"We couldn't even stop to pick up any survivors," recalled Bernard Waters, now 83, whose ship came out unscathed.
This nautical confrontation didn't rage far out in the Atlantic, along the coast of Europe, or even in the South Pacific — it occurred just a mile off the coast of New York City, said Waters. The former Navy petty officer first class shared his story as part of a Veterans Day event at Congregation Mikveh Israel in Old City.
The German submarines — he told the 30-person audience on Sunday — hoped to circumvent U.S. ships set to deliver supplies to troops in Africa and Europe. Waters and his team of 125-foot "sub chasers" tried to clear a path.
Eventually, the Americans began to fire back, sinking plenty of German subs and forcing a retreat, allowing U.S. supplies a clearer passage overseas.
"It was a very impersonal war. We rarely saw people who died from our torpedoes," he said, noting that he mostly noticed debris floating on the surface after his boat sank a submarine.
Waters was so eager to fight, he said, that he wanted to join up at age 17. Needing permission, he was forced to beg his mother to allow him to enlist; she refused.
"I saw what was happening over in Europe" on newsreels, explained Waters. "You saw how they took Jewish businesses and took over Germany."
After Pearl Harbor, six weeks after he first asked her, his mom finally gave him the go-ahead. Waters served until 1945.
The event at Mikveh Israel started with a procession by members of the ROTC from St. Joseph's University and Frankford High School.
Alan Fralin, another World War II vet, made it a point to talk with the students over breakfast. "I just pray that they don't have to serve in a real war," he said.
Before several veterans offered their comments to the audience, Mikveh Israel congregant Eli Gabay invited the group to light a candle for someone serving in the military, or for anyone who'd ever served. Folks flocked to the front of the room.
The first veteran to address the group was Larry Altersitz, who wore a camouflage outfit with a red beret. After serving in the Army in Vietnam, his son now serves in his old unit — the 1st Calvary Division, which is currently stationed in Iraq.
Altersitz described the enemies in Iraq as nothing more than "well-armed street gangs."
"They like the thrill," he said. "They have no desire to run the country."
He also spoke of the need to serve the United States, especially now that entry is voluntary.
Ruth Naness came to the program, like many others, wearing a Jewish War Veterans cap. It belonged to her late husband, Raymond, who served in World War II and later became a commander with JWV Post No. 601 in Vineland, N.J. He died in 1995.
"Our children should know what happened," she said. "How many people know that there were Jewish soldiers who were killed in the war?"