Leonard Finz could have remained a group musician in the US Army during World War II, but he put down his saxophone and instead joined his comrades overseas.
On Saturday, the decorated veteran was formally inducted into the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame, earning a spot alongside dignitaries including former Senator Bob Dole and former Army Commander Tommy Franks. US Army.
“How could I explain to my future wife, my children and my grandchildren that I spent World War II playing saxophone and clarinet for real soldiers? the 97-year-old former state Supreme Court justice said during a US Army ceremony attended by his family and several politicians inside the historic Gracewood Mansion in Manhasset.
“I couldn’t do that. I wanted to be a combat soldier and I wanted to be in combat,” said Finz, who wore his military uniform at the ceremony.
Major General John F. Hussey of the U.S. Army Reserve recognized Finz for his superior combat leadership and distinguished public service.
“The world was as dark as it gets…we were down, and this generation came down and saved us. We have to remember that as a nation, all the good that’s been done,” Hussey said.
Finz was 18 when he was sworn into the military, then rose through the ranks to the first Lt.
The Manhasset resident recalled being on a troop ship heading for the front lines in Okinawa when he and others learned that Japan had surrendered, and the ship was diverted to Leyte, in the Philippines, where he was invited to serve as Judge Advocate General.
Despite a lack of legal training, his immaculate record caught the attention of superiors who hired him to defend GI soldiers held prisoner.
A colonel recruited him for the job, but it came with risks. He was in charge of finding witnesses, and there were still Japanese fighters who hadn’t given up.
“You must enter the jungle with only an open jeep and a .45 [caliber], which is your weapon, which is all you have, and there are snipers there. To get witnesses, there are dangers,” Finz said, the Colonel told him. He took the position and continued to successfully defend his men.
In 2004 Finz received the Army Commendation Medal in Washington, DC. He is also a published writer and has dabbled in politics.
On Saturday, State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) said the Senate passed a resolution recognizing Finz’s work and sacrifice.
“Today I have the honor to thank Justice Finz for his extensive and superior service to our nation and our community,” Kaplan said.
Francine Luisi and the Corpus Christi Choir sang the national anthem at the ceremony, and in a somber moment Taps were played to honor fallen veterans.
Finz spent 10 minutes thanking everyone, pointing out the eight Army veterans in the room, including close friend Lawrence Rosenthal, who also served in World War II.
“World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 350 to 400 a day. We are a dying breed and in a few years we will be an extinct breed,” said Finz, who still works in an advisory capacity at the law firm he founded, Finz & Finz PC in Mineola.
State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford) praised Finz not only for his service, but also for being part of a generation that rebuilt the country.
“They literally built the foundation on which we built our nation. There are so few left that we really have to cherish the time we have left with these people,” Brooks said.