Friedenberg write about his World War II experiences in a diary. That diary became the basis for the book he wrote with the help of the Holocaust Resource Center.

In his book, Friedenberg said that being Jewish had a large influence on his desire to enlist in the military as early as possible. “I regarded fighting the Nazis as a privilege,” wrote Friedenberg, noting that if his grandparents had not decided to migrate to America, “I probably would have been one of the six million” murdered by the Nazis.

In retirement, Friedenberg became an active member of the Garr-Greenstein Jewish War Veterans Post 39 in Margate, ultimately serving as its Commander for 20 years. During that time, “he built the post,” said Paul Stern, who took over as Commander after Friedenberg retired around 5 years ago.

“When he first took over, five or six people showed up for coffee and donuts. He made it bigger and better,” said Stern of Post 39, which now holds monthly dinner meetings with prominent speakers at Beth El Synagogue in Margate.

After Friedenberg’s retirement as post commander, members voted to add “Friedenberg” onto the name of the post, which is now called the Garr- Greenstein-Friedenberg Jewish War Veterans Post 39. Although such honors are usually given posthumously, noted Stern, “I wanted to honor him while he was alive.”

Speaking at Friedenberg’s funeral, Rabbi Aaron Krauss stressed that “there isn’t a person here or a person alive who doesn’t owe a deep debt of gratitude to Bernie and his generation” for their role in overcoming the forces of evil. 

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