Veterans: Life of Camarillo Veteran a Testament to Courage

By Andy Ostroth, 30-year Navy Veteran and GCVF Volunteer

Veterans Benefits 2020, 2020 Super Tuesday, Battle of the Bulge Veterans
Andy Ostroth.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing two of our cherished veterans, both residents of Leisure Village senior community in Camarillo.

Jerry Spector, an Air Force veteran, took this photograph on June 7, 2017, of 104 veterans, all residents of Camarillo’s Leisure Village. The men and women in the photo gathered together to represent every branch of our armed forces.

As Jerry put it, “The unofficial count had 39 villagers who served in World War II, 27 in Korea, 27 in Vietnam, and the remainder on duty at various times and places over the past decades.”

Jerry Spector was on active duty in the Air Force when he was in a devastating car accident, killing others involved and leaving him with injuries requiring months of recovery in the hospital. Since that event in his life, he has been driven by the need to give back and do for others as much as he could.

He went on to be successful in the banking and finance industry, and his training and mentoring of others helped many to succeed in life as well.

“My goal as a mentor was to train my people to do my job as well or better than I could, essentially, to train myself out of a job,” he told me.

Now, he keeps himself active with family, friends, photography and community involvement. As Jerry pointed out to me, an unfortunate fact of life is that the photo he took of his veteran comrades is 3 years old, and some of them have passed away since then.

One of Jerry’s veteran friends was not there that day for the photo. His name was Alfred Feldman, and Jerry referred me to him.

Luckily, Al Feldman is still very much alive at the age of 96. Mr. Feldman, and I spoke briefly on the phone and decided it would be OK to speak in person – with masks and social distancing.

I was actually hoping to talk to a World War II veteran who might know something about the D-Day invasion which happened in June 1944, however, I was not prepared to fully comprehend the horror of Mr. Feldman’s war experiences.

Al Feldman was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He tried for the Army Air Corps. He’d had some college, but because of the war, he ended up in the infantry. He was sent to Belgium in the 106th Division, 422nd Regiment.

Battle of the Bulge Veterans
American prisoners of the 422nd Regiment march toward Germany past a German Tiger tank. Photo credit: US Army Center of Military History.

He and his regiment were placed in the Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944, the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. By Dec. 19, the American soldiers had surrendered or were captured by the Germans and forcibly marched 25 miles to be loaded onto trains and sent to Stalag IX-B.

There were roughly 4,000 American and other prisoners there. Unfortunately, Al Feldman was Jewish-American. He and roughly 350 other Jewish-American Soldiers were transferred to a slave labor death camp called Berga.

There, the prisoners were starved. They had grossly inadequate clothing for harsh temperatures, and they were forced to work digging tunnels for the Nazis to build weapons.

Meanwhile, the prisoners died from typhus, malnutrition, pneumonia and other diseases and the guards would either leave them dead where they lay or force the living prisoners to bury them. The Berga Camp was a satellite camp of the larger Buchenwald concentration camp.

Near the end, as Patton’s 3rd Army began to close in, the bodies of POWs began to be stacked up to four high against the fence around the compound. Finally, the German guards took the POWs on a final death march to flee the camp from the American or Russian forces bearing down on them.

Albert Feldman and other American POWs were liberated by the U.S. forces on April 23, 1945. He weighed 165 pounds when captured and 89 pounds when he was liberated as a POW.

He spent time in a European hospital before returning to the states. He was 19 years old. It’s amazing to think that a person could survive that much hatred and trauma, but Mr. Feldman has gone on to live a very productive life.

He married and has a family with children and grandchildren and had a wonderful career as an engineer. His life is a testament to the courage and fortitude of the human spirit and his will to survive.

Gratefully, we don’t have the same menace of war to deal with today that we had in the 1940s, but we do have active duty service members and veterans with the same spirit as the two men mentioned here.

We’ve also been witnessing courage on a daily basis now during the pandemic. Brave folks who put their health at risk to an unseen foe – to provide health care, food, groceries and other essentials so most of us can continue to “wait out” this virus at home.

While nothing can compare to the horrors endured during WWII’s barbaric and inhumane aspect of history, it’s good to know our veterans still have their brave experiences to share and honor us with what they have been through.

Source: VC Star article from May 31, 2020