Technician 5th Grade James “Jerry” Tenenbaum
– H Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division –
James Tenenbaum was born in Lukow, Poland in 1906 as the youngest of seven children.
He was orphaned at age ten and bounced around from sibling to sibling while experiencing World War 1 as a child. He emigrated alone to the US in 1922 and arrived on US soil, at Ellis Island, NY. A little incident occurred after arriving here. James’ older brother Dave lived on Second Ave. When the Immigration people attempted to contact Dave to pick up his brother, Second Ave was mysteriously changed to “Second Street.” This caused some confusion, but finally things were resolved when Immigration brought in a Yiddish speaking interpreter to understand James and find out the correct address of his brother. The interpreter was Fiorello La Guardia, the future mayor of New York City.
Brother Dave was a sewing machine operator in a millinery factory leaving James with no other options than to earn his keep with a sewing machine, a skill set that earned him a living for the next fifty years, eventually earning him a position as foreman of the Marboro Hat Co. on West 39th Street in New York City. He was also a member of the board of directors of Local 92 of the United Cap, Hatters and Millinery Workers Union.
James got drafted in 1942 and spent his basic training in a place called Addison Alabama. He began his career as a combat Infantryman in North Africa as part of Operation Torch. It was in North-Africa where he contracted malaria which lingered in his body for the rest of his life. However, Malaria did not stop him from a combat role in Sicily.
A funny incident occurred in either Sicily or in North-Africa, when James was assigned to lead a mule team up a mountain. Approaching James in the opposite direction was the Division Commander, General Manton S. Eddy and his entourage. General Eddy stopped and wanted to know more about James up-front and personal and learned that he previously was a designer of ladies hats. “Some war!” the General said.. “From a designer of beautiful things to a muleskinner!”
James always liked to say that he knew Palermo better than he knew The Bronx. He was also one of the GIs that was pulled out of the 9th Infantry Division for the Anzio invasion. Whenever James would speak of General Mark Clark who recruited men for this invasion it was preceded with the words, “that dirty sonofabitch!”
Following Anzio, James was sent to Great Britain to rejoin the 47th Infantry Regiment and prepare for Normandy. He landed on Utah Beach on D-Day+4 on June 10th, 1944 and continued his career as a combat soldier at the Battle of the Bulge and eventually crossing the Rhine at Remagen four times. It was during that Rhine crossing where he got to see the first jet fighter plane, the German Me262. Years later he told his son it was an amazing sight.
When the 9th Infantry Division met the Russian Red Army at the Elbe River, the USO sent Bob Hope and some show girls to entertain while the Russians countered with Russian classical violinist David Oistrakh. From that moment onward, James became an Oistrakh fan and purchased many of his recordings.
James Tenenbaum was discharged out of Fort Dix. According to his son, James told him he was quite the “psychological specimen”. The Army shrink could not understand why he did not go insane after four years of combat (including a near suicide mission at Anzio). James explained that growing up impoverished in Poland during World War 1 and then making it on his own with little formal education in New York toughened him up for combat.
In 1956 the Ninth Infantry Division Association held its reunion at the Hotel New Yorker. General Eddy still remembered James and addressed him (in front of his wife) as, “Hey, muleskinner!”
James Tenenbaum passed away on May 30, 1976 which was also the 29th anniversary of his marriage to the former Sylvia Rein.
Technician 5th Grade James “Jerry” Tenenbaum shall forever be remembered as one of the many heroes that fought for our freedom.