Stanley Feltman, WWII tail gunner and undefeated amateur boxer, dies at 95
He had gone undefeated as an amateur boxer, becoming a fighter at the behest of his drill sergeant who saw him beat up a taunting roommate in his barracks at the US Army Air Forces training camp in Biloxi, Mississippi.
And as a WWII tail gunner on a Tinian-based Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber in the Northern Mariana Islands in 1945, Stanley Feltman shot down a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighter over the Pacific – an unusual feat for an artilleryman and one requiring great skill.
But for Feltman, who was born in Brooklyn and lived most of his adult life in Coram, it was his last assignment that proved to be the most heartbreaking.
He and 10 teammates were shot dead in a “milk run”, a mission where they were supposed to face little threat from enemy combatants or antiaircraft fire.
They ended up floating in the Pacific Ocean surrounded by sharks, their yellow dye repellant running out.
Feltman lived to be 95 years old. He died on September 23 at Stony Brook University Hospital after doing what his son described as a “bad fall” at home.
“He didn’t talk much about it in my childhood,” his son Richard Feltman said of the war, “but as he got older he started to open up more, to allow his story to be told. “
And it was pretty good.
Born April 5, 1926 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Stanley Feltman was only 15 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As soon as he was 17, he persuaded his parents, Henry and Gella, to allow him to enlist. in the US military. Sent to Biloxi, the 5-foot-8, 136-pound Feltman quickly found himself harassed endlessly by a barracks bully.
It all came to a head one morning when the biggest recruit blocked Feltman’s path, insulting him with derogatory taunts about being a Brooklyn Jew.
Feltman beat him and the fight was assisted by a drill sergeant, who had Feltman recruited to box in intersectional tournaments.
He went 22-0.
Because he also proved to be an expert sniper, Feltman was sent to artillery school and became the tail gunner on a B-29.
He flew 15 missions over Japan, shooting down the Zero, before his bomber was shot down on the 16th mission.
Drifting in the Philippine Sea, Feltman braved sharks to save his teammate.
“My dad wasn’t overly dramatic when he narrated it,” said Richard Feltman. “He just said, ‘That’s what happened. We were in the water, there was yellow dye in the water, there were sharks in the water, a guy floated and I went to take him back to the canoe “- and that was it. I think those guys just crashed into the creepy ocean. “
After the war, Stanley Feltman went to Mohawk College in Utica on the GI Bill, clashing with the administration there for running an underground newspaper. He graduated from Utica College at Syracuse University.
He was offered a try as a second baseman with the San Francisco Minor Leagues, where Joe DiMaggio once played, but it didn’t work. He therefore returned to post-war Asia.
Feltman told WarHistoryOnline that he worked as a casino racer in Macau Portuguese, then moved to Japan, where he learned Japanese and befriended a Japanese aviator who flew a Zero during the war.
“Originally he was the enemy,” Feltman told WarHistoryOnline. “But he has become one of my best friends.”
The two remained friends until the age of 90, he said.
Returning to the United States, Feltman worked for his father’s flooring company and met Marilyn Jacobson, who would become his wife, on a blind date in 1968.
The two married in 1969 and had two sons, Richard and Scott. Feltman’s wife predeceased him in 2008.
Richard Feltman said his father was a staunch Zionist and even helped smuggle weapons, via Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, across Canada to Israel.
Later, the elder Feltman became a founding member of the National WWII Museum in New Orleans and, after retiring as a carpet salesman, survived pancreatic cancer. He joined post 366 of Jewish War Veterans, where he became a huge fundraiser for the group and the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, selling poppies almost daily outside local stores from of a display table showing photos of him and his bomber crew. It was a routine interrupted when the coronavirus pandemic arrived.
“In a way, the pandemic kind of killed him long before he died, because selling those poppies and raising money kept him young, kept him viable, kept him healthy, kept him active – and losing that, well… it was just very, very important to him, ”said Richard Feltman.
Feltman is survived by his two sons and five grandchildren.