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Ed Koch and New York’s Fighting Generation

Most obituaries on Ed Koch paid scant attention to his military service in World War II.

Ed Koch

Ed Koch

The 104th Infantry and Third Armored divisions were part of the VII Corps, superbly commanded by General J. Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins, the architect of the Normandy breakout in late July 1944 and the future Army Chief of Staff during the Korean War.

* * * * *

Another native New Yorker who served in the 104th Infantry Division was Hugh Carey, who served as governor of New York State between 1975 and 1982. Carey, who also served in Congress with Koch, died in 2011. After helping vanquish the mighty Wehrmacht, Carey and Koch no doubt found rescuing New York City from bankruptcy in the late 1970s a relatively less arduous task.

Koch and Carey were among the 900,000 men and women from New York’s five boroughs who served in the American armed forces in World War II, accounting for almost six percent of the 16 million Americans in uniform. They hailed from all of the city’s racial, religious and ethnic groups: Jewish, Irish, Italian, black, Hispanic, German, Polish and a dozen other hyphenated nationalities.

The recent bestselling autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, My Beloved World, movingly relates how her mother, Celina, lied about her age and signed up as a teenager in Puerto Rico with the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in World War II. After basic training in the South, Sotomayor was posted to New York City, where in 1945 she met and soon married the justice’s father, Juan.

Similarly, my late father, Barney Schulte, recipient of the Bronze Star, grew up in Manhattan and Brooklyn and met my mother Florence, a Bronxite like Koch and Sotomayor, at a jazz club on 52nd Street in Manhattan in early 1944. A few months later, he was shipped overseas and was eventually assigned to General Patton’s crack Sixth Armored Division in eastern France in November 1944.

He also fought with the division in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. Their most difficult and costly fight came during the first three weeks of January 1945, when they drove six German divisions back from a snowy and frozen Bastogne during the American counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge.

On April 11, 1945, the Sixth Armored liberated Buchenwald and its 21,000 inmates, making it the first large concentration camp freed on the Western front. During the second half of April 1945, post-liberation Buchenwald became one of the biggest news stories of World War II, overshadowing the liberation of Nordhausen and its 1,000 prisoners on the same day by the 104th Infantry Division.

* * * * *

Ed Koch was also one of the 550,000 Jewish Americans who served in World War II, of whom, approximately 250,000 came from the streets of New York City. The aforementioned Forward article on Koch by historian Soffer claims the future mayor was “born in Crotona Park in the Bronx in 1924.” I doubt Koch was born in a park where a 13-year-old Jewish slugger, Hank Greenberg, the future Detroit Tigers star and Hall of Famer, was busy perfecting his swing.

Greenberg, it should be noted, spent four years in the U.S. Army during World War II while still in the prime of his illustrious career. Mayor Bloomberg should ask that the City Council rename the Bronx River Parkway “Hank Greenberg Parkway,” which would go along with the renaming of the Queensborough Bridge the “Ed Koch Bridge.”

On May 9, 2005, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, one of the great generals of the second half of the 20th century, delivered a stirring encomium to the 1.5 million Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen who had served so bravely in the Allied armies.

“The contribution by Jewish fighters was first and foremost in battle, facing the enemy – in the air, sea and land,” Sharon emphasized.

If a stroke had not permanently incapacitated the prime minister in January 2006, I suspect he would have attended Mayor Koch’s funeral and delivered a salute to the World War II combat veteran on behalf of the Israeli people.

New York City has several impressive monuments to local residents or prominent generals who served in America’s 18th-and 19th-century wars, including the Washington Monument in Greenwich Village, near Koch’s apartment, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, and General Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb near Columbia University.

About the Author: Mark Schulte has written about World War II and the liberation of the concentration camp for two decades for The Jewish Press, New York Post, Weekly Standard, New York Daily News and other publications.


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2 Responses to “Ed Koch and New York’s Fighting Generation”

  1. Anonymous says:

    re: “joined the 104th Infantry Division, and fought against the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany in the spring of 1944.” You are obviously correct that there was no fighting in the Low Countries and Germany at that time. I regret the error. The sentence is not completely erroneous, as Koch did indeed join the 104th Infantry division in the spring of 1944. However, as I point out in my book, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York, the Timberwolves did not disembark until Sept 7, 1944, and later that fall entered combat in the Low Countries. Koch was not serving with the 104th Division when they liberated Nordhausen. He returned to the US in November 1944 after falling down a cellar stairs and breaking his leg during the occupation of Aachen sometime after that city's capitulation on Oct. 21 after heavy fighting. Koch did not return to the European theater until after VE day when he served in a Civil Affairs unit in a Bavarian village, interestingly his first experience in municipal administration. –Jonathan Soffer

  2. Would be great to have a data base of New Yorkers that fought in WW2 for the future generations, 900,000 New Yorkers, the contribution was huge.

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