Never having lost his sense of humor, 98-year old Dr. Noel Jacob Wiener called this his "15 minutes of fame" as honors were heaped on him Wednesday, for his service as the last known surviving officer in General Eisenhower's headquarters in the European Theater of World War II.
Wiener lives in Newfoundland with his daughter Sally and her husband Daniel Grotta. He was a guest at the Hawley Senior Center, where citations and proclamations were delivered from the offices of State Representatives Frank Farina (D-115th) and Michael Piefer (R-139th); PA Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th) and the Wayne County Commissioners.
Described as enjoying relatively good health, the Philadelphia native delighted in sharing stories of his service to his country. Near him was a framed picture of him in his US Army dress uniform taken in 1944, said to very much resemble Clark Gable.
Wiener served as a First Lieutenant in General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF). He was attached to the 3118 Signal Service Group, which was responsible for all communications between SHAEF and American and British armies in the field.
He recalled crossing the Atlantic from Hoboken, NJ on a "banana boat," surrounded by an aircraft carrier, battleship and battle cruisers, in place to protect the General and his staff. They landed at Cardiff, Wales and took the train to London.
"All of my 3118th boys were spread out in London and in the suburbs to set up communications for Ike's headquarters," he said. "We were bombed the first night we were there; the Nazis knew we were coming."
"You can't get rid of the memories," he said. He recalled the hail of bombs, the rush to the brick air raid shelters at Regents Park where their barracks were stationed. German V-2 rockets came next. While Wiener survived, friends of his perished in the attacks.
"When a buzz bomb came, we prayed," he said. "When it exploded we knew it had missed us."
One grim duty he recalled was helping to dig out a hospital that was destroyed by a V-2. A maternity ward had been hit, and he and other soldiers carried out the women and babies from the rubble. There were no survivors. "It was a horrible situation; civilians were killed instead of soldiers," he said, his voice trembling at the memory.
Although trained as a dentist, his duty at headquarters was to deliver supplies to the higher officers- in particular, the liquor. Asked what General Eisenhower preferred, he said, "he drank Irish"- and no, he didn't give him any extra portion. "I kept it for myself," he said with a broad smile.
He said that Eisenhower was not much of a drinker. "He was a leader; he kept his head clean."
He added that the General liked reading cowboy stories.
Page 2 of 2 - Wiener said that he was not in the General's "inner circle" but saw him now and then and would exchange greetings. "Ike was a terrific leader and a wonderful politician, very strong" he said in a TV interview later. "Ike was a good man. We enjoyed knowing each other."
Wiener crossed the Channel on D-Day-6, landing at Omaha Beach. He being stationed at the SHAEF headquarters in Versailles, he went to Rheims, Germany. He was present at the schoolhouse in Rheims on May 7th, 1945, when the German High Command signed the instrument of unconditional surrender to the Allies.
Wiener recalled hearing the news. "General 'Beetle' Smith came out - we were standing on the porch- and he said with a sigh, 'It's over.'"
The veteran said he threw his hat in the air when he heard that.
Wiener was honorably discharged from the service in 1946 with the permanent rank of captain.
He came back from the war and was greeted by his wife Edith, his parents and other family members. Dr. Wiener lived in Pottstown, where he had an orthodontist practice. He and Edith- who died in 2009- raised two daughters, Sally and Amy. His daughter Amy and husband Steve Sosnov raised two children, Elizabeth and Jonathan.
Greetings were also read at the ceremony from his grandson Jonathan Sosnov and wife Mariya Gusman, both who are medical doctors in the US Air Force.
Remarks were offered by County Commissioners Brian Smith and Jonathan Fritz, and Thomas McDonnell, director, Wayne County Veteran Affairs. McDonnell described Wiener as an example of "living history."
Michael Cappellini, an aide for Rep. Farina, spoke of the "unbelievable honor" it was to meet Dr. Wiener and remarked how well Wiener was doing. "I don't play football anymore," Wiener replied. He does, however, regularly keeps up to date with his iPad, iPhone and Kindle. Daughter Amy remarked, "he texts me five times a day."
Commissioner Fritz mentioned the sacrifice Wiener has made for his country. Wiener replied that his sacrifice was not so much compared to what others gave.
Asked by a reporter how he felt about the awards being given him that day, he replied, "I don't deserve it..." He paused and added, "I deserve the honors for the people I left behind."