Veteran Spotlight: Army Spc. Fred Wexler

By Wayne SoaresSpecial to iBerkshires
04:47PM / Sunday, June 11, 2023

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Fred Wexler served his country in the Army from 1961 to 1964 as a specialist, 4th grade.  Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he graduated high school then attended the City College of New York. “I wasn’t a good student so I dropped out and joined the Army in ’61,” he recalled. His basic training brought him right down theroad to Fort Dix, N.J. “I was 19 years old. It was typical of what I expected — miserable. I was more of a mental guy than a physical guy. “After basic, they sent me to eight weeks of AIT (Advanced Infantry Training). It was really different, it was more focused on sophisticated equipment. After AIT, I got assigned to Europe and they put us on the USNS Patch, a pretty old ship, and sent us to Wurzburg, Germany with the 3rd Infantry Division. It was headquarters of the division.”  His first duty station would be at the Ledward Barracks in Schweinfurt with the 30th Infantry Regiment. When asked about the holidays and entertainment he responded with this: “It was kind of different. I’m Jewish and there were very few Jewish soldiers. Every Wednesday, a Jewish chaplain would come and hold a service, which I attended regularly. I got a 30-day leave and was able to go home and spent New Year’s with my family.” For entertainment, there was an NCO Club, Officer’s Club and an Enlisted Men’s Club, he said. “They had a few different acts come in. If you were lucky, you could get a pass and go downtown. I couldn’t go all the time because they only paid you $78 a month.” After several assignments, Wexler was offered a job as a finance clerk. “Really helped me considerably and changed my attitude,” he said, and eventually, he was offered a job by a Jewish chaplain as a chaplain’s assistant.  “He was a lieutenant colonel and WWII vet who had been involved with the liberation of concentration camps — oh, the stories he had,” Wexler said. “I would drive him every Wednesday to a concentration camp survivor’s house and he would do a service. We would also drive from post to post and he would do services for Jewish soldiers. He would use his kitchen to cook meals during holidays for the Jewish soldiers. We did a lot of good work for people.”  Wexler did share a dark memory from Nov. 22, 1963.  “It was a Friday and was past working hours and everybody was getting ready for the weekend,” he recalled. “We were in the chapel, which was located just outside the post, and we started to hear lots of noise. People were knocking on the door yelling ‘open up the chapel, open up the chapel, the president’s been shot.'” Chapel was filled in less than two hours with not just military personnel but with townspeople, he remembered. “The Next few days were just crazy, it was not an easy time.”  Wexler did share a wonderful story on coming home.  “They put us on another old ship called the [USNS] Upshur. We spent a week at sea and we were coming into New York,” he said. “I remember going under the Verrazzano Bridge. Guys knew I was from New York and kept asking me to point out the sites. My mom told me she was going to wear a red coat and I spotted her at the dock. I told a bunch of guys I was with to yell out ‘Mrs. Wexler!’ on the count of three. They did and she saw me! It was a great moment. I got discharged at Fort Hamilton, then my mom, dad and my brother went home.” His thoughts on military service? “I grew up a lot in the Army, I learned how to get along with others, learned a lot,” he said. Spc. Fred Wexler, thank you for your service to our great country.

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