David “Mickey” Marcus was the first man buried at West Point who died fighting under another nation’s flag. Only two weeks before, he had been appointed as field general for the fledgling state of Israel – the first man to hold that post since Judah Maccabee 2,100 years earlier.
In his brief 46 years, Mickey accomplished the work of several lifetimes. He helped form a self-defense group to protect elderly Jews from New York street gangs, graduated from West Point and Brooklyn Law School, worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney, brought down Lucky Luciano’s crime ring, and rose to the rank of Commissioner of Corrections for New York’s massive prison system, all while continuing his military career as Lt. Colonel in the National Guard.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Mickey organized and commanded a Ranger school which trained 8,000 men in its first year. His request for a field command was rejected, however, because he was needed as Judge Advocate in the highest levels of the Army Department.
Mickey eventually helped draft every major U.S. war agreement, including Dumbarton Oaks (which formed the United Nations), Teheran, Yalta, and Potsdam, where the post-war balance of power was forged.
Despite his high level command work, Mickey managed to fight in the field by literally sneaking away. He parachuted for the first time in his life when he jumped along with the 101st Airborne on D-Day.
He managed to lead a number of patrols in firefights against German units and free a group of captured U.S. paratroopers, before his commander in Washington finally tracked him down and ordered him back to his office work.
Mickey saw Nazi atrocities first hand when toured the just-liberated concentration camp at Dachau – where my grandfather was murdered – and it was Mickey who selected the judges, prosecutors and lawyers for the major war crimes trials in Germany and Japan.
And that would have been enough for a distinguished, heroic career. But Mickey embarked on a second act.
When he was asked to help find an organizer for the fledgling fighting forces of the soon-to-be-declared Jewish state, Mickey realized no one was more qualified than himself. He arrived in the Holy Land in January, 1948, and the Jewish situation was desperate.
The surrounding Arab states held 100 times more land, and 60 times more people than embryonic Israel. The armies of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon were poised to attack as soon as the British left, and they had not suffered from the crippling arms embargo imposed on Palestine by the British.
In the next five months, Mickey helped turn the brave but disorganized and ridiculously outnumbered Israeli forces into the effective strike force that crippled the Egyptian army in the Negev, and ultimately bested well trained Jordanian forces in the most important theater of Israel’s War of Independence, the Jerusalem front.
Just hours after celebrating his key victory, Mickey was unable to sleep and went out for a walk, exchanging a wave with the sentry of his command post. While he was out, the relief sentry arrived 25 minutes early – a boy who did not speak English. Mickey returned a few minutes later and, because he spoke no Hebrew, answered the new sentry’s challenge incorrectly. The nervous boy shot once through Mickey’s heart.
David Ben-Gurion said, “He was the best man we had.” His gravestone at West Point declares, “Colonel David Marcus – A Soldier for All Humanity.”
There is simply not enough room here to tell Mickey’s whole story, but I highly recommend this article: http://www.historynet.com/david-mickey-marcus.htm
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