An Essay from the Online Library of Shelomo Alfassa
Sephardic Jews and War

by Shelomo Alfassa
In America, Sephardim have served in every campaign and war since and including the American Revolution (where they played a significant role); volumes have been written on this suject. Like other Jews, Sephardim fought in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the most recent conflicts in the Middle East.

Many Sephardim during WWII had only been in the United States for a short time before going to fight for their new country. Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy (including Rhodes) Turkey, Syria, Yugoslavia and other locations served. Some Sephardim even fled the USA and went to Europe to join the French army.

​"Overseas, and between the years 1912 and 1918, over 1800 Sephardic Jews were killed in action as soldiers serving in Bulgaria."
Overseas, and between the years 1912 and 1918, over 1800 Sephardic Jews were killed in action as soldiers serving in Bulgaria. Most were Ladino speaking men. They served in the ranks from the most basic Private to the rank of Colonel, we recognize and remember those that carried surnames such as Amar, Ashkenazi, Uziel, Varon, etc. Jews from Turkey serving in the Sultan’s army also lost their lives. This included men from the lowest ranks to officer-physicians that were killed between 1914-1918. We also remember that during the fighting in Gallipoli, the Zionist Mule Corp, a British army unit made up of Jews, were fighting against Turks—some which were Jews. The idea that Jews were unknowingly fighting fellow Jews in this case remains to be fully explored.
It was the Second World War which greatly sped the entry of the Sephardim into American life. At the time America entered the war, the one-time young immigrants were already in their late forties and so it would be their children who responded to the draft. In 1946, the Central Sephardic Jewish Community of America participated in a survey launched by the National Jewish Welfare Board (NJWB). They would receive only 272 full or partial responses of Jewish men and women in the Armed Forces; this included six questionnaires answered by relatives of men who had paid the supreme sacrifice for their country. Sadly, few Sephardic societies and groups responded to the plea to submit their members' service records to the Central Community or to the Record File of the National Jewish Welfare Board. Because of this, thousands of Sephardic men and women throughout the country are missing from the report on, The American Jews in World War II, compiled by the NJWB. Yet, among the records that were submitted, are many instances of heroic services performed, of which we will cite but a few examples:
Staff Sergeant Louis Algaze was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “Extraordinary achievement, cool courage and devotion during the Eighth Air Force bombing attacks on military and industrial targets in Germany and Nazi occupied Europe.” And he was awarded the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters for “meritorious achievement while participating in the air offensive against the enemy of continental Europe.”
Isaac and Jack Canetti were members of the Sephardic Association of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Isaac, while age 22 and a student at City College, enlisted in the Air Force and went overseas as 2nd Lieutenant, piloting a 4 engine bomber. During one of his bombing missions over Germany, two of his engines were knocked out by enemy fire. Isaac remained at the controls of his rapidly descending plane until all of his nine-man crew had bailed out. Taken prisoner, he was liberated on April 28, 1945. Isaac was awarded the Air Medal twice and also the much coveted Presidential Unit Citation.
Jack Canetti served four years as Staff Sergeant in a Artillery unit. While serving as Gun Commander in a battery protecting the Bermuda Coast, he engaged in a duel with an enemy submarine wolf pack. Jack was seriously wounded in this battle, but his battery had knocked out four enemy submarines.
Sgt. Sam Mayo was awarded the Silver Star with the following United States Army Citation:
On 12 May 1944 Sgt. Sam Mayo took command of his platoon when his platoon leader was wounded and led them against fierce enemy resistance in the assault. In front of his platoon, he led his men into the town and personally directed each one to places of enemy resistance. He so skillfully handled his platoon that all the enemy was captured or destroyed. The platoon under his command captured 25 prisoners and inflicted an unknown number of casualties on the enemy. When he staged a one-man attack on a fortified position in two houses, with utter disregard for his own personal safety under terrifying enemy fire, he alone captured five of the enemy. His men, greatly inspired, completed their mission without suffering a single casualty. His devotion to duty, fearless action, aggressiveness and leadership, are a credit to the highest tradition of the Army of the United States.
At the end of the war, Sam Mayo became an active member of the Community Sephardic Veteran's Post No. 306.
Rabbi Nissim Cohen had reason to be proud of his three sons for serving their country with distinction: James Cohen had served 16 months as an Infantryman and had been wounded twice in battle in the Ardennes, Worms and the Rhineland. Isadore Cohen was awarded the coveted Combat Infantry Badge for service in Burma. Private Cohen had been one of the 75 volunteers making up a special battalion engaged in a six-months combat behind the Japanese lines. And Louis Cohen enlisted in the Army Air Corps, sweated out scores of missions as a Ground Crew Man during the battle of Europe.
Lieutenant Colonel R. Elyachar whose two sons were in uniform, joined the Army, receiving a Commission as a Captain in an Engineer Regiment that was the first of its kind to go overseas, He served in the European and African Theaters of War and during the last six months of the war he was appointed by General Eisenhower as Technical Advisor to the French Government. His skills in developing a unique intelligence information gathering method, as well as his engineering of rebuilding French railroads and bridges at critical junctions following D-Day, earned Lt. Colonel Elyachar the French Medal of Reconnaissance and the Legion of Honor, while the United States honored him with two Bronze Stars, two Legion of Merit Awards, in additon to 10 citations.
Sephardic women were contributing to the war effort at home by organizing blood donor groups within their societies and congregations, contributing funds to the United Service Organization and the Red Cross, and knitting sweaters, mittens and scarves to be sent to the men and women at the front. At Hanukah time, all the women's groups sent gift packages as well as copies of the New York publication The Sephardi to all those stationed in the country or abroad, whose names were on file in the Central Sephardic Community office.

"...An entire Sephardi community was mobilized to participate in the purchase of War Bonds. In 1943, the Junior League of the Syrian Sephardi Community bought a sufficient number of U.S. Bonds to purchase a bomber."
In New York, an entire Sephardi community was mobilized to participate in the purchase of War Bonds. In 1943, the Junior League of the Syrian Sephardi Community bought a sufficient number of U.S. Bonds to purchase a bomber. Another group, the Sephardic Victory Club, came into being in 1943, for the purpose of selling Defense Bonds and sponsoring various patriotic events. By the end of 1943, the members had sold four and a half million dollars worth of bonds-the price of a heavy bomber, and in 1944 they raised the sum needed for the purchase of a Tank Landing Ship. The Club received many tributes from the Treasury Department which also honored it by naming a bomber after the club. This same honor was accorded the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America, which had purchased almost three quarters of a million dollars worth of bonds and had a B-52 bomber named after it. Other societies and congregations also bought Liberty Bonds that helped in the war against the Germans and Japanese.
Upon return to civilian life, many of the men joined Jewish veteran organizations. The three Sephardic groups which came into being in the wake of World War II and which were affiliated with Jewish War Veterans of the U.S., were the Sephardic Veteran Post #306, sponsored by the Central Community in 1945; the Brotherhood Memorial Post #454, founded by the Sephardic Jewish Brotherhood of America in 1946; and the American Syrian Jewish Veterans sponsored, in 1946, by the Syrian Sephardic Jewish community. The Sephardic Victory Club also continued its patriotic work for many years after the cessation of the war. In short, the Sephardim had become not only legally but also psychologically an integral part of the pluralistic American society-a fact that was also reflected in their growing participation in American political life. Today, we remember those who fought and died. We remember and appreciate their sacrifice and their dedication.

Sam Aaron Hasson (1918-1965), son of Alegra “Behora” Yerushalmi aka LaRubia, and Bill “Behor” Hasson. Sam fought in the South Pacific on the Island of New Guinea. He fought in the jungle and on horseback with the Army in their successful battle to rid the Island of Japanese control. While in the service Sam earned a field commission and was promoted from Sergeant to Lieutenant. He also earned a medal and the nickname “bazooka Sam;” he was even written up in the newspapers in the Seattle area. When Sam got home from the war he married and had 2 daughters. (Sam is the author's relative)
Sam Aaron Hasson & his mom after the war ~1947
  1. Managing Director
Photo: Bomber named after the Sephardic Victory Club for raising $4.5 million dollars ($62.5 million in 2016 dollars). In 1943, the Junior League of the Syrian Sephardi Community bought bought enough War Bonds to purchase a bomber.

Several sources contributed to this essay, most notably, Papo's Sephardim in the 20th Century.