Palm Beach Gardens man, 91, went from German refugee to U.S. WWII hero


Jerry Halpern was 12 years old when his family came to America after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1937. Six years later, he was fighting in the U.S. Army against his former countrymen.

After he enlisted, he was assigned as a machine gunner in the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division. He landed on Anzio Beach in Italy to replenish the thousands of Allied troops lost in prolonged fighting there and, with his division, helped liberate Rome, 30 miles to the north, the day before D-Day.

He saw combat again at Saint-Tropez, France, where he came ashore in the sixth assault wave. It was there that he was wounded in his right arm, earning a Purple Heart, he said.

Halpern wanted to continue, but a lieutenant colonel put him on a truck to the evacuation hospital.

“I still remember saying, ‘Hand me my .45. I’ll carry it in my left hand,’” the 91-year-old recalled Friday before being honored with about 40 other veterans living at La Posada, a senior community in Palm Beach Gardens.

The injury marked the end of his fighting days. He spent about three months off and on recuperating in the hospital in England. When he was released, he was on limited assignment in France.

He never told his fellow soldiers of his German heritage, and he was able to speak English without an accent by that time. Halpern also earned a Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge and French Legion of Honor Medal.

After his service, he became an attorney and spent six years living as an expat in Paris. He went back to school and joined the faculty at the University of Arkansas, where he stayed for 20 years.

Fellow World War II veteran Gene Starn, also a resident of La Posada, refers to his friend as a hero. The Army decided during basic training that Starn had “dust pneumonia,” an allergy to the green dye used in the uniform.

He was assigned to do office work and went through the Army Specialized Training Program at the University of Maryland, where he became a journalist for The Diamondback student newspaper.

He had his heart set on joining The Stars and Stripes, the daily newspaper serving the military, but he didn’t get an acceptance letter until he was on a ship in the Pacific.

Starn trained in the Detroit area to be a tank engine mechanic and was then sent to Virginia to do maneuvers. But, he said, the Army forgot the tanks.

While they were en route to New Guinea, an Army mix-up caused them to be mistaken for refrigeration mechanics, he said. They were sent to repair General Douglas MacArthur’s air conditioning and then to maintain refrigerators that stored food for the troops.

Occasionally, Japanese soldiers who wanted to surrender would walk up to the Americans and sit down next to them while they were watching outdoor movies.

“That’s the closest I came to seeing the so-called enemy of the war,” Starn said.

He was on a hospital ship recovering from surgery to have a kidney removed when the atomic bombs were dropped, effectively ending the war with Japan.

Starn became a broadcast journalist when television news was just becoming a reality and then ran an aluminum extrusion business in Denver that allowed him to retire at the age of 50.

He and Halpern were able to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where they saw the war memorials and the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery together.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Library Life: R.L. Stine set for panel on Feb. 18
Library Life: R.L. Stine set for panel on Feb. 18

“From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggedy beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!” — Traditional Scottish prayer There are those who the fear noises in the dark, and those who embrace them. For the latter group, Palm Beach Peril is an event not to be missed. Part of the Palm Beach County Library System&rsquo...
Crystal Lake Elementary assistant principal named award finalist
Crystal Lake Elementary assistant principal named award finalist

ALLAMANDA ELEMENTARY The third annual health and wellness expo, “Fitness, Food, and Friendship Around the World,” takes place 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in the cafeteria. Dozens of vendors, including Triumph Kids, Team XTreme, Kidding Around Yoga, 9Round, Digital Vibez and North Palm Beach Tennis, will be on hand. Fifth-graders will present interactive...
Donations needed for annual prom that lets special needs kids shine
Donations needed for annual prom that lets special needs kids shine

Once a year, for one special night, Ashley Parthemer and her friends are crowned queens and kings at a dance that is created just for them. The Night to Shine prom started three years ago at the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches, thanks to a grant from the Tim Tebow Foundation, which is committed to bringing faith, hope and love to people...
Sports & Recreation
Sports & Recreation

The Palm Beach County Sports commission has announced its 2018 Hall of Fame induction class: Matthew Cetlinski, a Cardinal Newman High School graduate who set swimming records as a Crusader, earned eight All-American honors, five NCAA titles at the University of Florida and was part of the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay team that won a gold medal at...
Girl Scouts: Building lifelong values, skills in young women
Girl Scouts: Building lifelong values, skills in young women

What does your agency do? Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind development program for girls with proven results. It is based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming that help girls take the lead — in their own lives and in the world. Girl Scouts is proven to help girls thrive in: • Developing a strong sense...
More Stories