Bernard Friedenberg

Bernard Friedenberg held his hands to the chest of a soldier laying on Normandy's Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

A bag full of U.S. Army-provided medical supplies could not control the soldier's bleeding, so the 119-pound Friedenberg's hands were the only things staving off death.

But through the roar of gunfire and cannon blasts, he heard another soldier calling "Medic!" A desperate cry for help that was soon accompanied by a chorus of others.

Latest Video

This presented Friedenberg with a quandary that haunts him still.

Continue tending to the wounded soldier, who was likely going to die regardless, or leave him to save the lives of others?

"A 21-year-old boy should not have to make that kind of decision. That's something God should decide," said the now 87-year-old Margate resident, who gave the soldier some morphine and moved on. "I still cry for that boy."

This is not a story Friedenberg tells often. He didn't even include it in his new book, "Of Being Numerous: World War II As I Saw It," which he discussed at the Atlantic City Free Public Library on Saturday.

The book - published by Richard Stockton College's Holocaust Resource Center - chronicles his journey from a near-sighted patriot who was repeatedly denied entry into the military following the attack on Pearl Harbor to his return visit to Normandy for his 80th birthday.

There are plenty of stories he does tell, however.

For instance, tales about nights of debauchery during free time in Europe.

"Never try to out-drink an Irish girl," he writes to sum up one particularly humorous story.

He also talks about the poor conditions of the troop transfer ship that carried him across the Atlantic Ocean - it was used for cattle before transporting troops - and he will boast about the bravery of fellow soldiers and the time he punched a superior officer in the face.

However, the pages of the book also contain stories of the kind of bravery and narrow escapes that movies are made of. Those all belong to Friedenberg.

He said he maneuvered through a mine field on D-Day with just a trench knife to save five men and came within feet of a sixth before the solider rolled over on a mine. Those efforts earned him his first Silver Star.

Friedenberg ignored heavy fire while running through the exposed streets of Munsterbusch, Germany, to treat and evacuate wounded comrades. This earned him his second Silver Star.

In another incident, he climbed onto a tank to check on a wounded man, only to have an enemy shell destroy the tank and toss him from the vehicle, leaving him unconscious.

There was also the time Friedenberg was the only survivor in a truck full of troops that ran over a land mine.

And the time he treated a German solider he came across in an abandoned factory in Aachen, Germany. After the soldier thanked him profusely, Friedenberg spoke German to the soldier for the first time.

Friedenberg told the solider, "Nicht forgessen. Ich bin a Jude." Which means, "Never forget. I am a Jew."

And he even includes the story of his worst day of the war, even though he gets choked up just talking about it.

This occurred during the Battle of the Bulge. Friedenberg spent several hours lying in a snow-covered field. He was trapped by machine gun fire and forced to listen to the group of men he was trying to reach call for help, for God and then their mothers, as they died.

Friedenberg was awarded the Purple Heart twice. He won't reveal where he was wounded, but does say he had to stand up to eat while he recuperated.

"It could've been worse," he said. "Suppose I was facing the other way."

The retired Atlantic City business owner was in his element Saturday as he told these stories to a packed room.

State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, introduced him.

"This is the real deal. You've seen all the war movies; Bernie is one of the people who lived all of that," said Whelan, adding he was awed by the book. "I laughed. I cried. I could not put it down."

Bernard Friedenberg entered World War II with poor eyesight and was fortunate enough to return with all of his limbs intact, although he does carry a few scars and a pair of hearing aids as souvenirs.

But when the horrific images of the war flooded his thoughts and dreams following the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he found himself being haunted by his war-time experiences for the first time in his life. This is, in part, was what prompted him to write his book.

"I have wondered (why) I was able to handle combat so well when these incidents were happening, only to have them come back to haunt me so long after they occurred," he writes. "I suppose that after sixty-some years, I was still fighting the Nazis. Perhaps I have finally declared my own personal armistice."

E-mail Robert Spahr:

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.