More Jews in the American Military
Adolph Marix, Hedy Lamarr, Sydney Weinstein and Mark Polansky.
American Jews have, over the almost two and a half-centuries of U.S. history, made contributions to the success of our armed forces far beyond our numbers. Their stories are not often told by U.S. historians nor known by American Jews. These men and women should be role models by the Jewish community as well as the rest of the country. Their stories and sacrifices help us answer the anti-Semitic trope that our community has “divided” loyalties. This article covers three men and one woman whose accomplishments are significant and relatively unknown.
Adolph Marix – A Man with Three Firsts
Adolph Marix’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1848. His father, Dr. Henry Marix was a professor language in his native Saxony and during the American Civil War translated European newspapers and documents for the State and Treasury departments, often meeting with Lincoln. Through the president, Adolph Marix obtained an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy and in 1864, he became the institution’s first Jewish midshipman.
His early assignments as a young officer included a polar expedition as well as a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic squadron before he was brought back to serve in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office. This was followed by a tour of duty in the Navy’s Hydrographic Office where he helped standardize the way nautical charts are organized and formatted.
Before the Spanish American War broke out, he was the executive officer of the U.S.S. Maine. He rotated out of that billet a few weeks before the ship exploded in Havana. During the war, Marix distinguished himself as the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Scorpion during the second and third battles of Manzanillo (a harbor on the southwest side of Cuba).
Marix was assigned as the JAG officer on the inquiry that looked into the loss of the U.S.S. Maine. As a member of the board, he used his knowledge of the ship to help guide the board to ultimately determine the explosion was caused by coal dust, not a mine. This led to a decision by the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ships to change from coal to oil to power ships.
Before he retired as a Vice Admiral, Marix was on the board that purchased and evaluated the U.S. Navy’s first submarines purchased. Marix served in the U.S. Navy for 42 years, 24 of which were at sea and was the first American Jew and naval officer to become an admiral and the first to reach the three star rank.
Hedy Lamarr, Actress, Spy and Inventor
Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna on November 9th, 1914 when World War I was just over three months old. Her father was from Lvov in the Ukraine and her mother was a Hungarian from Budapest. By 18, Hedy was playing leading roles in German produced movies.
She married Freidrich Mandl, a wealthy Austrian arms merchant by whose father was Jewish. Mandl treated her as a trophy wife and his close ties to Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini made the marriage unworkable.
In 1937, Hedy fled to Paris and then to London where she met Louis Meyer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer who brought her to Hollywood in 1938 where she adopted the stage name of Hedy Lamarr. She starred with Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, and Spencer Tracy in Boom Town, with Gable again in Comrade X and with Jimmy Stewart in Come Live With Me. Billed as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Lamarr was now a star by every measure.
Lamarr believed she owed the United States and wanted to help fight the Germans and Italians. By the time World War II began, she invented and patented a tissue dispenser and an automated traffic signal.
After the merchant ship City of Benares was torpedoed by a U-boat and 83 German Jewish émigré children were lost, Hedy and her friend George Antheil, an avant-garde musician and composer, began analyzing the sinking.
From conversations she’d had with Mandl and his subordinates, she understood the difficulties in finding and sinking German submarines. Both she and Antheil believed that radio guidance would make anti-submarine torpedoes more accurate but also susceptible to jamming.
Between 1940 and 1942, the pair worked on a solution that enabled radios to rapidly change or “hop” between 88 frequencies within a certain band and make the signal un-jammable. Their patent application outlined how a torpedo (or any other weapon) could receive constant guidance via radio that changed frequencies every few milliseconds. It made the weapon more accurate because the radio signal would be impossible to jam.
On August 11th, 1942, Lamarr and Antheil received U.S. Patent Number 2,292,387 for a “Secret Communication System.” The government classified their work as Top Secret and seized the patent in late 1942 charging that she had “contacts with an adversarial power” and threatened to deport both Anthiel and Lamrr. In order to protect Lamarr from deportation as a foreign alien, MGM leaked some of their ideas to the media as way to promote her movies and her patriotism.
Nothing happened with Lamarr’s patent until the U.S. found itself embroiled in the Cold War and was worried the Soviet’s could jam signals between sonobuoys and the airplane that dropped them. In 1955, the Navy allowed selected companies access to the patent. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1956, sonobuoys with frequency hopping capabilities were used. By the mid-1970s, the Lamarr/Anteheil patent became the foundation of the encrypted, frequency hopping radios used by the U.S. and its Allies along with GPS signals from satellites.
In 2017, the market value of the equipment based on the Lamarr patent was valued at about $30B. The sad part is that Lamarr, who died in 2000 and who raised millions on war bond tours, never received a penny in royalties from the patent.
Sydney Weinstein – Father of Modern Intelligence Gathering
Few men have changed the American military intelligence community as much as Sydney Weinstein. He was a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam. It is easy to list all the billets in which Weinstein served, but it is more interesting to look at what he accomplished during his four-year stint when he was the Commander of the U.S. Intelligence Center and the Deputy Chief for Intelligence.
First, he forced the Army’s intelligence bureaucracy to allow him to consolidate commands scattered throughout the Army and the Defense Department. Second, he changed the way the commands gathered and evaluated intelligence to make their “products” more usable by those whose lives depended on its accuracy.
When he was the Director of the National Security Agency, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander said, “General Weinstein established the Army’s master plan for intelligence and that set a course for the Army to have the best intelligence corps for the next decade or two. It was a tremendous jump forward.”
These words say more than any historian could about Sydney Weinstein who served this country for 33 years and was elected to the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. Weinstein passed away from cancer in 2007.
Mark Polansky – Astronaut
As of July 2019, only 566 humans have flown in space on either U.S. or Soviet spacecraft. Fourteen – 12 Americans, 1 Israeli and 1 Russian -are Jews. Boris Volynov was the first Jew in space when he rode a Soyuz space vehicle in January, 1969. One American – Judith Resnik died on Challenger when it blew up right after launch and one Israeli – Ilan Ramon was killed when Discovery broke apart on re-entry.
Mark Polansky was commissioned in 1978 and entered Air Force flight training and was awarded the Distinguished Graduate as the top student in his class. After his first squadron tour at Langley AFB flying the F-15, his skills as a pilot were recognized and he was selected to be to become an aggressor pilot flying the F-5E. Aggressor pilots simulate enemy tactics and aircraft during exercises. He flew out of Clark AFB in the Philippines and Nellis AFB. At the end of his tour, Polansky applied for test pilot school and after graduation he was stationed at Edwards AFB. Again, Polansky was the top student.
By the time he decided to leave the Air Force for NASA Mark had accumulated 5,000 hours in a variety of tactical fighters. It took two years of training, before he was selected as the pilot for space shuttle mission STS-98 on Atlantis in 2001 that brought equipment to build the International Space Station (ISS).
His next space shuttle mission was on Discovery (STS-116) that delivered more structures to the ISS. To honor his father and his heritage on this mission, he carried a teddy bear he bought at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. When he landed after his third mission on board Endeavor (STS-126), Mark had accumulated more than 309 hours in space.
After his last space shuttle mission on Endeavor, Polansky was the CAPCON, which is the primary communicator between the shuttle in space and NASA. He also served as the Chief Astronaut Instructor before he retired in 2012.
In their own ways, all four of these individuals made a significant contribution to the U.S. Armed Forces. However, there are many, many others such as Jeff Feinstein, an ace from the Vietnam War. Or, Sidney Shachnow, one of the first and most revered and highly decorated Green Berets. Or, Tibor Rubin who managed to survive the Mauthausen death camp and made it to the United States and volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army. Captured early in the Korean War, Rubin spent 30 months in a North Korean prison camp where he used the skills he learned at Mauthausen to help keep his fellow POWs alive.
American Jews began making contributions to the U.S. military during the American Revolution and have kept doing so throughout our history. These men and women should be remembered and honored. For without their efforts on our behalf, the United States would not be the great nation it is today.