In the spring of 1945, with Adolf Hitler dead and Nazi soldiers surrendering all around him 140 miles from Berlin, Army signal corpsman Jerry Weingart thought his World War II experience was finally at an end.
But then medical crews asked the 23-year-old sergeant to roll up his sleeves for a battery of tetanus, smallpox and other inoculations as he was about to board a troop ship in Marseille. It soon became clear the Army had no intention of sending him home.
"Until then, we were all saying 'We're going home, we're going home,' " Weingart, 93, recalled. "I was overjoyed, overjoyed that the war was over."ExploreNYers who died in World War IIExploreWorld War II timelinePast coverageNewsday coverage of WWII
"But when they started giving us shots, it dawned on me we were being sent to the Pacific to invade Japan," he continued. "I remember thinking, 'They don't give you these if you're going home.' "
As the United States pivoted from a two-theater war to one focused squarely against imperial Japan, thousands of American GIs who had fought for months or even years on battlefields in Europe were packed up and sent directly to the Pacific.
Pentagon leaders were planning for an invasion of Japan's main islands -- a grim challenge that threatened to exact as many as a million additional casualties from a war-weary America already exhausted from more than four years of sacrifice.
Unlike today's combat deployments, which have typically lasted about a year for troops sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, World War II soldiers were often expected to remain in combat until they were too injured to fight anymore, said Seth Paridon, a researcher at the National World War II Museum, in New Orleans.
"Most of the time, once they got in they served for the duration," Paridon said. "There were guys in the 1st Infantry Division who landed in North Africa [in 1942] and were still fighting in Germany in 1945."
Weingart, the Brooklyn-born son of a maker of women's hats, was studying engineering at City College in 1943 when he was called into active duty. He was assigned to the 3186 Signal Service Battalion.
Attached to the 9th Army in Europe in 1944, he was responsible for setting up radio towers near the battlefront, as the Allied forces pushed through France and into Germany. As each tower was established, his unit and a companion unit would leapfrog each other, pressing ahead to establish a new hilltop tower site.
That often left his lightly equipped unit exposed in combat areas that had not been fully secured, Weingart recalled.
Communications units are prime targets for opposing armies because they keep military leaders informed about where to attack and what dangers confront them. Twice, Weingart said, his four-man team was surprised by German Panzer tanks, and had to slip away quietly, leaving all of their electronic equipment behind.
"We had been working so quickly we hadn't even taken time to set up the Browning," he said, referring to the unit's heavy machine gun. "I guess we were not out there to kill, we were out there to communicate."
He said Germany's surrender in May 1945 left him with puzzlingly mixed emotions. The hope that he was on his way home left him elated. But witnessing the skeletal survivors of Nazi concentration camps left him in disbelief.
"It was a feeling of both happiness and sorrow," he said. "There was happiness that it was over, and that I lived through it was more than a miracle. But it was horrific. I saw people who were emaciated, and I couldn't believe anyone could do this to anyone."
"I was young," he said. "I couldn't believe what I saw."
He said he was happy when he was ordered to travel to Marseille to board a boat he originally thought would take him back to his New York City hometown.
Instead, the boat steamed westward through the Panama Canal.
The grim possibility that his signal corps unit would help spearhead an invasion of Japan weighed on him.
"We were told it was a suicide mission because the Japanese would track us down by our signals and bomb us out," he said. "I wanted to go home, sure I did. I was married, I wanted to get on with my life."
"But I thought it was important," he continued. "There was still a war going on in Japan, and when they told me I was going there, I thought it was something that had to be done."
He was relieved when, three days into the Pacific, word arrived that Japan had surrendered.
Weingart and the others then were stationed in the Philippines and later in Japan itself.
He was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned home to his wife, Claire, whom he had married while on a weekend pass shortly before going off to war. He went to work for his father's millinery business on Manhattan's West 38th Street, then founded Holiday House Coffee in Lynbrook after moving to Manhasset in the 1950s.
Reflecting back on his military service from the Melville elder care facility he moved into earlier this year, he says he did not resent being sent from combat in Europe to the Pacific.
"It was not mine to decide," he said "I always felt it was a duty of mine to perform, and I think I did that as well as I could. I'm proud that I served my country."
Now, 70 years after his World War II service, he is eager to share his recollections of war's random carnage.
"It's something that I want to tell others about, because it's something we should never forget," he said.
"We keep going through wars and young men keep getting killed. Dozens of my buddies perished. I saw them die in my hands. I'm 93. There are not a lot remaining from my battalion."