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An Old Soldier Dies: Sy Bortz (1922-2012)
My father-in-law passed away in June, and we had a memorial service for him yesterday. If you are seeking a charter member of the Greatest Generation, don’t look much further.
Seymour Bortz, serial number 3662931. United States Army. Sy initially was a private in the 82nd Airborne division, and then a corporal in the Army’s 96th Infantry Division. He was a combat medic, a surgical specialist. He worked on the very front lines in Okinawa, perhaps WWII’s most bitter battle.
Sy said that when he landed on Okinawa on D-Day+2, the Marines who met him on the beach told him to take the Red Cross off of his uniform and helmet. Then they gave him a carbine. “The Japanese shoot at medics,” they said, “and your Red Cross makes a good target.” They sent him up to the line.
On Okinawa, like in other battles, our infantry would attack an enemy position. Guns would fire: rifles, machines guns, mortars, artillery. Invariably a soldier would fall wounded, screaming “medic”.
Sy and the other troops would lay down covering fire while one or two line medics would run to retrieve the wounded man. They would carry him back to our lines.
As a specialist, Sy would work immediately on the man’s wounds, doing what he could to stabilize him and stop the bleeding. Then he would help carry the soldier back to the battalion aid station. There, a doctor would do a diagnosis.
Certain soldiers were lightly wounded, and would have to wait while more urgent cases were cared for.
Other men, more heavily hit, would be treated immediately in surgical facilities, and then sent to hospital ships off the Okinawan coast.
In the case of the worst-hit men, the mortally wounded, the doctor’s eyes would meet Sy’s, and the doctor would shake his head slowly, and say something like, “Sy, do what you can for him. Don’t leave him alone.”
And 22-year-old Sy Bortz, not too long out of a college classroom, would sit calmly and try to give comfort to a shot-up young soldier, as the life ebbed out of his body, at times easily, and at times with brutal pain. Perhaps the boy would want water, or just cry sadly, or say last good-byes, or ask for his mom. Sy would speak softly to him, with kindness and warmth.
Sometimes, the soldier’s pain became too much to bear, and Sy would give him morphine, more and more — until there was no more pain. Sy would wait quietly, and after a while he would cover the boy’s head with a blanket.
Then Sy Bortz would stand up, and walk back to the front lines, to help other soldiers with their combat wounds, some of them not too serious, and others with wounds, more serious.
Sy worked as a medical specialist every day for three months in a battle in which the United States saw 7,613 men killed and 31,807 men wounded, and during which 26,221 men were evacuated due to shell shock, combat fatigue or whatever it is when men’s minds are stretched too far in battle. Sy was there the entire time.
I have no doubt that Sy Bortz is going to heaven, or some good place like it. He was a sincere and honorable man.
And when he gets to his destination, well, he’ll find a group of courageous young soldiers there — boys who spent their last moments on earth with Sy, boys who gave their lives for their country in the springtime of 1945.
They’ve been waiting for a long time to see Sy, to say thank you to him. As should we all.
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