In celebration of Veterans' Day, Tablet Magazine ran a story on Lt. Col. Meir Engel, a Jewish Chaplain in the United States military for World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars.
As the story details, Engel died while serving his country 50 years ago in Vietnam, but not before making a profound impression on Pvt. Richard Eisenberg, a member of the military police.
Engel earned awards for his service in each war, along with two Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals and B’nai B’rith’s Four Chaplains Award.
Read an excerpt from his story, below:
Jewish Chaplains Memorial—that’s what the articles called the rounded-off plaque mounted on stone. On Chaplains Hill in the country’s most revered graveyard, on the banks of the Potomac, a new monument had been dedicated on Oct. 24, 2011, joining those memorializing the 150 Protestant and the 65 Catholic chaplains who’d died in service.
The Jewish plaque, plain but elegant, said tons by saying so little: just 14 names, 14 dates of death, 14 titles of rabbi. The men represented the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox branches of Judaism and had died while serving the U.S. military during the period running from World War II through the Korean War and on to Vietnam.
Only one of the 14 served in all three wars.
The program the Jewish Chaplains Council published for the ceremony stated that Engel earned an award for his service in each war, along with two Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals and B’nai B’rith’s Four Chaplains Award.
One commendation medal was for serving at Fort Dix, where he remained until 1962, two years before Eisenberg got there for basic training.
Four of the men memorialized on the new plaque died during the Vietnam War.
But calculating how many American Jewish military chaplains served in Vietnam then is “tricky,” says Albert Slomovitz, author of the book The Fighting Rabbis: Jewish Military Chaplains and American History, because some may have been based elsewhere, like in Japan, and dropped in periodically or were reservists called up for short-term service.
Those based in Vietnam and on full-time active duty were “probably under a minyan’s worth,” he says, fewer than 10.
Eisenberg Perez didn’t know this, but she saw the rabbi’s name mentioned in several articles—his surname, anyway. That’s because a man named David Engel spoke at the Arlington ceremony, but his connection wasn’t stated.
Eisenberg Perez guessed at David Engel’s identity. She went onto Facebook and typed his name. A posting she read mentioned his being Meir’s son.
“Oh, my God!” she thought. “He has living sons!”