Heroes are not born; they are made when confronted with a situation that calls for action beyond the expected. So it was for two young Jewish fighting men in the Pacific fighting the Japanese in World War 11. Army medical aide Hyman Epstein of Omaha, Nebraska, and Marine Corporal LeRoy Diamond of New York City, are two such heroes.
Epstein's outfit was in New Guinea, fighting the Japanese along- side the Australians. George Weller, an American war correspondent, wrote about the last 1 2 hours of Epstein's life as it was related to him by his commanding officer, Major Bert Zeeff. Epstein's unit was sent to the front lines to bring supplies and to take care of the wounded of a platoon that had been pinned down by the enemy. The Japanese had staked out their snipers in the trees and set up two machine guns that would give them crossfire. When Epstein's unit arrived, the Japanese opened up with their machine guns, while the snipers gave them additional support. A number of Americans were killed; Major Zeeff wouldn't let his medics risk their lives to go out to help the wounded.
Epstein decided that he would help the wounded and started to crawl toward them, becoming the target of the Japanese machine guns. He went from one wounded soldier to another applying sulfanilamide and bandages to their wounds. This continued all night until a bullet found its mark and he was mortally wounded. He was buried the next day by his men who had felt that he had gone beyond the call of duty.
Guadalcanal was the beginning of the American counter offensive to retake the islands that the Japanese had captured after Pearl Harbor. It was here, in August 1942, that Marine Corporal LeRoy Diamond, along with Privates Albert A. Schmidt and Johnny Rivers, were in their machine gun nest next to a stream, waiting for the Japanese to stage a counter attack.
A few scattered shots from the enemy built up to a crescendo as hundreds crossed the stream, firing their guns. Johnny Rivers was killed immediately. Schmidt kept firing his machine gun as Diamond kept feeding it belts of bullets. The fighting was fierce; Japanese bodies kept failing from Schmidt's gun. Diamond kept feeding the gun until he felt a burning sensation in his arm and he knew that he was wounded. He picked up Rivers' automatic weapon, firing it with his good arm.
The Japanese managed to get a few snipers in the trees behind them and one of them shot Schmidt in the face, blinding him. Diamond verbally told him what direction to keep firing the machine gun and they continued to shoot down the enemy.
When they were finally rescued, there were about 200 Japanese dead in front of them. The heroism displayed by Diamond and his squad became the plot of a great war movie, The Pride of the Marines. Diamond received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his heroism and his name will always be part of that long list of Jewish heroes in America.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
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Last updated 18 October 2006