Fighting their Native Country in World War II: Jakob Schoenthal’s Grandsons

As I wrote last time, the two sons of Jakob Schoenthal and Charlotte Lilienfeld had arrived in the US long before Hitler came to power in Germany.  They were working as tailors and living in Washington, Pennsylvania, where their uncles and aunt had lived for many years.  Then Hitler came to power, and their family back home was in danger.

In 1938, Lee and Meyer’s sister Erna arrived from Germany with her son Werner.  I have now learned more about Erna’s husband Arnold Haas.  He was born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1893, and had served his native country during World War I.  He and Erna Schoenthal had married on February 13, 1925, and their son Werner was born on April 14, 1926.  Then Arnold died at age 38 on January 23, 1931, leaving behind his young widow Erna and his not-yet five year old son Werner.  Fortunately Erna had the good sense to leave Germany in May, 1938, and bring her son and herself to safety in the US.  In 1940, they were living in Pittsburgh.

Darmstadt register for Arnold Haas and family indicating birth, marriage, and death of Haas and birth of son Werner

Darmstadt register for Arnold Haas and family indicating birth, marriage, and death of Arnold Haas and birth of son Werner

Helmut Levi, the son of Julius and Henriette (Schoenthal) Levi, had also arrived by then and was living in New York City.  Both Helmut and Werner soon found themselves fighting their former homeland when the US entered World War II at the end of 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Werner Haas joined the US Navy on March 15, 1944, when he was 18, and served until March 6, 1946.  He spent time at the Naval Air Stations in Norfolk, Virginia, and in Corpus Christi, Texas, before being assigned to the Destroyer Escort USS Wesson in June, 1945.  According to Michael Moskow, who has done extensive research on Jewish military service during World War II, the Wesson had been struck by a kamikazi in April, 1945, two months before Werner was assigned to that vessel.

As seen in the caption on the photo below, the Wesson was “in overhaul” from May to July 1945, so it would seem likely that Werner was working on her repairs when he was first assigned to that ship.  Werner served as a fireman on the destroyer; according to this site about military careers, “The training received as a Fireman or in the related engineering skill specialties is equivalent to that received as an electrician, electrical or power plant/co-generation plant operator or supervisor, diesel mechanic, or electronics repair technician.”  From various military records it appears that Werner was assigned to the Wesson for at least a year and was then assigned to two other naval ships.


English: 26 June 1945: Mare Island Naval Shipy...

English: 26 June 1945: Mare Island Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, Cal. – Forward plan view of USS Wesson (DE 184) at Mare Island. She was in overhaul at the yard from 16 May to 1 July 1945. USS Blessman (APD 48) inboard of Wesson and USS Hazelwood (DD 531) is on the opposite side of the pier. (U.S. Navy photo #DE-184-4842-45) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Werner’s older cousin Helmut Levi served in the US Army, enlisting on November 28, 1942.  He served as a private and then a corporal during the course of World War II.   Although I am still looking for more information about Helmut’s service during the war, I was able with the help of Michael Moskow to find this letter that Helmut Levi (presumably the same one) wrote to Yank magazine in September, 1944:


Pvt Helmut Levi letter to Yank magazine, September 29, 1944, p 14

Pvt Helmut Levi letter to Yank magazine, September 29, 1944, p 14, found at



Not surprisingly, Helmut had strong feelings about the need for Germany (and Japan) to be occupied and supervised carefully after the war.  It appears that he was stationed in Britain in September, 1944, just months after the D-Day invasion and the beginning of the Allies’ advances in France against Germany.  During that time, Helmut’s aunt and uncle, Johanna (Schoenthal) and Heinrich Stern, were living in France, hiding from the Nazis. His parents had already been killed at the Chelmno death camp.

Lee and Meyer both registered for the World War II draft, though being almost in their sixties when the war began, neither served in the military during the war.  Note that Meyer was both working for and living with Lee in April 1942.  (Lee seems to have listed his work address as his residence.)  Although Meyer listed his brother Lee as the person who would always know his address, Lee listed someone named Mary Reinbold, who as listed in the 1940 census, was then a 39 year old single woman living with her father and brothers and working as a telephone operator.


Lee Schoenthal World War II draft registration The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II draft cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania; State Headquarters: Pennsylvania; Microfilm Series: M1951; Microfilm Roll: 278

Lee Schoenthal World War II draft registration
The National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; World War II draft cards (Fourth Registration) for the State of Pennsylvania; State Headquarters: Pennsylvania; Microfilm Series: M1951; Microfilm Roll: 278


Meyer N Schoenthal World War II draft registration U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

Meyer N Schoenthal World War II draft registration U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

Why wouldn’t Lee have listed Meyer as his contact just as Meyer had listed him? More on that in a later post.

Once the war ended, the family apparently spent a year trying to learn what had happened to Henriette Schoenthal and Julius Levi.  My heart broke when, with Michael Moskow’s help,  I found this notice in the June 14, 1946 issue of Aufbau, the newspaper published beginning in the 1930s for German Jewish immigrants in the United States:


Aufbau June 14, 1946

Aufbau June 14, 1946 found at


Translation: After a one year search in Europe, we today know that our beloved parents and siblings, Julius Levi and Henriette Levi (nee Schoenthal) from Cologne have fallen to the Nazi terror …. [followed by the names of their son and their siblings].

By the time Helmut Levi had enlisted in the US Army in November 1942, his parents had already been murdered by the Nazis.  It must have just been unbearable for him to realize that while he had been fighting to defeat Hitler and the Nazis, it had already been too late to save his parents.

This notice also indicates that as of June 14, 1946, Helmut was still in the Army; although I am not sure what “Liaison Sec” refers to, G-2 is military shorthand for military intelligence staff.  It appears that Helmut was doing some kind of intelligence work in Berlin after the war, which makes sense, given his familiarity with Germany and the German language.  Being in Berlin may have also allowed him to search more quickly for what had happened to his parents.

As for Johanna Schoenthal Stern and her husband Heinrich Stern, they arrived in the US in 1947 from France.  As I mentioned in my prior post, Johanna and Heinrich had listed a friend named Henry Kahnweiler of Paris as their contact person in France.  I was curious as to who he was and how Johanna and Heinrich were connected to him.  I wanted to know more about their story—how and when did they go to France? How did they survive the Nazi occupation of France? Had they had children who had not survived the war?

Although I don’t have all the answers, I now have at least some answers to those questions.  I will address those in my next post.


My Aunt Eva’s Magic Suitcases: Another Small World Story

A long time back I mentioned that my father had two suitcases filled with photographs and letters that had belonged to his sister, my aunt, Eva Hilda Cohen.  My aunt had died February 14, 2011, but my father had never gone through the suitcases and wasn’t eager to do so.  Finally this past weekend he agreed to let my brother and me bring the suitcases down from their garage and go through their contents.  I was hoping for some old photographs or letters about my ancestors, and I didn’t find much of that, but there was an amazing small world story that came out of those suitcases. (I will report on the other finds in later posts.)

First, a little bit about my Aunt Eva.  She was born on January 13, 1924, the first child of my paternal grandparents, John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. and Eva Schoenthal.

Eva Hilda Cohen

Eva Hilda Cohen

My father was born almost three years later.  They were very close as children growing up together.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr.

Eva and John Cohen, Jr.

My father describes his sister as a strong-willed and rebellious child who became a strong-willed and rebellious teenager and adult. She also was a very intelligent woman with many interests. She graduated from Gratz High School in Philadelphia in 1941, where she apparently was known by the nickname “Ave,” and was described as follows in the yearbook: “To Gratz our “Ave” has given services of hours; in almost every field she has displayed her powers.”  From the list of her activities, that inscription seems accurate: drama club, debate club, a cappella choir, and several others.

Aunt Eva yearbook picture

Simon Gratz High School yearbook 1941 U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

During World War II, she served in the United States Navy. She served from February 10, 1944 until February 10, 1946, and was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, for most of her second year of service.  She wrote a letter to her mother in May, 1945, describing her trip by train from Philadelphia to Texas.  I had to chuckle as I read it because it sounded so much like her, describing and naming every person that she met along the way.    She clearly was a hit with the servicemen, frequently being invited to eat and drink and sit with them on that long train.  That ability to befriend new people wherever she went was a skill she maintained throughout her life.

After the war, she completed her education at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  There she also was active socially and academically.

Aunt Eva college yearbook

University of Colorado at Boulder yearbook 1949 U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.

After college she became engaged to be married to a man named Karl, but when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Karl broke it off, not wanting to care for someone he thought would be an invalid.

Eva and Karl

Eva and Karl

He sorely underestimated her.  She never married, but her inner strength and her independence held in her good stead for the rest of her life even as her physical challenges became greater.  She worked for the city of Philadelphia until retirement age, and she had a large circle of friends who were devoted to her. She traveled all over the world and was interested in many things and well-informed about current events. She remained devoted to my father, and he to her, her whole life.

Her collected photographs and letters reflected those priorities— the many letters she kept that she had received from my father over the years; lots of photographs of our family, extended and immediate; lots of pictures from her numerous trips and cruises.  And many, many pictures of people who were her friends. The photographs were not at all organized by subject matter or date, so as I went through the photographs with my brother, I sorted them into piles—family, travel, friends.  I wasn’t particularly interested in the last two categories, but I still looked at each photo, hoping to find some of my ancestors or distant cousins mixed in.

Then I found this photograph.  It was a Christmas card with a family photograph, an item for the friends’ pile.  But I looked at it more closely and thought one of the faces looked familiar.  Then I looked at the family’s surname, and I got the chills.  The face was in fact familiar.



The little boy in that photograph looked just like the young man who is now engaged to my daughter’s best friend Anna.  I knew that her fiancé Mark was from Philadelphia, and it certainly was possible that my aunt could have known his family.  But nevertheless—what were the odds?  Mark’s parents are at least a generation younger than my aunt.  How in the world would they have known her? It made no sense.  I continued looking through the photographs, and I found five more pictures of Mark’s family, including his parents’ wedding photograph.  Obviously, my aunt knew his family for a long, long time.

I took snapshots of the pictures of Mark’s family with my phone and sent them to Maddy and Anna, asking them if this was Mark’s family. Anna responded that indeed it was his family.  Anna asked Mark what he knew about my aunt, if anything, and he did remember her and said that his father had been a lifeguard at the pool in her building and had met her there.

That made perfect sense to me.  My aunt was an avid swimmer; being in the water gave her the mobility and comfort that she could not find out of the water because of her MS.  As my father wrote in one of his letters to her, she swam in pools and oceans all over the world; she found it liberating.  When she moved into The Philadelphian, one of the large apartment buildings in Philadelphia, one of the great benefits was that there was a pool in the building.  It was there that she made many friends over the years, including Mark’s father and his family.

Scan0016 (2)

I still get the chills thinking about this.  There I was sitting in my parents’ house, sorting through photographs mostly of strangers, and I found a photograph of someone who will now be marrying Anna.  Anna, whom I’ve known since she was born and who has been my daughter Maddy’s best friend since they sat in the sandbox as one year olds at our child care cooperative in 1985.  Anna, who was Maddy’s roommate in Boston for several years—until she met Mark.  Mark, a delightful young man whom we met the first time a few years back when he was helping Maddy and Anna move from one apartment to another and sitting patiently outside the apartment, watching their stuff while they went to rent a truck.  Mark, whose father befriended my aunt years before Mark was even born and who obviously stayed in touch with her over the years as his children grew to adulthood.

I am sure that my aunt would have been thrilled to know that her friend’s son was marrying her great-niece’s best friend.  I am just sorry she is no longer around to hear the story.  It’s the kind of story she would have loved.



Morton Tinslar Seligman 1895-1967: A Hero’s Life Subject to Ongoing Questions

Did my cousin Morton Tinslar Seligman leak classified information to a reporter during World War II?

In my last post, I summarized the background to the story of Chicago Tribune reporter Stanley Johnston and his article about the Battle of Midway that revealed that the US Navy had had advance knowledge of the names and locations of various Japanese ships, helping the US Navy to secure victory in that battle.  One of the key issues in that story was the question of how Johnston had obtained that information and whether he had obtained it from my cousin, Morton T. Seligman, from a secret dispatch from Admiral Nimitz.  Michael Sweeney and Patrick Washburn’s excellent monograph on this topic, “ ‘Aint Justice Wonderful’ The Chicago Tribune’s Battle of Midway Story and the Government’s Attempt at an Espionage Indictment in 1942,” Journalism & Communication Monographs (2014), provides a thorough and carefully researched analysis of this matter.

As I wrote last time, the first government document mentioned in the Sweeney and Washburn article that names my cousin Morton T. Seligman as a possible source of Johnston’s access to classified information was a July 14, 1942 memorandum to the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Navy by William D. Mitchell, the chief prosecutor for the government’s case against the Tribune and its employees.  Mitchell’s memorandum claimed that two unnamed officers had seen Commander Morton Seligman writing down a list of the Japanese ships located in the area near Midway.  The Mitchell memorandum then noted that Seligman had stated that he did not remember making such a list, but that he might have done so.  Sweeney and Washburn, p. 48.

In their research of this matter, Professors Sweeney and Washburn found that Seligman was also mentioned in files from the Tribune’s own internal investigation, files Sweeney and Washburn obtained from the Tribune and its attorneys, Kirkland and Ellis.  According to Sweeney and Washburn, “only one officer is repeatedly mentioned in its internal investigation documents as being linked to Johnston—Commander Morton Seligman….Aboard the Barnett, the two of them had bunks that opened onto a common room and the Barnett’s mess set up coffee urns there that made it a popular place for men to gather.” Ibid. at 53.

According to Sweeney and Washburn, “[e]xtensive notes in the legal archive [of the Tribune] make it clear that Seligman shared sensitive information with Johnston aboard the Barnett, but memory problems cause by battle injuries on the Lexington may have prevented him from remembering the details.  The memoranda underscore Johnston’s desire to avoid harming the career of any naval officer and they make it clear that he specifically tried to cover for Seligman.”  Ibid., at pp. 53-54.

The Tribune/Kirkland Ellis files contained information indicating that Seligman had called the Tribune at least three times between July 17 and August 11, including twice in the days shortly after his meeting with Mitchell.   The memoranda describing these phone calls, cited as “Dear Howard, Memorandum”  and “Maloney-Seligman Phone Conversation” in the Kirkland and Ellis files, are probably the most damning evidence against Seligman in the Sweeney and Washburn article, albeit quite circumstantial and not originating with Seligman.

In the memoranda describing these phone calls, Seligman is depicted as anxious about the investigation, having been questioned by the Navy and then by the FBI several times in June while he was in the hospital recuperating from his injuries.  He called the Tribune to speak with Johnston, and according to these memoranda, was assured by both a Tribune editor and by Johnston that his name had not been revealed to any of the authorities and that they would protect him.  According to the memoranda, Seligman told the Tribune that he had told the FBI that he could not remember the Nimitz dispatch or any of the other details they were investigating as a result of his injuries and their effect on his memory.  Ibid. at 55.  The impression left is that Seligman had revealed something to Johnston or that he feared he had, but could not remember the details.

A final memorandum from the Kirkland and Ellis files dated August 11 that has no named author or recipient and that does not even name Seligman specifically but refers to “S,” a person who appears to be Seligman, also refers to Seligman’s memory problems and his statement that he neither remembered seeing the Nimitz dispatch nor discussing the planned Japanese attack on Midway.  Sweeney and Washburn at pp.55-56.

The Gothic Revival Tribune Tower in Chicago

The Gothic Revival Tribune Tower in Chicago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the case went to the grand jury in August, 1942, Seligman was one of eight naval officers who testified, but I cannot find anything that describes his testimony or whether he was questioned about the Nimitz dispatch or about providing Johnston with any other information.  On August 19, 1942, the grand jury concluded that there was not enough evidence to indict the Tribune or its employees, and the case was closed.  Ibid., pp. 64-69.

Over 30 years later, a naval officer named Robert E. Dixon, who had been a lieutenant commander aboard the Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea and then had been aboard the Barnett after the battle, apparently confided to a newspaper editor named Robert Mason that Seligman had arranged to have decoded copies of Japanese radio transmissions delivered and that Seligman had regularly shown these messages to Johnston.  Dixon also told Mason that he had seen Johnston taking extensive notes on these decoded messages.  Dixon claimed he did not then immediately report this because Seligman was his superior officer. He claimed, however, that he did disclose all of this to the FBI once Johnston’s Midway story appeared in print.  Ibid., pp. 71-72.

This conversation, revealed by Mason in a letter to the editor in 1982 to a naval publication called Proceedings, is not corroborated by any other document in the FBI files or elsewhere uncovered by Sweeney and Washburn and thus remains a hearsay statement by Mason in 1982 about what he claims he was told by Dixon in 1975 about what Dixon claims he saw Johnston and Seligman doing aboard the Barnett in 1942.  It may in fact be true, but it is hardly very persuasive evidence at this point.  Sweeney and Washburn themselves pose the question in their conclusion:  “Did the FBI and Navy believe Dixon or did they believe Seligman?  Did they know what Seligman had done or merely suspect it?” Ibid., p. 73.  We will probably never know the answer to either question.

There thus remain even now numerous questions about how Johnston got the information and whether Seligman revealed it to him deliberately.  Since Seligman clearly was suffering from memory impairment in June and July of 1942, one has to assume that he was also suffering from some impairment in May while aboard the Barnett.  If he did reveal the information, it might have been due to carelessness resulting from his medical condition.  Even if he revealed it deliberately, it might have been due to some confusion caused by the shock and the injuries he had just suffered.  Johnston, who was apparently known even by the Tribune to have been investigated by several governments in Europe for some questionable behavior as a journalist there before he came to the US, might have taken advantage of Seligman’s trust and his impairments to get this information from him.  Ibid., at pp.18-21.

Another possibility is that Seligman revealed the information to Johnston off the record, assured that Johnston would not reveal it.  One of the quotes from a conversation that Seligman had with Maxwell, a Tribune editor, is consistent with this theory.  According to one of the memoranda from the Kirkland and Ellis files, Maxwell stated that Seligman had said to him, “I told [Stanley Johnston] he’d get me in trouble if he used anything we talked about.” Sweeney and Washburn, p. 55.  Thus, perhaps Seligman had confided in Johnston, but with the express agreement that it was all off the record and not to be disclosed publicly.  Johnston’s disclosure might have been in bad faith or he might have assumed that the Navy censors would block any classified information; it’s not clear whether Johnston knew that the article was not going to be submitted to the Navy for clearance before publication.

Since all the principal actors in the story are no longer alive, all we can do is speculate about the actual events.  I certainly do not know what happened, and I admit to some bias in favor of my long-lost cousin.  But everything else in his record reflects integrity and honor.  He was a man who had already served in the Navy for over twenty years.  He had risked his own life a number of times in the course of that service.  Why would he ever have done anything deliberately that could be seen as a betrayal of the Navy, an institution to which he had devoted his life, and of the United States during wartime?  It makes no sense to me.

US Navy Cruise book from Fold3 dated 1943

From Pinfeather, US Navy Cruise Book (1943) for US Naval Air Station Bunker Indiana, p. 3 , at

After his hospital stay, Morton Seligman continued his naval service.  He was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Peru, Indiana, where he was welcomed as a war hero.  Nothing in the press coverage suggests that there was any public knowledge of the accusations made against him.  (“Captain Seligman Will Command U.S. Navy Base,” The Kokomo Tribune (September 19, 1942), p. 1; “Lexington Officer to Command Air Post,” Washington Evening Star (September 26, 1942), p.13.)

His service there was marked by further heroic efforts.  In May, 1943, there had been a major flood in Kokomo, Indiana, and Commander Seligman was commended for his help in rescuing citizens from th flood waters.  The Kokomo mayor praised his leadership, saying, “The commander and his boys, without sleep or rest, braved the dark and cold throughout many long hours until the job was done.”  (“Flood Rescue Brings Praise for Coronadan,” San Diego Union (June 24, 1943), p. 1, Section B)

Not long after the flood, Seligman must have returned to San Diego where he was assigned to the post of executive officer of the Alameda Naval Air Station in Long Beach, California.   (“Flood Rescue Brings Praise for Coronadan,” San Diego Union (June 24, 1943), p. 1, Section B; photograph, Long Beach Independent, August 31, 1943)

lng beach indep aug 31 1943

Long Beach Independent, August 31, 1943


As of November 1, 1944, he was retired from the Navy and was granted a retirement promotion to Captain.  Morton lived the rest of his life in the San Diego area with his wife Adela.  Morton Tinslar Seligman died from a stroke on July 9, 1967; he was 72 years old.  He was survived by his wife and his mother; he had no children.

Seligman obit

San Diego Union, July 11, 1967, p. A9

When I look back at Morton’s life, I feel a deep sense of sadness.  He was a man who dedicated his life to service and faced incredible dangers; he lost his sister at a young age, he lived far from his family from the time he was 18 years old, and his first marriage ended in divorce.  The Navy must have been the most important part of his life as an adult.  Some might say he got away with leaking classified information; I would say he got away with nothing.  He suffered both physically and professionally after the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The premature end to his military career at age 49 must have been very painful for him.  Since there is no evidence of any malicious intent on his part, I believe that he paid a big price for acts that were perhaps caused by injuries he suffered in the line of duty or by the betrayal or carelessness of a reporter he thought he could trust.  Whatever the truth, he deserved better after his many years of faithful service.

Morton Tinslar Seligman:  Naval Hero, Part I

Midshipman Morton Tinslar Seligman c. 1918  Courtesy of Arthur Scott

Midshipman Morton Tinslar Seligman c. 1918
Courtesy of Arthur Scott

The story of Morton Tinslar Seligman is a fascinating one.  Morton, the son of James Leon and Ruth Seligman and my first cousin twice removed, was a decorated Navy hero in World War I and in World War II, but his name is also clouded by accusations that he leaked important classified information to a member of the press after the Battle of the Coral Sea during World War II.

Morton was born on July 1, 1895, in Salt Lake City, but grew up in Santa Fe, attended the University of New Mexico and then the US Naval Academy, from which he graduated in June, 1918, as described earlier.  After he graduated from Annapolis, he was commissioned as an ensign and was assigned to the U.S.S. Manchuria transport service.  By July, 1918, he was overseas engaged in submarine patrol off the coast of England and France.  After the war ended, he was promoted to lieutenant j.g., and from December, 1918, until October, 1919, he was engaged in an operation to clear the North Sea of mines.  He returned to New York in November, 1919, having overseen twenty subchasers in his command. Of those twenty, one was lost at sea due to explosions and fire, one was damaged so severely that it was not safe to sail it back to the US, and one was damaged but did eventually return.  No crew members were lost as a result of these damages, and his mission was completed successfully.

Morton Seligman WW 1 service history page 1

Morton Seligman WW1 service history

New Mexico Commission of Public Records, State Records Center and Archives; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Series Title: Service Reports; Series Number: 18.1.6; Box Number: 10899; Collection Name: New Mexico Adjutant General Records; Collection Number: 1973-019

For his service, Morton was awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service.  (“Servicemen Cheer Hero at Canteen,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 1943, p. 18)  His commendation read:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Morton Tinslar Seligman (NSN: 0-34590), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. C-272, engaged in the important and hazardous duty of sweeping for and removing the mines of the North Sea Barrage during World War I.

I am not sure where Morton was stationed once he returned to the US, but as of August 19, 1925, he was stationed in Honolulu as part of the aviation corps, according to a wedding announcement in the San Francisco Chronicle.  On that date, Morton married Eleanor Reynolds, the daughter of Ziba Wells Reynolds, who had been a pay director in the Navy; her brother Lieutenant Stewart Reynolds was also serving in the Navy.  The article, reprinted below with a photograph of the bride, reported that Morton was assigned to Honolulu for the next three years.  (Another article stated that his Honolulu assignment was for two years, and that appears to have been more accurate.  “Sail from San Pedro,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 2, 1925, p. 14)

Morton Seligman marriage article 8 19 25

San Francisco Chronicle, August 10, 1925, page 14

On August 29, 1925, Morton and Eleanor sailed out of Los Angeles to Hawaii on the SS Calawaii, arriving in Honolulu on September 5, 1925. (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Honolulu, Hawaii, compiled 02/13/1900 – 12/30/1953; National Archives Microfilm Publication: A3422; Roll: 083; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: RG 85)

Two years later they returned to California on the SS City of Honolulu, departing June 18, 1927, for Wilmington, California, where Morton was assigned to V.F. Squadron 6, a fighter squadron, part of the US Navy Battle Fleet. ( U.S., Military Registers, 1862-1985[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.)

Although he is listed as residing in San Diego in the 1929 San Diego city directory, he must have been reassigned during that year to Washington, DC, with the Bureau of Aeronautics. (“Mrs. Seligman Leaves for Washington, D.C.,” San Diego Union, September 23, 1929.)

It seems that the marriage did not survive long thereafter because by April 3, 1930, the date of the 1930 census, Morton was divorced, and he was living with a fellow Navy aviator in Washington, DC.  He was still with the Bureau of Aeronautics in 1931, according to the Washington city directory of that year, although he was temporarily attached to the US Marine Corps as part of a special assignment to transport aircraft to Port au Prince, Haiti, in October, 1931. ( U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)  He returned from Haiti on November 2, 1931, giving the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington as his address. (Year: 1931; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 5067; Line: 7; Page Number: 64.)

Lt. Morton Seligman c. 1932  Courtesy of Arthur Scott

Lt. Morton Seligman c. 1932
Courtesy of Arthur Scott

By 1933, Morton was living in San Diego and was remarried to a woman named Adela.  I cannot find a marriage record or any other document that reveals Adela’s birth name, but she is listed with him as his wife on the 1933 San Diego city directory. He was now a Lieutenant Commander with the VF-1-B squadron, according to the U.S. Military Register for the year.  He and Adela were still living in San Diego as of 1939, according to that year’s directory, and Morton was still serving in the US Navy. According to the US Military Register for 1939, Morton was now a commander at the Naval Air Station in San Diego.  The 1940 census also has Morton and Adela living in San Diego, Morton’s occupation still as a naval aviator. By this time, Morton was 44, Adela was 41.   Morton had been serving in the Navy for over 20 years.  ( U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.)

In October, 1941, Morton risked his life in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue two naval aviators who died when their plane crashed into the bay off the coast of San Diego.  According to the San Diego Union:

“Comdr. Morton T. Seligman, Naval Air station executive officer, made a dramatic attempt to rescue the fliers a few minutes after the crash.  Speeding to the scene of the accident in a crash boat, Cmdr. Seligman discovered that no one aboard was a diver.  Despite the fact that he had never donned a diving helmet in his entire navy career, the officer put on the helmet and diving suit, instructed the crew of the crash boat how to operate the air pumps and then dived overboard. 

“In 25 feet of water, Cmdr. Seligman discovered the bodies of the airmen in the smashed plane.  In trying to extricate them, Cmdr. Seligman suffered severe cuts on his left hand from jagged pieces of metal and wood.”  (“Two Fliers Die As Navy Plane Falls Into Bay,” San Diego Union, October 5, 1941, p. 1)

Two months later, the US would enter World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, a place where Morton had once served.  Not long after, Morton was an officer on the USS Lexington, which was destroyed during the Battle of the Coral Sea, which took place from May 4 through May 8, 1942.  The battle was described as follows on the official US Navy website Naval History and Heritage Command:

“The Battle of the Coral Sea, fought in the waters southwest of the Solomon Islands and eastward from New Guinea, was the first of the Pacific War's six fights between opposing aircraft carrier forces. Though the Japanese could rightly claim a tactical victory on "points", it was an operational and strategic defeat for them, the first major check on the great offensive they had begun five months earlier at Pearl Harbor. The diversion of Japanese resources represented by the Coral Sea battle would also have immense consequences a month later, at the Battle of Midway.  ….. 

“Preliminary operations on 3-6 May and two days of active carrier combat on 7-8 May cost the United States one aircraft carrier, a destroyer and one of its very valuable fleet oilers, plus damage to the second carrier. However, the Japanese were forced to cancel their Port Moresby seaborne invasion. In the fighting, they lost a light carrier, a destroyer and some smaller ships. Shokaku received serious bomb damage and Zuikaku’s air group was badly depleted. Most importantly, those two carriers were eliminated from the upcoming Midway operation, contributing by their absence to that terrible Japanese defeat.”

English: Battle of the Coral Sea

English: Battle of the Coral Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The website also notes that “The U.S. Navy [was] tipped off to the enemy plans by superior communications intelligence” that helped them in their fight against the Japanese in this battle.

As for Morton’s role, a US Navy Cruise Book described the battle and the USS Lexington’s role in that battle in great detail.  According to this source, on the morning of May 7, 1942, the aircraft carrier was hit by five torpedoes and numerous bombs.  Although seriously damaged, the ship did not sink, and by 1 pm it was on even keel and only had one fire burning.  Then another major explosion occurred, caused by gasoline vapors igniting below the deck.  Several fires started, and by 5 pm the commanding office of the ship, Admiral Fitch, ordered the crew to abandon ship.  After the admiral and the crew had left, “Captain Sherman and his Executive Office, Commander Morton T. Seligman made a final inspection of their vessel amid flying debris, smoke and flames.  They then slid down a line, with the commanding officer being the last to leave—just as the torpedo head locker exploded, shaking both from the line and into the sea.  All but 26 officers and 190 men were rescued (including seven brothers aboard named Patten), and it is thought that none of these casualties occurred by drowning after abandoning ship.”

( U.S. Navy Cruise Books, 1918-2009 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2011. Original data: United States Navy. Various U.S. Navy Cruise Books. Navy Department Library, Washington, D.C.)

English: USS Lexington (CV-2), burning and sin...

English: USS Lexington (CV-2), burning and sinking after her crew abandoned ship during the Battle of Coral Sea, 8 May 1942. Note planes parked aft, where fires have not yet reached. Removed caption read: Photo # NH 51382 USS Lexington burning during the Battle of Coral Sea, May 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For his service and heroism aboard the Lexington, Seligman was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.  His citation read:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Commander Morton Tinslar Seligman (NSN: 0-34590), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of this profession as Executive Officer of the Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. LEXINGTON (CV-2), in action on 7 and 8 May 1942, during the Battle of the Coral Sea. During and after that battle Commander Morton directed the damage control and fire fighting parties, inspecting and visiting all critical parts of the ship. He personally assisted in removing all the wounded in many places. His distinguished leadership and timely decisions contributed greatly to the success of our forces and was largely responsible for the small loss of life that occurred when the ship was abandoned. Commander Seligman’s conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy of the United States.

Navy Cross

Navy Cross

A month later, Morton Seligman would be caught up in a controversy involving another major Pacific battle, the Battle of Midway.  More on that in Part II.