Totten historian dies
BY VICTOR G. MIMONI
Courtesy of the Queens Courier
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Jacob (Jack) Meyer Fein of Bayside, a retired U.S. Army Warrant Officer and curator of the Fort Totten Museum, passed away in the Veterans’ Hospital at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn on Friday, March 28, 2008, after a brief illness. He was 91 years old.
At the time of his passing, he was seeking a publisher for a manuscript relating his experiences as a Jewish soldier stationed near the Auschwitz concentration camp at the close of World War II.
He is survived by two sisters: Lillian and Ruth; four children: Michael, George Leonard and Francine; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Fein, one of six children of Russian immigrants, grew up in Springfield and Chicopee, Massachusetts. His parents ran a general store, which went bankrupt about the time of the Great Depression.
A high school graduate, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1935 and was transferred to Fort Totten in Bayside, New York, a year later.
In 1936, Fein was assigned to the Pacific coastal defense of the Panama Canal and later served with the Army’s Graves Registration office. He was stationed in Europe, Japan and Korea, returning to Fort Totten in the early 1950s.
During his training, Fein married – a union that did not survive his wartime enlistment. In 1949, a rabbi in Japan introduced him to Natalie, the daughter of Eastern European merchants. They married shortly thereafter.
An insight into Fein’s tenacity was related by son Michael, who reportedly said, “She turned him down three times. It became a big joke.”
In 1952, the Feins returned to Fort Totten, where he served as post adjutant, reporting directly to the base commander. He was appointed Official Curator for Military History at Fort Totten within a year, and he served there until his retirement in 1967.
Natalie Corrine Fein passed away in 1986 at 55 years of age, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
He continued to take care of the “museum,” a collection of some 11,000 items he amassed over the years, and led tours of the fort’s historic areas as a volunteer until earlier this year.
Known for his sunny disposition (“I only have one problem — the women keep chasing me,” he joked), Fein was serious about the fort and those who passed through it.
He once lectured a young female reporter, “Remember, you younger generation, you take care of this country, or we’ll come back to haunt you.”
Fein suffered a stroke in mid-January and was taken to the St. Albans Veterans Facility. He was thought to be recovering, but took a turn for the worse after suffering an arm injury and was taken to the hospital at Fort Hamilton on Sunday, March 9.
According to Mary Lou Bornman, an Army retiree and civilian employee at Fort Totten, “I saw Jack just [days before he died] and he said, ‘You know I’m going to die here.’ He didn’t seem that upset.”
Fein will be interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 19, 2008, o rest with his beloved Natalie.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard