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After spending three years in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, Mort Schecter is still serving his country at the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Medical Center. The 87-year-old Northridge resident volunteers three days a week at the VA to help clothe underprivileged veterans.
“It’s actually a nice clothing department,” Schecter said. “I feel good dressing those guys.”
Schecter gets donations from the Jewish War Veterans Post 603 and the American Legion Hollywood Post 43. Post 603 gives him $300 in clothing to distribute per month and Post 43 gives him bags of clothing each week. Underwear, pants and T-shirts are bought new, but other items like shoes and suits come through donations. Most recently, Schecter gave a homeless Marine a blanket and raincoat.
Schecter enjoys giving back because some of his friends have moved into the 360-unit veterans home on the grounds of the West Los Angeles Medical Center.
Much of his crew from the 2nd Air Division, 8th Air Force have passed away, but Schecter keeps busy with American Legion Hollywood Post 43. With 487 members from different wars, conflicts and diversities, it’s easy to make friends and share stories, and Schecter has plenty of good ones to tell.
In 1942, he graduated from Fairfax High School and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. The Air Force remained a branch of the Army until 1947. He flew as a tail gunner aboard 35 missions on a B-24 Liberator bomber, 26 of which were on the “Belle of the East”. Schecter would ride backward and fight off enemy attacks with .25-caliber machine guns on a hydraulic-operated turret.
“At 25,000 feet, the temperature could drop to forty below zero, so we had heated suits and winter clothes in addition to oxygen tanks,” Schecter said.
He was first stationed in Wendover, Utah and later in Norwich, England. Half his missions were over France and the other half were over Germany. He started as a private, but jumped to sergeant and then to staff sergeant after he got his wings.
On one occasion, Schecter’s plane had to make an emergency landing. He said the front strut was hit and collapsed, but luckily, the six 1,000-pound bombs onboard were not affected.
“The saddest part of the war was seeing planes get shot down and all the vacant beds later on,” Schecter said.
Luckily for him, Schecter had one of the easiest jobs on D-Day. His group flew four missions that day. After he flew the first mission, which went out at 3 a.m. and bombed a port in France scot-free, his day was done. Another group took the plane out later and bombed targets in Germany. On the way back to England, the plane ran out of gas. The pilot pushed the bail-out bell and the seven men in the front of the plane parachuted out. The three men in the back didn’t hear the bell, and crash-landed on a farm. A wing broke and the plane turned over, but four English farmers pulled the men out alive.
“Nobody was hurt,” Schecter said. “It was unreal — a miracle.”
Schecter was discharged in 1945. He was awarded with a Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals.
He grew up playing baseball, so he would play whenever he could while in the service, whether it be at Fort Knox or in Denver, Colorado. Today, he enjoys watching his grandson, Ben, play in Little League. Ben, 11, and his father, Glen, 51, are part of the Sons of the American Legion and make up three generations at Post 43.
“It’s an honor to have the Schecters as members,” said Terry Duddy, the Post 43 Adjutant. “They are a very supportive, community-oriented family.”
Post 43 will be having an open house today at 1 p.m. for members and their families. It will include a changing of the flag, roll call of deceased members from the past year and a luncheon in honor of Veterans Day. Post 43 is located just south of the Hollywood Bowl at 2035 N. Highland Ave.
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