Entrepreneur and military historian Shalom Lamm has spent many years contributing to the Jewish-American community. Shalom Lamm’s recent work includes Operation Benjamin, a project that provides proper grave markers for fallen Jewish-American soldiers, including one who died following the Bataan Death March.
Most accounts of the Bataan Death March describe it as one of the most devastating events a soldier could experience. However, one soldier, Marine PFC Irvin Scott, lived to tell how an act of humanity by a Japanese guard saved his life.
Ill-trained and inexperienced Philippine and American soldiers were forced to retreat into the jungles of the Bataan Peninsula after a Japanese attack at Luzon. The Allied forces surrendered, but the Japanese marched the prisoners of war 66 miles from Mariveles to San Fernando in groups of 100.
Survivors witnessed their comrades dying from disease, lack of food, being run over by trucks or tanks, and being bayoneted. When they finally arrived at POW camps, PFC Scott and others were ordered to build a road to Tayabas, but Scott had contracted malaria and passed out while working. A Japanese guard secretly provided him extra food and medicine, which the guard hid in a banana leaf and dropped onto the ground. This act helped save Scott’s life.
For decades, Shalom Lamm has leveraged his success as a managing member of Lion and Lamm Development into good works for his local community and the Jewish community at large. In addition to holding membership with the Hevra Kadisha, Shalom Lamm serves as a tireless advocate for the recognition of Jewish American soldiers who died fighting in World War II.
To support his interest in this area, Mr. Lamm founded Operation Benjamin, a nonprofit that works to ensure fallen Jewish soldiers are buried with an appropriate Star of David grave marker. Recently, Operation Benjamin collaborated with the American Battle Monuments Commission and the US ambassador to the Philippines to place Star of David headstones over the graves of Jewish soldiers buried at the Manila American Cemetery.
Since its dedication in 1960, the Manila American Cemetery has served as the resting place for 17,184 fallen American soldiers who served in World War II. The cemetery, which is located in the Philippines, spans 152 total acres and includes a white masonry chapel, as well as mosaic maps that recognize the achievements of the American Armed Forces. In addition, Manila American Cemetery honors over 36,000 soldiers missing in action, whose names can be found on the Tablets of the Missing.
For further information on the Manila American Cemetery, visit http://www.abmc.gov/Manila.
Based in New York, Shalom Lamm has an extensive real estate leadership background and has overseen a variety of successful property rehabilitation projects. One of the founders of Operation Benjamin, Shalom Lamm is part of an organization that recently coordinated successful efforts with the American Battle Monuments Commission in burying fallen Jewish American World War II soldiers under the Star of David.
The five service members honored at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in February 2020 served in the Pacific theater during the war. They included one who died of typhus, one who was a victim of enemy shell fire, and another who succumbed to a gunshot wound. In addition, two prisoners of war died of hardship and starvation within Japanese prison camps.
A common thread among these men was that they shared a strong sense of patriotism, as well as a robust Jewish faith, and gave their lives for principles of democracy and freedom. They were among a Jewish contingent that made up approximately 2.7 percent of the total number of soldiers who served in World War II. What Operation Benjamin’s research revealed was that only 1.5 percent of American WWII graves bore the Star of David.
With personal omission and clerical mistakes two major reasons why Jewish Americans might be buried under a Christian cross, the aim of Operation Benjamin is to ensure that this situation is rectified as much as possible. Coordinated with the American Battle Monuments Commission, the ceremony in the Philippines included a Mourner’s Kaddish recitation and provided a sense of closure to the families of the deceased.
It represents just one part of an ongoing process that requires ample proof to be provided of each soldier’s Jewish identity before the renaming ceremony.
Shalom Lamm’s career as a real estate developer spans more than two decades, including managing more than 9,500 properties. Shalom Lamm, also a military historian, successfully petitioned the government to have the grave markers of Jewish-Americans reflect their heritage through the Operation Benjamin project.
Operation Benjamin culminated in a program that would change the grave markers of Jewish-American soldiers who served in WWII to the Star of David instead of the Christian cross. The importance of honoring these soldiers is conveyed through Milton Feldman’s tale of imprisonment in the POW camps in Germany.
While Mr. Feldman was not a fatality of the war, the conditions of his capture highlight the sacrifice that many Jewish-Americans made-even in the face of Nazi aggression. In what would become the Battle of the Bulge, the troops set out on an orchestrated and organized march to defeat the enemy. The army of men were prepared to fight, even in miserable winter conditions and the low cloud cover.
However, one mistake led to complete chaos. The generals misunderstood the German retreat, and the soldiers soon were barraged by a counterattack. The once unified unit had unraveled, becoming a loose band of soldiers. A day or so later, Mr. Feldman and a few other soldiers walked upon a camp of German soldiers. Outnumbered and out rifled, the troops were captured.
The next couple of days they trekked through the German countryside. After a train ride, the soldiers were dropped off in front of German barracks run by both Allied and German soldiers. Faced with possible extermination, Mr. Feldman admitted to the officer checking him in that he was in fact Jewish. Although he did not suffer the brutality that most of the Jewish descent, his tale is a harrowing illustration of why honoring Jewish-Americans who served is very relevant, even almost 75 years later.