Jerry Salzman was wounded four times in World War II as a U.S. Marine. The worst by far was his left arm, which had to be grafted back together after he smothered a grenade.
But when he got home, Salzman didn’t just rest and recover. Shortly after his Pacific ordeal ended, he joined another army — for a country that didn’t exist yet.
Salzman signed up in 1948 to fight for a new state called Israel, then forming as a haven for Jewish survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust. Only he volunteered so quietly, even his own family didn’t know it.
“He told us he had to go to Europe for a while,” said Jerry’s brother, Don Salzman, of Margate. “Then we saw him on the front page of the (New York) Daily News when he got wounded in Israel.”
The family’s stories about Jerry — the retired owner of Atlantic City hotels and a Margate high-rise — came out after he died last month, at 89. They say other people had to tell his stories, because Jerry never did.
“If you were to ask my father, about all he’d say is, ‘Yeah, I was in Israel,’ or ‘I was in World War II,’” said Les Salzman, of Wellington, Fla., one of Jerry’s two children.
But Les knows his dad was wounded twice in Israel in 1948. Once was on the Altalena, a ship loaded with arms and fighters on its way to help Israel in its war for independence. But with two Israeli factions fighting over the weapons, Salzman and other volunteers were caught in the middle.
In a 1949 history of the war, “Shalom Means Peace,” author Donald St. John quoted Jerry Salzman saying, “We came over here to fight Arabs, not Jews.”
But Les Salzman adds that his dad did fight against Israel’s Arab enemies later — and was wounded again.
The Salzman family’s base was Brooklyn, but they moved to Atlantic City in the 1950s, when Jerry, his older brother, Bernie, and their father, Joseph, bought, combined and upgraded two South Inlet hotels. The family then sold them but built another hotel, the Pageant, near Boardwalk Hall, in 1963.
By the ’70s, with the city struggling badly, Bernie Salzman was a public leader of the fight for legal casinos — with quiet help from Jerry.
“Bernie was a great front guy,” Les said, “and my dad was more ... nose to the grindstone, don’t make a lot of noise, but get it done.”
The Salzmans bought Margate Towers with money they made selling their hotels to the new casinos, converted the apartments to condos and sold them out. Jerry retired and lived in Margate, then Linwood. Lately, he split his years between South Jersey and living with his daughter, Michelle, in Florida.
“Until about five years ago ... he’d walk the Boardwalk, 4 or 5 miles a day,” his son said. “He was truly an Atlantic City guy.”
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