My Dad was Leon Drexler. I am proud to say he was a ‘GI Jew’, as well as a warrior. He was a member of the 745th Tank Battalion. The only Tank Battalion attached to the 16th Inf. Regiment as part of the First Army Division.
He landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944. He was the gunner in a medium Sherman tank. He fought his way all through Normandy, Belgium, Germany and eventually Czechoslovakia.
I grew up listening to his war stories, and events that he experienced during his time in the service. As a child I did not realize the courage and bravery exhibited by my Dad.
As I got older it began to dawn on me what sort of sacrifice he and his fellow Band of Brothers went through. As a history teacher I continued to research and discover more of my Dad’s combat experiences. I have a number of pictures he took while in Europe during his combat. I redeveloped the pics and mounted them in an album with a number of his decorations, so my children could get a glimpse of the sacrifice their grandfather made to secure freedom and liberty for the USA as well as the people of other nations.
During his time in the service and combat, he never hid the fact he was Jewish (I still have his original Dog Tags, and the tiny H imprinted at the bottom, representing the word Hebrew). He did express his trepidations and concerns as a Jewish American fighting the Nazis, if he were to be captured. As fate would have it, he was never captured but did meet the Nazis up close and personal. He was in every major engagement in the European theater of operations.
He did speak to me about a particular battle for the city of Aachen. As a youth it meant nothing more than a word and a war story. But as time went on I continued to research that particular battle as it effected my father, and stood as a landmark engagement for the American Army, as well as a significant event for the Jewish troops in particular.
I know you’ve highlighted the Jewish service conducted outside the city of Aachen by the Jewish soldiers in the area. Max Fuchs acted as cantor at the time, in the famous audio transmission and accompanying photo. I thought, as a Jew, and a student of American history, that was a most moving and poignant event. The first Jewish service to be held in German territory. But I did not realize at first, that event would have a more personal connection to me through my Dad.
Max Fuchs returned home to start his life over, and lived and pursued his cantorial career at the Bayside Jewish Center not more than a few blocks from where I have lived for decades. I had an intuition my Dad’s unit must have been in that area the very moment that service was being conducted. In the audio you can hear the cannons exploding in the background. Clearly, as the soldiers in the service are invoking the name of the Lord, in their efforts to plead for divine protection, other American soldiers were actually standing guard and protecting those congregants.
My Dad, and his comrades were the ones protecting those Jewish soldiers, so no harm would come to them, as they prayed as free and liberating Jewish American soldiers.
You see my Dad’s unit, was the only Tank Battalion, to accompany the American infantry units that captured Aachen. My Dad and his small tank platoon was tasked to block the road into Aachen and stop any German reinforcements from reaching the city. The Tank Battalion’s Commander, describes in vivid but military clipped prose how my Dad’s platoon and fellow Tankers, stood their ground and took a pounding from German tanks, cannons and aircraft. But they held the line, and let no enemy pass. That selfless sacrifice allowed the First Army Division to capture the ancient German capital, and gave protection to the small Jewish ‘minion’ that prayed that cold rainy day on German soil.
Though my father was only one of 550,000 Jewish Americans to serve, I’d like to think that moment stands as a monument to the testimony of free men willing to sacrifice blood and treasure to beat back evil and free humanity.
My Dad would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, the Hurtgen Forest, and numerous other skirmishes. He had three tanks shot out from underneath him (the movie Fury depicts graphically what my Dad experienced). He survived the war, as he joined the other survivors returning to start up their lives where they left off.
I have kept his courageous exploits alive my whole life. As the years go by, his sacrifice as well as those of all the GI’s, represents the purest love exhibited for their fellow man kind. For without that generation, I have no doubt, humanity would not be able to exist.
On behalf of my Dad (who passed some years ago), I cannot thank you enough for the story and depiction of these truly magnificent patriots, 11,000 of which ‘gave their last full measure of devotion’ to their fellow man and fellow humanity, and rescued the remains of the surviving Jews and others of Nazi persecution.
I hope I was able to express, in my inadequate way, the part my Dad played in the crusade to free the world, and save the remnants of European Jewry.
Thank you….and God Bless America.
– Shared by Mark Drexler