Local Veterans share WWII stories
By POLINA OLSEN
article created on: 2009-05-14T00:00:00
When South Portlander Marvin Enkelis signed up for World War II, his mother got United States citizenship papers.
“She didn’t have to worry about who was this and how many Houses of Congress,” Enkelis said. “She told the judge, ‘I have two sons in the service,’ and he said, ‘you are a citizen of the United States.’ ”
A fitting tribute to two of the 550,000 Jewish WWII service people, and, best of all, both Enkelis boys came home alive. Now, as 1,600 WWII veterans pass on each day, the Jewish Review wants to salute our heroes. We asked five local vets to share their stories.
Stories like those of Enkelis and South Portlander Norman Berlant leaving the station together.
“We got on the streetcar and our mothers waved goodbye,” Enkelis said. “Norm went to Europe. I started in Australia, went to New Guinea and the Philippines and then to the occupation of Japan.”
Enkelis became a platoon sergeant.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “A lot of people lost their lives. My favorite story? I can’t tell you my favorite story. But, we were in Wadke Island [off the coast of New Guinea] on Yom Kippur. I went to services and here’s this Catholic priest. He conducted services just as well as any rabbi.”
His friend, Norman Berlant, volunteered at age 18 and spent two years in England and France.
“There were 10-12 Jewish people in our outfit, doctors and soldiers like me,” he said. “We got along fine with everyone.”
Berlant worked in the station hospital registrar’s office: “This was right after the invasion of France. Wounded soldiers came in every day. My job was getting all the information about them.”
Berlant bumped into Portlander Irv Rotenberg and carries a photo of them on furlough in his wallet to this day.
“We went to Liverpool for about a week,” Berlant said.
A great basketball player, Rotenberg became the lead scorer in the European United States Army league.
“One time after a basketball game they were having an ice cream sundae and a bomb went off nearby,” his son Kyle Rotenberg told the Jewish Review. “I’m sure he finished the sundae.”
Harry Glickman, another South Portlander, remembers learning of Rotenberg’s success.
“One day we dug a foxhole,” he said. “Someone came around passing out copies of the Stars and Stripes. That’s where I read Irv Rotenberg led the Western Base Sector in scoring.”
After the war, the two met up in Paris.
“We somehow found a Jewish family who invited us home for potato latkes,” Glickman said.
Glickman dropped out of the University of Oregon journalism school to join the army. He landed in France November 1944 and became staff sergeant and head of a mortar squad.
“I didn’t know the extent of what was happening in Germany during the war,” he said. “We lost a lot of family. My mother was from Wysoke in Poland.”
Like Glickman, Charlotte Shwartz dropped out of the University of Oregon and joined the service during the war.
“I was a little over 21, and I felt I had to do something,” she said. “The first place they sent me was Monticello, Ark., for WAC training. Then, I went to Smyrna, Tenn. The planes I flew in were mostly cargo. My job was to dispatch them. For instance, if the weather was bad, I wouldn’t let them go.”
Schwartz keeps her sense of humor when remembering those years.
“What did I hate about it? You certainly didn’t have the comforts of home,” she said. “We were in barracks with 100 women sleeping on a bunk. There was one other Jewish girl. It wasn’t an issue.”
Schwartz’s favorite story involved the morning routine.
“When the commanding officer came in, you stood at attention by your bunk,” she said. “One girl couldn’t keep her eyes straight ahead so I told her to focus on something. Well, she shouted ‘Kelloggs, Ma’am,’ when the officer asked for her name. She was staring at a box of cereal across the room.”
Schwartz, too, was a South Portland girl. Like many, her family moved to Irvington early on.
“My father was a buyer of men’s clothing at Meier and Frank,” she said. “After the war, clothing was at a premium. You had to know someone to buy a suit. All of a sudden, I had a lot of boyfriends.”
Finally, we spoke with Herbert Newmark, who is part of the upcoming WWII documentary by Portlander Gary Mortenson. Newmark grew up in San Diego and moved to Portland in 1951. While a student at San Diego State during the war, a friend convinced him to join the Navy.
“Pre-flight was just a toughening school,” he said. “We had four hours of athletics a day and then four hours of ground school. Sometimes they’d even wake us in the middle of the night to look at the stars.”
Newmark became a carrier-based fighter pilot in the Pacific. “We were in Leyte Gulf and Guadalcanal,” he said. “Basically, our job was to escort the bombers and then go on and do close air support and help the troops on the ground.”
“There was a war going on and I signed up for it, and I never did anything unusual,” he reflected. “Nothing a lot of other people didn’t do and do more of.”
Still, at a gathering of Corsair fighter pilots, they treated Newmark like a hero. He remembered people walking up and saying, “because of you or people like you my father is alive.’”
This story is made possible by a grant from the Judith and Edwin Cohen Foundation.