Ben Berger, 92, was the only Naval Officer with the Rangers when they attacked the Normandy Beach on D-Day. Dave Cohen, 88, was with the infantry unit that liberated the concentration camps. Art Sherman, 91, was a bombardier with the 15th Air Force and survived 13 bomb missions.
These three veterans shared first-hand, harrowing tales of WWII on Tuesday evening with a crowd of about 50 young and old, men and women, at the Encino-Tarzana Public Library.
Cohen, who enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 19, spoke for about 10 minutes and then fielded audience questions. He said that, as a member of an infantry unit, he saw skeletal-looking Holocaust survivors and all he wanted to do was feed them and try to understand what happened and why.
Berger and Sherman spoke about 30 minutes each, ribbing each other with friendly banter.
After graduating high school in 1939, Sherman waited months to be called up after enlisting. He eventually became a bombardier with 13 missions under his belt before he was wounded in action.
Sherman flew in B14s, B17s and B24s.In February 1944, he was shipped to Italy to get ready for combat. His first mission was May 2. After eye witnessing a crash between to American planes he “realized you can get killed up there," he said. So he figured he needed some protective gear, which included a helmet.
On May 29, 1944, his plane was 24,000 feet in the air, attacking an area outside of Vienna, Austria, when his division hit their target and was heading back. That’s when his plane was hit and for two hours he laid on the floor bleeding from a head wound. His helmet has a hole in it from German flack, similar to a large hand grenade.
“They took a piece of metal out of my skull the size of my thumb,” Sherman said.
He received a purple heart because of his heroism. Sherman was also involved in releasing 1,300 prisoners of war, he said.
Berger joined the Navy after spotting a poster saying he would “see the world.” He called the recruiting campaign "propaganda." His tour started in North Africa, he was involved in the invasion of Italy and his unit’s job was to move rubber boats and “soften” targets for the soldiers who were coming in behind him. After 18 months he was ready to go home.
“I got to go see General (George) Patton,” Berger said. “He told 17 of us we were going to England instead. We asked why and his said, ‘None of your business.’ He was an exhibitionist.”
Berger was assigned to the Rangers, which today are called the Special Forces. Their mission was to climb the mountains and hills above the Normandy beach and on D-Day his unit did just that, after floating over minefields in the waters.
“It was two years in the Navy and I still was not on a ship,” Berger quipped.
On June 6, 280 American troops landed on the beach with Berger, but only
80 survived the attack.
“We killed the Germans,” said Berger, whose job it was to inform the troops on land and sea.
On Jan. 11, 1945, Berger received a silver medal, one of the highest honors, for his courage in the raid.
Dustin Aubry, 11, came to hear the men’s tales.
The sixth-grader at Nobel Middle School in Northridge, said he is extremely interested in WWII because he has family who lived in France at the time.
“I have WWII banners and videos. I’m interested in (the troops) on the front lines fighting and protecting themselves and learn what they did,” he said, adding he wants to join the Navy or the Air Force when he gets old enough. “I want to keep safe and see my parents again.”
Scott Molina, 10, said he’s been learning about the military his whole life. He might join the Air Force at some point.
“My dad served in Vietnam and my great grandpa in WWII,” said Scott, a sixth-grader at Nobel Middle School. “I love knowing how guns work, air craft and air craft carriers.”
Yoni Zelig, 8, who attends Lorne Street Elementary School in Northridge, said he watches WWII history shows on YouTube and NetFlixs.
“These guys are fighting for our country. My dad worked in the Israeli army and my grandpa worked in the (1967) Six-Day War. My great grandma was rescued from a Holocaust camp.”