by Jess Clackum
Private First Class Arthur A. Hersh died on 18 October 1945 in Asa Higawa, Hokkaido, Japan. He was just 29 years old and only a few points shy of earning his ticket home as he had talked about in his final letter dated 6 September.
Arthur died from "complications of dysentery, severe diarrhea and hookworm infestation." The only personal effects on him at the time of his death were his Philippine Liberation Ribbon, a fountain pen and crucifix. He was buried at 1500 hours on 23 October 1945 at the United States Air Force Cemetery in Yokahama, Honshu, Japan, with Chaplain Morris Adler presiding. The location of his grave was Plot USAF, Row 2, Grave 83.
Just three days before Arthur's death, on 15 Oct 1945, the 77th Infantry Division landed in Japan for Operation Downfall which was originally to be the occupation and final phase of the war until the Japanese surrendered in August.
Arthur's unit, the 77th Infantry Division, returned to the States in March 1946.
On 31 August 1948 the U.S. government relocated Arthur, as they did many deceased soldiers, from his military grave in Japan back to the family plot in New York. He was received in Brooklyn on 7 January 1949 and interred in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York. His parents Isaac (who died in 1968) and Yetta (who died at the age of 103 in 1979) are buried next to him.
According to the National Archives Arthur served 20 Mar 1942 to 18 Oct 1945. Prior to his death he received the WWII Service Label Button, WWII Victory Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon, Combat Infantryman's Badge, European African Middle Eastern Campaign with one Bronze Service Star and the Bronze Star Medal with one Oak Cluster, the latter of which was awarded posthumously.
In 2006 the Department of the Army, who had been incredibly helpful to me during my research, reissued Arthur's medals and ribbons to our family. I presented these medals to my mother, who had always felt a connection to her father's twin brother though she was born eight months after his death.
My grandparents, Bill and May, had always told us Arthur had contracted dysentery and died on the island of Leyte. I don't fault them for getting it wrong as so many years had passed, it's only normal details would've been forgotten.
During the course of my genealogy research, in 2004, I'd found that the little information I'd been given wasn't enough, I needed to know what happened to Arthur. It was as if some invisible force was pushing me forward in this mission and I refused to give up. Unfortunately for me when I began asking the important questions, my grandfather had been gone some twenty years and the only ones left who knew anything were Arthur's oldest brother Dave and my grandmother May. Because Dave was in his 90s and in poor health, he was not much help so I relied upon my grandmother, who was 87 at the time, for every tidbit of information she could recall. I told her that even insignificant minor details would help. She did the best she could and so all I had to begin my search was the memories she shared and the surviving letters she and gramps had kept safely tucked away for nearly sixty years. It wasn't much but it was all I had.
I combed through census records, WWII databases, forums, and message boards, which proved helpful in pointing me in new directions. Along the way I learned quite a bit about the 77th Infantry and the men who served in it. The real breakthrough came when fellow WWII researchers pointed me in the direction of the U.S. Army Personnel Records Center. Even though a fire had destroyed most of the personnel records from that era, there were still other records available in other locations. The staff I worked with at the Army Personnel Records Center were incredibly helpful and I gained major headway when, two years after I'd begun my research, I received Arthur's Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF). For me, that file was gold. The IDPF contained enough information to help me finally put the investigation to rest.
Once I learned what really happened to Arthur and where he was buried, I began the process of trying to find men who had served with him who might remember him. I knew my chances were slim to none especially given the advanced age of those still living and the fact so many were dying at such a rapid rate but I had to try. Once again I frequented message boards, military forums and utilized social media.
Luck struck again when I found a man named Benno Levi, who served as a Private First Class in the 3rd Platoon of the 305th Infantry. As it turns out, Benno knew Arthur, they had been friends. They met for the first time in February 1944 at Camp Pickett shortly before Benno joined Company A.
The first time Benno emailed me, surprised but elated that I'd found him, he recalled, "We were both on a Sunday pass leaving camp on a bus to Richmond, Virginia. After that we met occasionally and talked about home and families."
Benno told me that back in September 1945, he'd had no idea that Arthur had been ill and had been shocked later to learn of his death. After all, in Arthur's letter dated 6 September, just over a month before his death, he made no mention of being ill, instead was looking forward to reaching the necessary 80 points so he could return home. As you may recall in his final letter dated 6 September he'd already had 75 of 80 points.
During the time of Arthur's illness and death, Benno and his fellow soldiers had been busy taking over occupation duties as the first unit to arrive on Hokkaido. Benno said they were undergoing significant changeover of personnel including high ranking officers in command. The enlisted who had earned their points and served the longest in Company A were sent home. Had he lived, Arthur would've been among them.
As I continued to try and locate other men Arthur had served with, which to this day I've had no luck, I also embarked upon an equally difficult task---locating Arthur's former girlfriend Mary Brockel and former fiancee Pearl Greenbaum. Sadly, despite all my best efforts, to this day, I have not been able to locate either of them.
When I began this quest, I started with very little information -- things told to me by my grandparents and 44 letters from Arthur that they'd managed to preserve over the years. I had no idea that my research would result in what was tantamount to finding buried treasure but that's exactly what it turned out to be. I started with many questions and ended with more answers than I thought I would ever find. Though Arthur died long ago, the mystery surrounding his death felt like a lack of closure, for all of us. Discovering the truth gave us a sense of peace---like Arthur was finally, truly at rest. I still think about him and what his life was like fighting in a war he best described as hell on earth, and what it must've been like so close to the only thing he truly wanted -- to go home -- and knowing he would never get there.
Over the years I've heard so many wonderful stories about what a kind, generous, compassionate and artistically talented man Arthur was, I just wish my parents and we kids would've had the chance to know him. I've often wondered what it would have been like to grow up with both Arthur and gramps around together. I am quite sure it would've been great!
"I so often wonder when I'll be heading home and it seems like years...my thoughts are constantly of home and the pleasant things and people I left behind."
Arthur Abraham Hersh
26 Nov 1915 - 18 Oct 1945