Jerry Newmark, a World War II veteran who deeply loved the country that taught his Russian immigrant parents the meaning of freedom, died last week at age 98.
The following is an article that I wrote after interviewing Mr. Newmark in 2010. He was one of the sweetest and most interesting people I have ever interviewed. The best tribute I could think to offer in his memory is to tell his amazing story one more time. ...
Jasper resident Jerry Newmark hasn’t slowed down much at 91. Newmark recently spent several weeks visiting with his brother-in-law, niece and her family in New York. He returned home for a couple of days before heading to Washington, D.C., on an Honor Flight sponsored by the Tuscaloosa Rotary Club. Newmark, a veteran of World War II, complimented the hard work of his hosts with characteristic humor. “All I had to do was show up and stay alive,” he said.
The group’s first stop was the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004 and honors the 16 million Americans who served and 400,000 who died in the war. Newmark said it was an emotional experience to see the names of the Asia-Pacific operations that he participated in etched in stone at the memorial.
An American story, Newmark likely knew better than most soldiers what he was fighting to protect during the war. His parents, Isadore and Sonia Newmark, were Russian immigrants. His mother was from Lithuania and his father was from Poland. When Isadore Newmark was drafted into the Russian Army for the war of 1904-1905, he was sent on a 5,000-mile train ride from Moscow to Siberia. By the time he arrived, the war was already over. Those were difficult days for Newmark’s family because of their Jewish heritage. “Jews in Europe were treated just a little bit lower than a cow,” Newmark said. “They lived in isolated communities called shtetls. A few were fortunate enough to escape those circumstances, but the vast majority were poorer than church mice.”
One of those who did escape was Louis Pizitz, who was raised by Newmark’s paternal grandmother. Pizitz came to the United States and opened his own dry goods store in Birmingham at the turn of the 20th century. When Isadore Newmark emigrated to America, he came to work for Pizitz. His future wife also made her way from Europe to Birmingham and found a job with Pizitz as well. The couple moved to Jasper in 1914 and opened their own business, which would have been unthinkable in their native land. Newmark said Jews were forbidden to own property in Europe and had to learn to barter with whatever they had just to survive. “America was the land of milk and honey because they were free to do anything,” Newmark said.
Newmark said when his mother first came to Jasper, she said she could not live in such a small town. However, she stood by her husband through good times and bad and made many friends whom she cherished until her death. “When she died, you couldn’t drag her out of this town. She thought Jasper was the most wonderful place on Earth,” Newmark said.
Jerry Newmark was born in a shotgun house in downtown Jasper in 1919. After graduating from Walker High School, he attended the University of Alabama. He took a job at a store in Tuscaloosa to help pay for his education. Newmark was selected in the nation’s first draft of World War II in October 1940. He was allowed time to finish his chemistry degree. He graduated in May 1941 and answered his nation’s call in August. Newmark rose to the rank of staff sergeant in the Army before the war ended in 1945.
Newmark said he and the rest of his fellow soldiers had never heard of an atomic bomb before two of them brought World War II to an abrupt halt. “We were in the Philippines. The war in Europe was essentially over, and they were moving troops to the Pacific,” Newmark said. “We were attached to the 101st Airborne for the Japan operation. Then President Truman dropped the A-bomb, and we didn’t have to go.” Newmark was set to go home, but first he was asked to be part of the Army of Occupation in Japan. He wasn’t interested in the offer. “I said, ‘My wife is waiting for me at Camp Shelby. I’m going back to Jasper, Alabama. Japan doesn’t have anything I want,’” Newmark said.
When Newmark arrived at Camp Shelby in December 1945, he was asked to re-enlist. Again, he declined the offer. Newmark went to work to support his young family and eventually took over operation of his parents’ store in downtown Jasper. Newmark and his wife, Dolly, enjoyed traveling. They took numerous trips to every inhabitable continent on the globe. On a deep-sea fishing trip in Acapulco, Newmark hooked a six-foot sailfish that he had stuffed and mounted in his store. On a return trip several years later, Dolly Newmark caught a nine-foot sailfish. “She wanted to have it stuffed and bring it back, but that meant that I would have to explain hers when I put it next to mine. So I didn’t have the money to have hers stuffed,” Newmark said with a twinkle in his eye.
Newmark’s wife passed away in 2009 after 68 years of marriage. Today, he lives alone in the house his parents built in the 1920s. He still drives himself around town and attends services at a temple in Birmingham as often as he can. He only recently received the medals that he was due based on his service in World War II. The medals include the Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and Bronze Star attachment, World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and Honorable Service Lapel Button. The medals are a token of appreciation from a nation that Newmark loves as much as his parents did.
“You don’t know what a wonderful land you live in,” Newmark said.¨