Bernie Friedenberg, of Margate, retired last month after 20 years as commander of the local Jewish War Veterans Post 39. But the highly decorated World War II medic, who is still dealing with his own trauma from experiences on Omaha beach at D-Day and during the Battle of the Bulge, will spend the month of May selling paper poppies to benefit other veterans and wounded active duty soldiers.
He will be joined by veterans from groups all around the nation, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in selling the symbolic flowers during the weeks leading up to Memorial Day.
The poppy became a symbol of veterans' sacrifices during World War I, when James McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field," became a world-wide sensation. The poem described fields of poppies growing over soldiers' graves early in the war in Belgium.
May is the only time the JWV post solicits funds, said post service officer David Guralnik, of Margate. He is a World War II veteran who was stationed in North Africa and Europe.
The JWV group sells poppies all month in front of Walmart in the Mays Landing section of Hamilton Township, where store manager Michael Carney, of Egg Harbor Township, knows first-hand how important it is to support soldiers. His son, Army Sgt. Spenser Carney, 21, was deployed to Iraq for nine months. He's at Fort Drum in New York State now, but expects to be sent to Afghanistan in the future.
"It was especially hard on my wife. It's hard on a mom," said Carney of his wife, Tammy, and how much she worries. "You don't realize the job these young men and women do until you have one serving."
For shorter periods the JWV will sell poppies in front of ShopRite in Somers Point and Egg Harbor Township, area Wawa stores, the Pathmark in Ventnor, Downbeach Deli and Cassel's in Margate, and in other locations. Funds raised will be used to help needy or wounded soldiers and veterans, Guralnik said.
"We would like to cover more. The problem is getting people to do this. We're an aging group," Guralnik said.
Funds raised last May enabled the post to distribute 50 portable DVD players to soldiers in the amputee wards at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and to make donations to several other veterans and active service groups, such as the Wounded Warriors Project and Operation First Responders. Guralnik said Walmart helped in the DVD effort as well, allowing the group to buy the units at cost for about $60 each, rather than at the retail price of more than $100 each.
The JWV post has also supported the Vineland Veterans Hospital, donating everything from large-screen TVs to furniture and an awning for an outdoor patio, to allow wheelchair-bound veterans to sit comfortably outside.
Friedenberg witnessed suffering and death on the battlefield and wrote about his experiences. His book, "Of Being Numerous: World War II As I Saw It," was published through the Holocaust Resource Center at Richard Stockton Coll-ege in 2008.
Friedenberg says he was jokingly known as the "Hostile Hebrew" by his fellow soldiers for his strong desire to fight the Germans. He was injured twice while trying to reach injured men - once in the Battle of the Bulge and once outside Aachen, Germany. But his deepest wounds come from remembering the men he couldn't save, he said.
He particularly remembers one young soldier who was hit in the chest and bleeding from an artery on Omaha Beach during the Normandy Invasion. He had no equipment left to stop the bleeding, and only direct pressure slowed it. But he had to leave him to help scores of others calling out for help.
"You never forget something like this," he said.
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In Flander's Field
by John J. McCrae
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow,
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead.
Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw,
The torch, be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us, who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders Fields.
published in Punch Magazine in Spring 1915, after the Battle of Ypres in Belgium