HONOLULU — Seventy-years ago, a young man was killed in World War II just days before the surrender of Japan. Since then, he has been interred with the wrong emblem on his headstone- that is, until recently.
Earlier this year, 1st Lt. Levy Pekar, Rabbi chaplain assigned to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., led the headstone replacement ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, to honor of Staff Sgt. Jack Weiner, U.S. Army Air Forces.
“While I was in New York, I found out about Sgt. Weiner’s story from his cousin,” Pekar said. “At first, it sounded like miscommunication, because we couldn’t find anything about him. But after some digging, we were able to find the Quarter Master General’s form that confirmed Sergeant Weiner’s wishes to have the Star of David on his headstone.”
When he first heard about Weiner’s story, Pekar said he felt a connection with the young man who died more than 70 years ago.
“Sergeant Weiner’s story resonated with me on so many levels,” he said. “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.”
In 1945, Weiner was a navigator assigned to the 345th Bombardment Group, which was stationed in Japan. During an air raid on Aug. 10, Weiner died in action when his aircraft was shot down.
“What we’re doing here is known as the Hesed Shel Emes or the truest form of kindness,” Pekar said. “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.”
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 assigned to the 345th Bombardment Group, 501st Bombardment Squadron. Just days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mere weeks before the Japanese government officially surrendered, Weiner’s plane was shot down.
Originally buried at Yokohama Cemetery, located in Japan, Weiner’s remains were moved to Hawaii where he was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in March 1949. It was during this transition a mistake was made, and Weiner ended up with a Christian Cross on his headstone, instead of the Star of David.
“We have a sacred duty to protect our service members and we will do so in all cases, in life in death,” Pekar said. “It is easier to protect them while they’re alive. It becomes a bit harder after they have passed. I’m just glad we are able to set a precedence of correcting mistakes when we become aware of them, even seventy-years later.”