The headstone of an American soldier killed in World War II was replaced with one bearing a Star of David, at a ceremony last week at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
Staff Sgt. Jack Weiner, a navigator for the 345th Bombardment Group, was killed during an air raid on Aug. 10, 1945, just days before the surrender of Japan. The only son of a Jewish immigrant mother from Russia, he had enlisted in the military despite being excused from the draft.
Originally buried at Yokohama Cemetery in Japan, Weiner’s remains were moved to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in March 1949. During the transition, a mistake was made and Weiner ended up with a cross on his headstone, instead of the Star of David.
First Lt. Rabbi Levy Pekar, who serves from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, told 15th Wing, the U.S. Air Force news website, that he first heard about Weiner and the mix-up from one of the navigator’s cousins. He said it took “some digging,” but he was able to find the quarter master general’s form that “confirmed Sgt. Weiner’s wishes to have the Star of David on his headstone.”
“Sgt. Weiner’s story resonated with me on so many different levels,” Rabbi Pekar said in a 15th Wing story headlined, “Hesed Shel Emes: The Truest Form of Kindness.”
“With both of us being Jewish and airmen, I felt like his story could have easily been mine. His story affected me on a spiritual level and as my duty as chaplain I knew we had to correct this mistake.”
Over 30 members of the Honolulu Jewish community, both military and civilian, attended the headstone replacement ceremony and recited the Kaddish prayer for Weiner.
“It speaks to this man’s incredible merit that so many years after his death, he and his religion are being recognized,” said Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky, a Chabad rabbi in Hawaii. “He consecrated his life by making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. It’s appropriate that we are able to witness the occasion of him receiving his correct headstone and recognize his contributions to our nation.”
“What we’re doing here is known as the Hesed Shel Emes or the truest form of kindness,” added Rabbi Pekar. “One of the best things you can do in your life is something for the dead because it is something that can never be repaid.”
In his article in 15th Wing, Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman reported that “Sgt. Weiner made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, but his story would be incomplete without his family’s influence.
“According to family records, his mother Eve was born and raised in the Jewish faith in Russia in the early 1900s [amidst] pogroms. … Fleeing persecution, Eve migrated away from her homeland and she found refuge the in U.S. Soon after settling in Brooklyn, she gave birth to her only son Jack on July 22, 1922.
“With the increase of anti-Semitism throughout Europe at the time, Eve was glad her and her son were safe from the persecution in Europe. As Jack grew up and tensions turned into WWII, Eve celebrated the fact that she only had one son and he would be exempt from the draft. But Jack had other plans.
Despite being deferred from the draft for being an only child, Jack Weiner defied his mother’s wishes and joined the military.
“Enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Force, Weiner was eventually stationed in Japan and assigned to the 345th Bombardment Group, 501st Bombardment Squadron. Just days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mere weeks before Japanese government officially surrendered, Weiner’s plane was shot down.”