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What my father never told me

A Connecticut family celebrates an honor long overdue                        

By Jonathan Goldman

Robert Goldman

My dad was a hero, but he didn’t like to talk about himself. When we boys asked him about the war, he just shook his head. All he said was that he was wounded during World War II when an enemy plane hit his ship. But thanks to a U.S. Military initiative to honor “under-recognized” Jewish, Black, and Hispanic veterans, we have found out what he did, and why the Coast Guard recently named a ship after him. 

Bob Goldman grew up on a farm in rural Woodstock, Connecticut, where he went to a one-room schoolhouse. Because the town was too small to have their own secondary school, high school students were sent to the Woodstock Academy, a private high school. Depression times were tough, and in-town students were moved along, so Bob graduated when he was 16. 

He thought he’d pluck chickens and pump gas for the rest of his life. But a gas station customer, a retired professor, saw that this young man was capable of more. He told Bob to hop into his car, drove him to the University of Connecticut, and helped him register for classes as an agriculture major. Bob put himself through school by working in the chicken coops. A perk: free eggs. 

Nearby was the Coast Guard academy. Bob always thought that if he ever joined the military, that was the uniform he’d want to wear. 

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. In October, 1942, Bob enlisted in the Coast Guard. He received medical training at Columbia University’s School of Pharmacy to become a pharmacist mate (medical corpsman). In July 1944, he reported for duty on the United States Coast Guard (USCG) LST-66, headed for the Philippines. The LST (landing ship tank) was a naval workhorse, designed for transportation of machinery and men, and able to approach and unload on shallow beachheads. 

Nov. 12, 1944, was a day that my father never forgot. The LST-66 was onshore on Leyte Island embarking a combined Navy-Army reconnaissance unit. At 5 p.m., a Japanese Zero flew over the horizon and intentionally headed for the LST-66. What resulted was devastation on board. Four dead, and seven wounded. My father was on deck when the crash occurred. The man standing next to him was killed instantly. 

Although he suffered shrapnel wounds and severe burns to his back, my father’s priorities were clear. Fire surrounded him. He jumped into a gun turret, to administer morphine to a suffering shipmate. In the midst of this, there was leaking aviation fuel and live ammunition at his feet. He was the last on his ship to get medical attention. He had refused to even sit down to be examined until all the wounded had been treated. His uniform had to be cut from his burned flesh. Like many of his generation, he never spoke of his combat experiences. 

Later in life, he served as Post 45 Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America.

In 2016, Coast Guard historian Dr. William Thiesen began looking into my father’s heroic service record. Five years later, there we were, participating in the commissioning of a Sentinel Class Coast Guard Cutter bearing the name “Robert Goldman.” 

The Commissioning Ceremony took place on March 12, in Key West Florida. Among those in attendance: Vice Admiral Scott Buschman, Coast Guard Foundation President Susan Ludwig, and the commanding officer of the USCGC Robert Goldman, Lieutenant Commander Samuel Blase. My father’s daughters-in-law, Eleanor Goldman and Gail Fresia, held the traditional honors of ship’s sponsor and long glass presenter. Also present were my brothers, Yale and Scott, along with my sons Richard, Alexander, and Ari.

The USCGC Robert Goldman blazon carries the ship’s motto “Beyond the call of duty” – a quote from a shipmate describing my father’s actions on that November day. It also appears in the recommendation for the Bronze Star Medal he received,. 

The USCGC Robert Goldman is one of six Sentinel Class Cutters to be stationed in Bahrain as part of the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces Southwest Asia. I have been told that the crew of the Robert Goldman is the finest and most experienced crew on the most technologically advanced cutter ever built, and I believe it. 

We will be forever grateful to the Coast Guard for the honor given to my father. 

Jonathan Goldman lives in West Hartford.

Main Photo: At the Commissioning Ceremony for the USCGC Robert Goldman are his three sons and their families: (l to r) Daughter-in-law Eleanor Goldman, her son Richard, and her husband Jonathan; daughter-in-law Gail Fresia and her husband Scott Goldman; and Yale Goldman. Jonathan, Scott and Yale are Bob’s sons.

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