As Memorial Day approaches, longtime Westporter Tom Feeley writes:
It was 1945. The war in Germany was almost over. But SFC Mike Brody and the POWs did not know it.
Fast forward to 1973. I moved from San Francisco to Westport. As a Vietnam veteran, I joined VFW Joseph J. Clinton Post 399 VFW. I walked in the Memorial Day parade, attended the solemn Veterans Day ceremony, and made a bunch of new WWII NCO friends with CIBs, even a Silver Star.
My left shoulder had the Third Infantry Division Patch from 1/15 INF CAN DO, so I was real good with the WWII guys. I also led Audie Murphy’s platoon.
Westport veteran and Silver Star awardee Junior Bieling usually wore a coat over his uniform to hide his medal, out of modesty. He owned JR’s Hot Dog Stand.
I busted his chops: “You should be very proud. If an enlisted man earns a Silver Star, he really earned it.”
“Not too many officers would say that,” he replied.
On Fridays if I went in for a dog, I left smashed on his vodka screwdrivers. “Tom, the booze is on the house, but ya gotta pay for the dogs!”
There was also a burly Tech SFC Mike Brody, with ribbons and a CIB. He was from Brooklyn. I’m from Queens, with Brooklyn friends, so we became buddies. We ran into each other at the beach occasionally, and chatted.
He was almost 6 feet tall, built like a tanker. He had a contagious smile and a very quick wit.
The three of us hung out in the VFW bar after ceremonies or meetings. Those guys knew everyone.
Fast forward again, to 2000. I owned a boutique real estate firm. I had sold a beautiful modern home in Weston to inventor genius Bob Soloff and his wife Carol, also from Brooklyn. They held a beautiful catered open house for friends after the sale.
To my surprise, SFC Mike Brody showed up. We were a few hours into drinking when I asked Carol, ”Where do you know this guy Mike from?“
“He’s my little Jewish buddy from Brooklyn!” she said.
“What? Mike? Brody is a Jewish name?!”
In Jackson Heights you were Irish Catholic, Italian or Jewish, with a sprinkling of Protestants. We busted the Jews’ yarmulkes on Saturday, and they busted our Sunday ties or knickers.
Mike turned to Carol. “You’ve asked me about the war many times. I’ve had enough to drink that I’ll finally share my story with you and Tom.”
“We were laying field radio wire, got encircled, captured and put in a concentration camp. I was a platoon sergeant, so I had some freedom to move about and interact with guards. who randomly asked to see my dog tags.
“Months later a new slender guard showed up. He was quite different, because he didn’t walk his post bored. He was alert and interested in what was going on behind the fence.
“I saw him a lot, and tried to be nice. He asked me where I was from. When I said Brooklyn, his eyes lit up. He called me ‘Brooklyn!’ from then on.
“One day he was looking for me. He pointed to the far corner of the camp, for me to go there. With a corner post and a lamp pole, it was hidden from the guard towers. He put his index finger to his lips and in perfect English said, ‘Not a word! Give me your dog tags. Return here tomorrow after breakfast. Not a word!'”
“I figured with no tags, I was dead. The next day we met. He returned one tag on the long chain — missing the long chain. He said ‘tank treads,’ and disappeared.
“The next day, everyone was lined up for dog tags. ‘Jews over here!’ The tag the guard had returned was badly scuffed and twisted, like it was run over by a tank. The ‘JUD’ in the lower right corner had been mangled off.
“All the Jews were separated, and never seen again.”
Mike later learned that the guard was an American college student. He had been visiting his grandparents when he was conscripted and placed in a concentration camp, where he could spy with his bilingual skills.
Mike freed the guard by telling rescuers that the kid was an American citizen, and that he had saved Mike’s life.
That’s just one out of countless stories that our veterans can tell. As they gather for tomorrow’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony — and meet at places like the VFW, to share memories, socialize and enjoy their lives — let’s not forget every man and woman who has served our country.
All gave some. Some gave all.