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A Remarkable Man

Larry Miller and me in Peter Cooper Village, NYC Summer 2015

Larry Miller and me in Peter Cooper Village, NYC Summer 2015

Larry MIller is a sweet old gentleman who I occasionally have the pleasure of sitting and talking with at a little plaza outside my daughter and son-in-law's apartment in Manhattan. Larry likes to talk and I like to listen. Larry's lived in PCVST since it was built 70 years ago for returning WW II veterans like him.

Larry was born in 1922 and so he grew up during the Depression. He was 20 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he enlisted shortly after. Called to duty in 1942, his dad advised him to join the Army instead of the Navy so he would encounter less anti-semitism. Larry laughs as he tells me that since there was no shortage of it in the Army either. The young Jewish New Yorker was sent to Georgia for his basic training and assigned to the 45th Division - the Thunderbirds. He still wears the emblem at age 93. You can see it on his cap in the picture above.

Larry was smart, in college, a chemistry major with a knack for languages. So the Army in all it's wisdom made him a combat infantryman. His troop ship with 5000 soldiers aboard arrived in Morocco in northern Africa in 1943.

Over the course of the next year, Larry saw a lot of combat, was promoted to Sergeant, busted back down to private, wounded, and sent back home. He was in major battles at Monte Cassino and Anzio in Italy. As a squad leader, he and his men captured ten German soldiers for which he was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. One day his squad was ordered to clear out German snipers from a small town. They encountered a German Panzer tank. He tells me animatedly what it was like to stare down the throat of its 88mm canon. He retreated to his battalion HQ and called for artillery to take out the tank. Instead he was given a bazooka and told to do it himself. He refused and that's when he lost his sergeant's stripes. He figures that was a good trade for his life - even though he also had to dig a large latrine pit as further punishment.

He remembers minute details about everything that happened to him. When I asked him about the weapons he carried, he tells me about all of them in detail. He favored the .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun since it had the most fire-power. When I ask if he remembers his serial number, he rattles it off without hesitation.

Fascinating tangent: After the war Larry became involved with a group who were helping the Israeli war for independence. One of them was Golda Meir! He helped them acquire US government surplus small arms, tested them here in the US, and at one point was sent to Israel during the war to help train Israeli troops on the use of the various pistols, rifles, sub-machine guns and machine guns that he had become expert in a few years earlier.

Larry's war ended in Anzio where he was hit by shrapnel in a furious German artillery barrage. He was wounded in the left leg and sent home on a hospital ship. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

When I met Larry at the plaza yesterday, he asked if I would like to come over to his apartment and see his memorabilia from the war. I grabbed my camera and went right over after my grandsons finished their lunch. He let me set up and take this photo:

Clockwise from the top: Italian money (scrip) minted by the US government during the war for its troops, Thunderbird Division pin, Combat Infantry Badge awarded only to those troops under fire for 30 or more days (aside: this was designed by George Washington after the Revolution to distinguish those who were actually in combat), a photo of 21 year-old Larry Miller in Italy, The Purple Heart, Larry's dog tags (note the "H" for Hebrew stamped in the lower right corner), The Bronze Star for heroism, US Army Pay Record book, 1943 membership card to the Casablanca Red Cross club. 

A few months ago Larry's wife Flo knocked on the door of my daughter and son-in-law's apartment one night and told them Larry was in trouble. My son-in-law Aron is a doctor at Larry's hospital in NYC. Aron rushed to their apartment and helped save Larry's life that night.

Larry looks like just one of many ordinary senior citizens as he sits by the plaza fountain with his walker. I'm so glad we started talking months ago, and that I got to know this remarkable man.