Face of Defense: Veteran Receives Bronze Star 68 Years Later
By Kim Walron
U.S. Army Forces Command
FORT McPHERSON, Ga., Dec. 21, 2010 It was nearly 69 years ago that Seymour S. Lavine came here to enlist, hoping to do his part to end the second World War. He recently returned to collect the Bronze Star the Army said he was due for his heroism in the South Pacific.
Army Gen. James D. Thurman, left, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald T. Riling, right, Forscom command sergeant major, present the Bronze Star to Seymour Lavine, a 98-year-old World War II veteran and Atlanta resident. U.S. Army photo by Paul D. Prince
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Lavine, 98, was a sergeant with the Army's 37th Infantry Division on the island of Luzon in the Philippines on Jan. 9, 1945, when his unit was ambushed.
With enemy rifle fire snapping jungle branches and leaves all around them, Lavine said he knew that to stay where they were meant certain death for him and his fellow soldiers. He grabbed a Browning automatic rifle from the soldier behind him and yelled for the rest of his soldiers to run. Then, with the weapon at his hip, Lavine fired back at his attackers, covering the retreat of a dozen fleeing American soldiers who made it to safety, thanks to him.
"While this Bronze Star is being awarded for specific action on one particular day, it actually represents much more," Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, the Army's largest command, said during a Dec. 16 ceremony here for Lavine. "This medal is in recognition of the contribution of an ordinary man who became an extraordinary soldier because he chose to serve his nation and his fellow citizens. And, he did this during the most dangerous period of the 20th century."
The room was packed with soldiers from general to specialist. Their common thread was the enthusiastic way they gathered to pay tribute to a warrior from what has been called America’s "Greatest Generation."
"Today, we have the honor to go back in history and reflect a little bit about a great solider,” Thurman said. He noted that Lavine heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on his 29th birthday in 1941, and he enlisted shortly after in 1942.
After the medal presentation, Lavine shared memories of his service during World War II.
"One day I was leading a patrol," he said. "We came across a tribe of people that we found out [later] were cannibals." He paused and looked over his audience. "I'm not sure what it was they fed us for dinner, but I don't think I really wanted to!"
This brought howls of laughter and a hearty round of applause for Lavine.
"I have had a wonderful life," he said. "I've had more opportunities than many, and am so grateful to all of you."
When World War II broke out, Lavine quit his job selling clothing to department stores. He drove his 1939 Pontiac to Fort McPherson to enlist in the Army.
Lavine said he had no choice but to fight. "I knew what was happening in Europe," he said, referring to the Holocaust. "And I was Jewish."
Lavine was sent to the other side of the world after training where Japan had established a stronghold of islands across the Pacific. Fighting there was among the bloodiest, most violent of the war.