Sam Fierstein

  • Birth Date: June 3, 1925
  • Place of Birth: Chicago, Illinois
  • State of Residence: Arizona
  • Years of Service: 3
  • Branch of Military: U.S. Navy
  • Rank:  Petty Officer 2nd Class
  • Wars Involved in: WWII
  • Theaters of Operation: The Pacific Theater

Mr. Fierstein was born in Chicago in 1925. When he was 16 years old, while he was still in high school, the war broke out. He says that in those days no one really knew where Japan was or anything about Japan. All they knew was what they had done at Pearl Harbor. He wanted to join the service quicker. He acquired phony papers that said that he was 18. He then quit school and joined the service. He said that all they wanted to know was “are you alive and are you warm?” He decided to join the navy because he grew up during the depression and he was always hungry. He had originally joined the army, but the day before he was going to go to the army, he realized that in the Navy he got three meals a day and did not have to walk.  He went into the service in the beginning of 1943. When he got out of boot camp, he was put in subs, and he did not want to be in subs. He met a commander who was a football hero and he told him what happened. The commander told him that he could not do anything about getting him out of subs. Mr. Fierstein had his real birth certificate in his back pocket and was ready to pull it out so that they would send him home. The commander asked Mr. Fierstein to give him a few days. The commander called him back and told him that he was able to get him transferred to Amphibs. Mr. Fierstein did not know what that was and the commander did not know what it was either but told him that it was better than what you do know (subs). Amphibious (Amphibs) means that the ships come out to the beach head, bow doors open up, a raft comes out, and everything comes out. When he found out what it was he wished he would have stayed in subs. During his time in the service he achieved the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class. He put in for first class and made it, but they told him that he was too young. They said that he would be made a Petty Officer 1st class if he stayed in for 10 more years, which he did not want to do.

During his time in the service he was involved with communications on an LST (Landing Ship Tank) he was aboard LST 473. He says that the LST is a long vessel that is empty. It was filled with materiel and people, and it took them to the area where they were going to invade. The ship landed on the shore and unloaded the men and materiel. His ship carried 10 Sherman tanks, 500 “Aussie Rat Traps” which he says are the people that were known for killing the Japanese, and 1 million rounds of Ammo. When the LST hit the beach, it was too heavy and it had to be pulled off of the beach by two destroyers. 3 tanks and 200 men were taken off of the LST so that it would be lighter. The LST was then put at the back of a convoy so that if the ship was attacked and was blown up it would not take half of the convoy with it. He says that the enemy wanted to destroy the LST because it was supplying the war. He dealt with radio, signal, telegraph, flag hoist, and some quartermastering. He recalls that he was in Guadalcanal, Luzon, Manila, New Guinea, New Zealand, and others. He did not see Pearl Harbor, and he saw Bataan, but he was not in it.

During his second battle, September 12, 1943, his ship was attacked by 27 planes. 15 bombers and 12 torpedo planes. He says that they shot down two planes. He saw a P-38 (an American plane) in the middle of all of the fighting and it was coming close to the ship. His Captain said, “Shoot it down.” Mr. Fierstein said, “Captain, that’s one of our planes.” The captain said shoot it down and Mr. Fierstein protested again. Finally the captain gave a command order to shoot him down, so they did. It was an American flier. Fortunately, the pilot survived. Mr. Fierstein asked the captain about it after. The captain said that the Japanese had been taking over U.S. airfields and taking American planes. The Japanese would then send the U.S. Planes into battle to strike the biggest ship in the convoy. The captain went on to say that the Japanese believed that the Americans would never shoot down one of their own planes. He told Mr. Fierstein that any time a plane came within 500 feet to shoot it down. On the counting tower they had pictures of Japanese planes and a P-38.

In 1944 they went to Borneo. He says that there, “They hit us good.” A 350 pound bomb hit the bridge went through it and exploded. A 500 pound bomb went through the tail end and blew it apart. They were dead in the water. When the 350 pounder blew, he was blown from the counting tower down to the bridge deck and was injured badly. They lost 7 men.

When they were repaired, they went to Manila. He says that this was another bad battle. The Japanese had blown up their own planes and ships to prevent the Americans from getting in, but the Americans got in anyhow. When they were coming out they were by an island and they got a message that they were heading into a minefield. He told his captain but his captain was preoccupied with looking for airplanes. The captain did not hear him so he went on the voicethrough and told an executive that they were heading into a mine trap. They flanked starboard rudder they missed a torpedo by only a little bit. The torpedo hit their sister ship and devastated it.  During this battle he injured his leg, rotary cuffs, his head, his face, and got shrapnel all over. When he got back to Australia he was put aboard either the Hope or the Haven (he could not recall) and they did what they could to patch him up. They were going to send him home because his captain found out how old he was. Mr. Fierstein did not want to go home in casts. His captain let him stay in the service until he got out at age 18.

On August 15, 1944 his ship was summoned to join a convoy. His ship left Subic Bay in the Philippines. He recalls seeing 2000 ships in the convoy. He had never seen a convoy that big and he says that anything that floated was in the convoy. They got 200 miles from Japan and a light went up. This usually meant that a plane had been disabled on a ship. Then many more lights came up. He had never seen a light go up in the three years that he had been in the navy. He told his captain that something must be wrong and that they should break radio silence, but they could not. A message went up by flag hoist. It said that a bomb had been deployed and that they should return to their base. This bomb was the Atomic bomb. He was 200 miles away. He believes that in some way he and others may have been affected by the radiation. He is chronically nervous because of his injuries.

He said that many of the people on his ship went crazy or killed themselves. He believes that this was caused by PTSD. During WWII, they did not know about PTSD, they called it shell shock.

After the war, he married his childhood sweetheart and started to look for a job. Because of his nervousness, caused by his injuries, he could not get a job. He finally got a chance with a German company called Baumbach. He had to fill out an application, but the only thing that he did not fill out was his religion. They said that it was ok for him to fill out his religion. He said if they told him that he did not get the job because of his religion, “there’s going to be something” he put down Jewish. The man came back and his tie was open and he was sweating and he told Mr. Fierstein that he was not qualified for the job. He had a tag that he had gotten from the VA that he had to return if he refused the job and that the company had to return if they refused him. He brandished it at the man (like a slingshot) and said “I told you what would happen.” The man fell against a backboard and broke some flasks. Then Mr. Fierstein left.

He started out and became a manager at Superior Outlet in Chicago. He worked there for 11 years. He then went into the dry cleaning business and worked there for 28 years. He hated the job because he never saw his family. In 1984 the VA told him that he had to move out of Chicago because of the humidity or he would be dead within a year. He went to Florida, but he hated it. He and his wife moved to Palm Springs. They were there for 7 years until an earthquake hit. He had a son in Arizona so he decided to move there in 1990.

He says that everything was learned from the Greatest Generation. He says that they taught the world new ways to fight and that all of modern warfare started when WWII ended.

Recently, with the help of the VA Mr. Fierstein won his compensation and his medals that were not given to him by the government during his service.

He says that they did not think anything of fighting, they had to. He says that he grew up quick and learned a lot. “Any person that came out was 50 years old.” He said.

He currently lives in Arizona and is very involved with the Jewish War Veterans and other veterans’ causes.

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