Remembering S/SGT Bernard I. Friedenberg

[May 31, 2022]  Article by Charles P. Eberson.  Editor’s note: Graphic content.  Article reprinted by permission.

Friedenberg’s landing on Omaha beach, D-Day June 6, 1944 as quoted from his autobiography, On Being Numerous: World War II As I Saw It, “I stepped off the ramp and sank down into water that was over my head. I’ll never be able to explain how I swam in with the load I was carrying, but I did. Totally exhausted, I made it to the beach and threw myself onto the sand, trying to catch my breath. Then my work began. When I lifted my head, I saw another soldier lying alongside me. I said something to him and he moaned. I looked down and saw that the man’s leg was missing from the knee down. Every place I looked I saw dead and wounded bodies. I gave the man alongside me first aid and all the time I was doing this, I could hear men hollering, “Medic” from every direction. I moved on to the next casualty and then the next and the next and the next. There was no end to them. Enemy shells were exploding all around me; the bullets kept whizzing around my head, but I didn’t feel scared. I was too busy to even think about being scared.”

I first met Bernie in the mid 1970’s. I was working at a real estate office in Margate when he walked in and started chatting with the Broker. He had a calm and gentlemanly demeanor; someone with whom anyone could have an easy conversation. I remember the Broker had to take a call so Bernie I began talking. He told me he was a private pilot and my ears perked up because I was, and still am, an avid aviation enthusiast. The conversation shifted from real estate to flying until the Broker returned from his phone call. When Bernie was saying his goodbyes, he looked over to me and casually asked if I would like to go up with him one day. That is when our friendship began. Bernie would stop by the office and ask me if I was free for a flight. We would drive to Bader Field in Atlantic City where he kept his aircraft and go up.

As John Gillespie Magee Jr. wrote in his poem, High Flight, we “slipped the surly bonds of Earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.” I say this because it is above our Earth that Bernie opened up to me about some of his war memories. He had no destination; no time restraints, no demands. The only limitation was the amount of fuel on board. I remember thinking, I had put my life in the hands of someone I hardly knew, not yet aware of how many others had put their lives in his hands in far worse and gruesome conditions. I listened quietly to his stories accompanied by the steady drum of the engine realizing I was getting a rare glimpse inside the memories of Bernie Friedenberg, a citizen soldier. At times, his voice would crack or he would be distracted by the demands of a pilot and all too soon for me, we were on the ground. We were back in the present.

Bernie wrote, “I felt a wave of fatigue wash over me. I thought I was going to pass out. I sat down on a tree stump in front of the farmhouse and started to shake uncontrollably. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. This was the first time in my life that my body had let me down. I didn’t want to leave my men, but they insisted I hop a ride (in the truck) as I was totally exhausted. I went to the back of the truck and rode on the tailgate. As the Germans retreated, they placed land mines in the road. Sure enough the truck I was riding in hit one. It was an anti-tank mine and the explosion was tremendous. It blew me off the tailgate and into a ditch. When I regained consciousness, I was about fifteen feet away from the burning truck and I was the only survivor. Everyone else had been killed.”

As the years rolled by and I moved on in my career, I would see Bernie, a Commander of the Jewish War Veterans, on Memorial Weekend handing out red poppies in front of Casel’s Supermarket in Margate and we would reunite. We would also meet each other at the Veterans’ Cemetery in the Atlantic County Park at Estell Manor during the annual ceremonies and catch up on our respective lives. Bernie would be wearing his military uniform and all of his medals with pride. At the end of the ceremonies, the bugler would play Taps. Bernie would snap to attention and hold the salute until the last note. He was not the only veteran fighting to maintain their composure.

Bernie would occasionally mention his nightmares, a fact that was also shared with me by his family. In his book, he wrote about one experience that haunted him. It was December 1944 in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. A German machine gunner opened fire on six men attempting to cross a field, wounding all six of them. Bernie got within twenty yards of them when he came under fire from the machine gun. As soon as he raised his head the gun opened up on him again. Bullets were whizzing above his head and making puffs in the snow all around him. Bernie played dead. He laid in the snow for six hours listening to the cries, prayers and moans for help from the wounded soldiers until they all eventually went silent. When it finally got dark, Bernie got up realizing that he was left for dead and checked on the wounded men one by one.

They had all perished.

Among other memories, this haunted him the most. Bernie couldn’t help the feeling that he failed them. He carried this with him for the rest of his life as well as the many other experiences that Bernie encountered. But in retrospect, Bernie also thought about all the lives he saved; all the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that were born because of his actions. He also thought about all of the wives and children who did not suffer a loss because of his courage and selfless dedication to duty.

After Bernie’s passing in 2018, I reflected on the time we spent together as well as the contents of his autobiography and came away with how special our time was. How he impacted my life from the time he first came into the real estate office to the last few minutes we spent together. Bernie and other veterans like him walked among us in anonymity, many not sharing the atrocities they witnessed nor the heroic actions they took to preserve our freedoms.

Bernie included a quote from Edmund Burke in his book. It read “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Staff Sergeant Friedenberg was awarded two Silver Stars, two bronze stars and two Purple Hearts.

It’s hard to imagine that when attempting to enlist in the Navy he was rejected due to poor eyesight. The Army also rejected him. But Bernie persisted; went back every week until he was finally accepted and the rest is history, literally.

The Bernie Friedenberg World War II Memorial is scheduled to be unveiled and dedicated on June 6, 2023 in O’Donnell Park in Atlantic City. The statue will be a nine-foot likeness of Bernie tending to a wounded soldier on Omaha Beach during D-Day, June 6, 1944.

For more information on this statue or to make a donation, go to berniefriedenbergworldwariimemorial.com.

Charles Eberson has been in the newspaper business for over 25 years. He has worked as a writer, advertising executive, circulation manager and photographer. His photography can be viewed at charles-eberson.fineartamerica.com

Original article can be accessed here: http://www.shorelocalnews.com/remembering-s-sgt-bernard-i-friedenberg/

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Please purchase my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

31 thoughts on “Remembering S/SGT Bernard I. Friedenberg

  1. Charles Eberson

    Thank you for all your support and comments. This was a story I had rattling around my head for some time and thought it would be most appropriate to finally get it out on Memorial Weekend. Let’s all strive to keep the memory of our heroes alive.

    Reply
  2. Anya B.

    Excellent article. Well written, to the point. Thanks Charles.

    Reply
    1. Edward G.

      Got that right on target, Anya B. Charles did a great job of entertaining us while giving some real facts about a great man, S/SGT Bernie Friedenberg. Thanks to Gen. Satterfield for getting this article into his blog.

      Reply
  3. Desert Cactus

    Bernard Friedenberg, known as “Bernie” to his friends, is one of those rare American heroes. Today, we have a bunch of wussies in the US military. Just take a look at the four-star general Milley. What a disgrace that man is to the uniform and an ongoing insult to those who gave their lives in their service to the nation.

    Reply
  4. Susan C Friedenberg

    I want to thank you Charles for this amazing article. I am Bernie‘s PROUD daughter & I was blessed to have him as a Father and role model. I adored my Dad.💔🇺🇸💔
    Email me if you wish to purchase a book.
    God bless the GREATEST GENERATION! 🇺🇸🇺🇸
    scffatraining@aol.com

    Susan C Friedenberg

    Reply
    1. corralesdon

      Oh wow, it is an honor to have you on this website Susan. Your dad certainly was a wonderful man and a real American hero.

      Reply
    2. ZB22

      Thank you, thank you, thank you ….. for all you have done Susan to help get the word out on your dad. We all are better off because of him, esp. if you live in southern jersey.

      Reply
  5. Frankie Boy

    Mr. Eberson, I enjoyed your article about S/SGT Friedenberg tremedously. Many of us here on Gen. Satterfield’s website are regular readers and fans of our military, police, and first responders. We crave a good story. We look forward to read about what a great man (or woman) has done and why and what were they thinking when they accomplished something great. That is how we learn to be a better, more productive member of our families and communities. Again, thanks for giving us Bernard Friedenberg!

    Reply
  6. Harry Donner

    This article is one of the many reasons that I keep coming back to this leadership blog by Gen. Doug Satterfield. I find that each day is a new page in life that I do not want to miss. Thanks to all who make this website possible.

    Reply
  7. Bernie

    While there are many heroes whose stories must be told, we will never know them. That is for many reasons. Some are selfish reasons; the veteran does not want to speak about his experiences because of the pain. I say, do talk about what happened and why. Let us decide. Besides, psychologists are consistent on this idea that talking about even the horrible things in your life can free you from the bondage of nightmares and the tragedies they have overcome.

    Reply
  8. 76 Wife

    Thank you Mr. Charles Eberson for telling the story of this hero. There are many heroes in our mist. We just need to know about them.

    Reply
  9. Harry Man

    His stories is an example of what persistence is all about. Don’t take ‘no’ for the answer. There are plenty of unelected gatekeeper bureaucrats out there. Learn how to get around them.

    Reply
  10. Nick Lighthouse

    I first met Bernie in the mid 1970’s. I was working at a real estate office in Margate when he walked in and started chatting with the Broker. Mr. Eberson, you are a fortunate man to have been around this hero. But remember that you are to be thanked for helping get the word out on this man. Well done!!!!! ✔✔✔✔

    Reply
    1. old warrior

      I was thinking the same thing. But remember folks that you will never know these stories unless you motivate yourself to get off your butt and talk to folks. Go places. Do things. Talk with everyone. That is what being a good human being is about. Do those selfless things for your community.

      Reply
  11. Kenny Foster

    Good article, very informative and entertaining. Thanks Charlie for a window into the life of S/SGT Friedenberg. This is the kind of story we need to get out to young people, to show them what a real hero is like (the good and the not-so-good), and that if you persist and have a noble goal in life, you can obtain it if you are willing to make the proper sacrifices to get there.

    Reply
  12. Dead Pool Guy

    “It’s hard to imagine that when attempting to enlist in the Navy he was rejected due to poor eyesight. The Army also rejected him. But Bernie persisted; went back every week until he was finally accepted and the rest is history, literally.” Yes, indeed, amazing!

    Reply
    1. Willie Strumburger

      Where can you get a copy of the book? Anyone know? I couldn’t find it on Amazon.com. Oh, you can get Gen. Satterfield’s book there.

      Reply
      1. Susan C Friedenberg

        Mr Strumburger, I am the proud daughter of Bernie. I adored my Father and he was encouraged by doctors at a VA hospital to purge his experiences of the war by writing a book because he was having horrible nightmares after Saving Private Ryan came out. If anybody is interested in the book please email me.
        Susan C Friedenberg
        scffatraining@aol.com
        In the subject line put- Bernie’s Book

        Reply
  13. Fred Weber

    A story to be re-told many times. Let us not forget. 👍

    Reply
  14. Frank Graham

    Wow, great article. Special thanks to Charles Eberson for highlighting Bernard Friedenberg for us.

    Reply
    1. Bryan Z. Lee

      Right, excellent article, great story of courage, resilience, and strength. This man, S/SGT Friedenberg was probably much like the rest of us. What he did during WW2 is something to be treasured by us all. Frank, you’re right, Mr. Eberson has surely given us a small insight into what a real hero is like.

      Reply
      1. Veronica Stillman

        I believe that is why his story from the war is so interesting to each of us. Especially men will want to read more about Bernard Friedenberg. And, thanks to Mr. Eberson and Gen. Satterfield for getting this information out there for us to read.

        Reply
      2. Eye Cat

        Learning about heroes and getting to know their stories helps us all remember what the ideal person can do given the right circumstances and the right motivations.

        Reply

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