A Nonagenarian and WWII Veteran Looks Back at His Life

By David Paone

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They call them the Greatest Generation: those who lived their childhoods during the Great Depression, only to have to fight the Second World War when they became of age.

Bill Isaacson, a resident of North Shore Towers, can check both those boxes. The Navy veteran sat down with The Queens Ledger and looked back over his 97 years.


Isaacson was born in the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn on May 5, 1925, the second of five children of Russian immigrants. 

His father owned a furniture manufacturing and sales company, but during the Depression, lost the business. He also lost the family house, which he owned. 

Isaacson said his family survived, “as best we could.”

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and America entered World War II. Isaacson remembers the day.

“I was in a basement socializing with a group of teens,” he said. “And we heard about the war breaking out. And I went to enlist. My father wouldn’t sign the papers.” 

Isaacson was only 16 at the time but sensed the need to volunteer. “I felt I wanted to do my part,” he said.

His friends were eager to enlist and all were later drafted. “Likewise, they wanted to do their part, of course,” he said.

Uncle Sam Wanted Him

When Isaacson turned 18 in 1943, the war was not over, making him eligible for the draft. 

“I didn’t get drafted right away because I had pneumonia at the time of my 18th birthday, and the draft board gave me 90 days to get well,” he said.

By this point Isaacson had one friend from the neighborhood – also 18 – who was in the service and had died in Italy. 

Isaacson chose the Coast Guard, but the draft board had a different plan for him and he was inducted into the Navy in April 1943.

As an honor graduate from signalman school, Isaacson was a Signalman Second Class and appointed to Flag Command, which is the personal staff of admirals. 

“I served with Admiral Sherman aboard the USS Missouri and with Admiral Fechteler aboard the USS Wisconsin,” said Isaacson.

“I was on all the biggies,” said Isaacson, regarding the ships on which he served. These included the USS Wisconsin, the USS Missouri, the USS Enterprise, the USS New Mexico and the USS Guadalcanal, which brought back 495 former prisoners of war from Japan. 

“I was on duty when five of them jumped overboard,” said Isaacson. 

He saw each of them light a cigarette and jump, in what Isaacson believes were definite suicides. “This was in the middle of the night,” he said. They circled until daylight but never found them.

Japan surrendered in 1945, bringing an end to the war. Isaacson was on the island of Guam at the time. It just so happened his younger brother, Boris, was on a minesweeper in the harbor, and the two were able to connect for four hours. 

Once the end of the war was announced, “Everyone was celebrating,” said Isaacson. “Guam was muddy up to your knees and everybody was dancing.”

Isaacson said he served, “Two years, six months and 15 days.”

He was offered the rank of Signalman First Class, if he reenlisted, but decided to pursue his education instead.

Having served in the military, Isaacson was eligible for the GI Bill, which would cover his college tuition. He earned his Bachelor’s with a major in Spanish (inspired by his high school Spanish teachers) from Brooklyn College in 1949 and his Master’s in 1951 from there, too.

Isaacson calls himself a member of the “52-20 Club.”

“We got $52 for attending school for 20 weeks,” he said with a laugh.

A Brush with Death

In 1950, Isaacson was a student at the University of Havana, in Cuba.

On November 1, a student strike was called for 72 hours. At breakfast, his cook told him, “Something happened in Washington,” and there was no school that day.

Isaacson phoned his professor who said he was conducting class nevertheless and he should attend.  Isaacson did.

On the steps of the university, Isaacson was stopped by three men who began to interrogate him. “I answered all their questions,” said Isaacson, and then one asked to see his student ID. It was green, which signified he was from the United States.

“One of them pulled out a pistol and held it to my head and walked me to my room,” he said.

One of the others nudged him and said, “We’re not looking for an incident,” which Isaacson interpreted as his desire to avoid an international incident.

Two of them marched Isaacson and his professor to the curb at gunpoint. They were told, “If you come back in the next 48 hours, you will be shot on site.”

The man who told the gunman not to start an international incident was the president of the student union who called the strike, and a law student as well. It was Fidel Castro.

His professor later told him that the man who held a pistol to his head was the son of Enrique Collazo, the Puerto Rican nationalist who attempted to assassinate President Truman in the Blair House on the same day.


The 20th Century

Isaacson was born before the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge were erected. He remembers when “peddlers” sold their wares from horse-drawn carriages in Brooklyn.

But the 20th Century saw endless advances in modern comforts and Isaacson was there for most of them. 

During the Golden Age of Television in the 1950s, he watched TV comedy pioneers Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. But it was the moon landing in 1969 that struck him as the greatest achievement.

During his childhood, the “Buck Rogers” serial was a complete fantasy; space travel was only achieved through movie magic.

But watching an actual human set foot on the moon was real life and not a special effect. 

“I couldn’t fathom people walking on the moon,” he said. 

Isaacson’s family had relocated to Bayside and he met his future wife in Queens. They had a son and a daughter.

In 1959, Isaacson became an appointed Spanish teacher at Bayside High School and remained there working in various administrative positions until 1985, ending his tenure as assistant principal of the Department of Foreign Languages.

Isaacson spent his entire career in education, also teaching on the college level at Brooklyn and Nassau Community Colleges, and as dean of instruction at Five Towns College. He retired in 2020 after spending 70 years in the classroom when Covid-19 struck.

Modern Times

For most of Isaacson’s life, computers were something the government and huge corporations used; nobody owned one. “Software” and “internet” weren’t even words. But Isaacson has embraced modern technology and uses email and carries a cell phone, although he uses it, “very seldom.” 

“I feel it’s a wonderment that I will never understand,” he said.

The Isaacsons were married for 52 years.

It took him 77 years, but Isaacson recently joined American Legion Post 103 in Douglaston.

Isaacson is the picture of health. His memory is still sharp and although he sometimes walks with a cane, he’s still very spry.

World War II veterans are passing daily and in a few short years there will be none left.

“All my friends are gone. They were all in the service,” said Isaacson. “That’s the punishment for living to 97.”

Pol Position: Progressive Caucus Fallout?

Last week, The New York City Progressive caucus lost 15  members of its caucus after debating over language surrounding police reform.

“We will do everything we can to reduce the size and scope of the NYPD and the Department of Correction, and prioritize and fund alternative safety infrastructure that truly invests in our communities,” the passage that caused the tension read, according to the Daily News.

While the loss of members generated a few days of bad headlines, the new membership roster might actually make the progressive caucus a more functioning one.

In previous BQE Media reporting, co-chair of the caucus Lincoln Restler told this newspaper that he was operating a “big-tent progressive caucus”. To more seasoned observers of the New York City Council, this didn’t make a lot of sense. Operating under a “big-tent” philosophy is fine for a party which naturally has different ideological wings, but for a caucus, which is supposed to represent certain interests – it seemed odd and possibly counter productive.

Beyond the new membership roster, the progressive caucus is instituting new bylaws reform, stating that members must co-sponsor at least 75 percent of the legislation debuted in the Progressive Caucus agenda, attend ⅔ of caucus meetings and support broad statement of principles, per a release sent out last Friday.

While the police funding language lost the caucus 15 members, they may be able to gain one with Harlem Councilwoman Kristin Richardson Jordan.

“I was hesitant to engage with what felt like a vague agenda in the beginning but am excited to see where the Progressive Caucus is at now. While it is disappointing that some members have left over this pledge, I believe a smaller and more disciplined caucus could wind up making more meaningful change for all,” a screenshot of an email, which Councilwoman  Richardson Jordan posted to instagram,  addressed to Progressive Caucus co-chairs Lincoln Restler and Shahana Hanif reads.

Brooklyn second highest county with barriers to well-being: report

By Matthew Fischetti

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A new report found that Kings County has the second highest overall barriers to well-being in all of the Empire State.

Commissioned by the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, the report measures well-being based on 18 different measurements which are grouped into five major “barrier clusters.” The clusters include six major categories like  housing, health, education, youth and community.

Kings County also clocked in as the second highest ranking borough in terms of burdens to housing. The housing cluster was measured by tracking how many severely rent burdened households there are (paying over 50% of income on rent), overcrowding rates and the amount of students in temporary housing. 

Brooklyn was ranked as having above average barriers in the economic security category (11th highest), education (seventh highest), and community (third highest). The only categories where Brooklyn did not rank as “above average” were in health (34th highest) and youth (20th highest.)

While Brooklyn ranked high overall in the state, most of the individual 18 indices to measure barriers to well being decreased from 2018 to 2020. The only measurement that did increase during that time span were the rates of students in temporary housing increased from 10 percent to 10.7 percent.

“Data are essential for informing meaningful actions that build a more equitable future for New York’s children, youth and families”,  Bijan Kimiagar, Associate Executive Director for Research at CCC and author of the report, said in a statement. “Our Child and Family Well-being Index for New York State highlights how barriers to well-being exist in every county across the state, and so do opportunities to overcome these barriers. By focusing where in the state families face multiple, overlapping barriers to well-being, and looking at each county’s unique set of strengths and needs, we hope to spur budget, legislative and programmatic actions to improve child and family well-being both locally and statewide.”

The report indicates support for a number of policies to alleviate the issues that Governor Hochul signaled support for in her State of the State address including indexing the minimum wage to inflation and increasing affordable housing production. But the report also argues that the state most go further and support measure such as funding universal school meals, expanding the Empire State Child Credit to increase credits for lower income families and ensure all who qualify can receive the credit.

“Our state must do more to increase incomes and combat poverty and I urge the Governor to make this a top priority in the upcoming budget,” Queens Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and Chair of the Committee on Children and Families said in a statement.

“Expanding the Empire State Tax Credit will make a real impact on the lives of New York’s families and uplift incomes. So often child welfare involvement begins not because of abuse or neglect but due to poverty. Uplifting incomes will keep children out of the child welfare system, prevent family separations, and prevent generational trauma,” he continued.

Overall, the report found that the Bronx had the greatest overall barriers while Saratago County has the fewest barriers overall. 

The Citizens Committee for Children of New York is a nonprofit that studies childhood welfare throughout the state and releases the report annually. 

Pol Position: Brooklyn Dems asleep at the wheel

Last Tuesday night was supposed to be a red wave. But the only place it actually showed up was in Brooklyn – the county with the highest amount of democratic voters – of all places.

And it’s the party’s own fault.

At the time of publication, Peter Abbate Jr., who reps parts of Bensonhurst is trailing by 151 votes and Coney Island Assemblymember Mathlyde Frontus is trailing by 797 votes. Sheepshead Bay Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz lost handily by over 4,000 votes and State Senate Candidate Iwen Chu has a narrow lead of around 200 votes against her Republican opponent.

As New York State Focus reported, the county party did practically zilch in terms of Get Out the Vote Operations or phonebanks.

“There was no one to talk to. The executive director was gone; the county leader was having a baby,” Abbate told New York Focus. “I kept telling them they had to watch out.”

Maybe fewer galas and a little more canvassing? Or phonebanks that don’t start a week before the election? Or anything that actually resembles an actual party apparatus?

It seems like the party made more concerted efforts to stymie the reformers within the party than they did to actually win the general election. 

The party really needs to get its affairs in order if they don’t want a repeat of Republicans gaining in Southern Brooklyn in the upcoming spring City Council elections as the area has been swinging more conservative in recent years. 

In Our Opinion: Replace Jay Jacobs

In one of the traditionally bluest states in the nation, the Democratic Party is in shambles. 

New York elected its first woman governor, but only with a measly seven-point lead. Republicans are on track to pick up three seats in Brooklyn. And congressional Republicans have picked up four seats statewide, including Hudson Valley’s Sean Patrick Maloney, who was in charge of Democrat’s national operation to elect congressional representatives.

Across the country, Democrats had a historic night, fending off challengers in a midterm election amid high inflation and an unpopular president. Pundits predicted a red wave but Democrats have held onto the Senate, while the balance of the House of Representatives remains to be seen — even if they take control, it will be by slim margins.

But Democrats across the Empire State are calling on Jay Jacobs, the Cuomo appointed head of the party, to resign. We concur. 

Several hundred electeds, politicos and organizations signed onto a letter shared with BQE Media calling on the chairman to resign following last week’s election results.

“The New York State Democratic Party is better than this. We, the undersigned, are ready to work with Governor Hochul to elect a real party leader who embodies actual democratic values and is – as our party website clearly states – ‘committed to building a party that ensures New Yorkers have progressive, fair, and dedicated leaders at every level of government,” the letter reads. 

Despite having powerful clout across the state, the party has misstepped – like Cuomo’s reported support of the Independent Democratic Conference,  a consortium of conservative Democrats who worked with State Senate Republicans over New York City Democrats.

Fighting within your own party, or actively blocking wings of your party, is not going to create a solid governing coalition. And the party brass that has been running the Dem’s operation for the last few years have been doing just that. It’s time for them to clear house if they want to sustain wins in the future and not elect a Republican governor the next cycle around.

Flatbush murder of 12-year-old leaves community gutted

The East Flatbush mother of a 12-year-old who was killed by a gun bullet while eating with family is asking for some kind of justice.

Kade Lewin was pronounced dead at the scene after a flurry of gun bullets struck the car where he and his family were eating. His cousin, Jenna Ellis, 20, was the driver and was shot six times but is expected to recover.

“Please somebody say something. I’m asking for justice. Please. I’m asking for justice,” Kade Lewin’s mother Suzzette Lewin, said while holding back tears. Lewin continued to describe the gun violence she has seen in the neighborhood like when a gun bullet went through her mothers car window last summer.

“But I just want the neighborhoods to know that this violence must be stopped. It is way too many of our people are being targeted. And way too many innocent people are being killed,” Jennifer Jone Ellis, the aunt of Kade Lewis and mother of Jenna Ellis, said. “My nephew. He’s gone. No more to return in this world. My daughter laid up in the hospital blaming herself. Why should she blamed herself. It was in my neighborhood. I pay taxes. If you see something say something. This must be stopped.”

Police say that the investigation is ongoing and at the press conference Monday, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell urged members of the public to provide information by calling (800) 577-TIPS

“This is their neighborhood. This is their community. Right down the block from where the shooting took place is where the mom was there doing hair. Watching that baby in the car. We’re so sorry. Words cannot take away what you are going through. But you’re representative of the best that this city and country has to offer and your children represented that,” Mayor Adams said. “But it’s time this entire city stand with families like these because there’s only one question we have to answer if we don’t get this right. Whose child is next?

Public advocate and Gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, a native son of Brooklyn, also spoke at the express conference to rally against gun violence.

“I want to make sure I was here because I know the media sometimes plays up differences. But I want to make sure New York City sees their leaders standing together on message about the urgency of dealing with gun violence in our community,” Williams said. “He’s not coming back. He will not be back. He’s 12 year old. His mother raised him as best as she could. A student not in the streets doing everything right. Just like Jenna. They paused in the community to eat something — and was shot. It’s unacceptable. By any stretch of the imagination. There has to be consequences accountability for that.”

Beacon Eldercare FREE Zoom Seminar: Holiday Edition, Community Service

In the next Dessert with Andrew & Yvonne Zoom Seminar, the dynamic duo will discuss ways you can help those in need this holiday season. The seminar is titled, “Holiday Edition: Community Service.” From soup kitchens to nursing homes; learn about the various ways one can volunteer, and hear from organizations that are making a positive impact in our community.

Sliwa aims to ‘Save the Senate’

His bid for mayor fell short, but that doesn’t mean Curtis Sliwa is going to sit on the sidelines in 2022.
Sliwa announced this week that he is forming the “Save the Senate” Super PAC aimed explicitly at defeating Senator Chuck Schumer. First elected to the Senate in 1998, Schumer is seeking a fifth term.
“I am more committed than ever to advancing our Republican values and priorities and holding liberal elitists accountable for failing New York and America,” Sliwa says on the website’s mission statement. “Next up: Senator Chuck Schumer.”
Sliwa says he plans to raise millions of dollars through the political action committee, which will in turn be used to promote and help elect a Republican challenger to the Senator Majority Leader. Schumer has not faced a serious challenger in the last three elections.
“As senator, Schumer has delivered nothing more than Sunday press conferences with empty promises,” the website continued. “Between the rising cost of living, a broken healthcare system, struggling public schools, and lack of affordable housing, it is clear that Senator Schumer’s primary concern is keeping himself and his cronies in power.”
Bronx attorney and Albanian immigrant, Aleksander Mici, announced recently that he would seek to challenge Schumer on the Republican line. And Sliwa hasn’t totally ruled out throwing his red beret into the ring, but said he would only run as a last resort.
When Schumer was elected in 1998, he defeated Republican Al D’Amato. D’Amato is now a lobbyist, and recently told the Post that Schumer is virtually unbeatable. The senator visits every county in the state every year, and is a fundraising powerhouse.
Heck, D’Amato even endorsed the man who replaced him during the 2016 election.
As for the aforementioned Siena College poll, voters were also asked how they feel about Schumer. Among Democrats, 70 percent said they had a favorable view of the job Schumer was doing, while only 20 percent of Republicans polled could say the same.

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