By: CSM Sam Yudin, CA ARNG
The United States has a long and proud history of immigrants serving in its military. In every war from the Revolutionary War to the present War on Terror, immigrants, some of whom were not even citizens, have served in virtually every position imaginable. In the earlier conflicts, these were primarily European first generation immigrants, but in the past few decades, the first generation immigrants have come from all over the world; as Asian, African, and South American and immigration increases.
Jewish first generation immigrants have likewise heeded the call to service in their new nation, especially in appreciation of the freedom and liberty they now enjoyed. Richard Stern was one such first generation Jewish immigrant. What makes his story unique is not only did he serve with valor in the US Army during World War II but that he also served with valor in the German Army during World War I.
Richard Stern enlisted in the German Army as a teenager and was awarded the prestigious Iron Cross for his distinguished service during World War I. Later, Hitler would send the Hanseatic Cross to Stern for his war merit, not realizing Stern was a Jew. On April 1, 1933 Nazis launched the boycott of Jewish owned businesses. Stern is seen, in a famous image at right, in front of his Cologne bedding store wearing his Iron Cross next to the Nazi guard, standing there to prevent Germans from entering; mockingly reminding them of the German laws about respecting war veterans.
Stern arrived in the United States at the age of 40 in 1939. He lived in Queens and worked as a bus boy. On October 13, 1942, still not a citizen and at the age of 43, he enlisted in the US Army. Stern served with distinction in the US Army, earning the Silver Star for gallantry in action. In January of 1944 on Mount Porchio, Italy, under heavy enemy fire, SGT Stern addressed the enemy in their native German, and convinced them to surrender. Stern’s Silver Star is still treasured by his family, but his German medals are nowhere to be found. Familylegend has it that in 1942, the US was in need of metal for bullets, so Stern gladly melted down his Iron and Hanseatic Crosses to make bullets for use in the fight against the Nazis!
Originally published in the 2020 Three Weeks Issue of The Jewish American Warrior.