CARBONDALE — As a 23-year-old Army officer helping to liberate a German concentration camp during World War II, Alvin Ungerleider used prayer to show the surviving Jews that not only was he one of them, but they were free.
The Carbondale-native, who died in 2011, recited the Kaddish, a mourning prayer for the starving and near-dead prisoners of the Dora-Mittelbau camp, then went into the nearby town to find them food.
The experience in the camp, which held piles of dead bodies, stuck with him.
“We thought we had entered the gates of hell,” he told reporter and friend Peter Maer.
On Saturday, with a platoon of Ungerleiders in attendance from as far as Alaska and Israel, the city of Carbondale unveiled a monument to the soldier in Memorial Park.
Speaking to the crowd of about 150, while police blocked off Main Street that ran along the park, Gen. Ungerleider’s 87-year-old sister recalled the day he left Carbondale in November 1942 to join the Army. Annette Ungerleider Martin, who now lives in Israel, described waving goodbye to “Al” with the rest of the town as his train pulled out and the high school band played.
The soldier was part of the Normandy invasion, where he was wounded for the first of two times during his 35-year military career. At one point in the dedication ceremony, his grandchildren took turns pouring sand from the French beaches around his memorial.
Before retiring with the rank of general in 1977, he served in Korea and Vietnam and received two bronze stars, the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
In 1994, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he was chosen to carry the memorial wreath with President Bill Clinton at a ceremony at Omaha Beach.
He died at the age of 89 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But the bronze bust — funded by donations — will sit in his hometown.
“The idea for this memorial began with the people of Carbondale,” said Neil Ungerleider, one of the general’s three children. “...Carbondale was always in his heart, and it is obvious here today to see why.”
Other speakers at the commemoration included wife Ruth, children Eileen and Dan, niece Sarah Martin, Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Hesed in Scranton, Carbondale Councilwoman Kathleen Connor, Dr. S. Robert Powell, president of the Carbondale Historical Society, Lt. Col. A. Joseph Albert, chairman of the Lackawanna County Council of Veterans, and Mr. Maer, a White House correspondent for CBS news.
Speaking last, the reporter told the crowd that while liberating the camp, the future Gen. Ungerleider sniffed out a desperate Nazi soldier hiding in one of the concentration camp’s crematoriums, preparing to ambush the liberating Americans. It was just one of many acts of service during the soldier’s career.
“He was one of the men who saved the world,” Mr. Maer told the crowd.