In one sense, Jay Francis Korth was a lucky Army recruit during World War II. He arrived at Hickam Field, the military airfield adjacent to Pearl Harbor, just days after the Japanese surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941. All around him he saw carnage and destruction, with the smoke from fires still wafting through the air.
“He was just bereft at the devastation and the loss of life,” Korth’s daughter Donna-Marie Korth-Williams, said.
He was part of the first wave of reinforcements after the attack and stayed on with the Army Air Corps at Hickam during the war as a radiotelegraph operator. He also spent time in California. While he never saw combat, Korth appreciated the job other soldiers did, giving him a deep sense of patriotism. In almost every family picture Korth appears with an American flag pin on his lapel, Korth-Williams said.
Korth, who went on to become a well-known negligence attorney in Lynbrook, died Monday after a brief illness. He was 99.
A love of the law and the desire to use it to serve others in need guided Korth throughout his life. The Brooklyn native earned his law degree from St. John's University and a master of laws from New York University, then worked for a while in the Wall Street area, his daughter said. After he married Grace, Marie Miller, whom he met at St. John's in 1952, the couple moved to Lynbrook in 1953.
Once settled on Long Island, Korth established his own law practice and became involved in local politics, serving as Lynbrook Village trustee for nine years and for two decades as village attorney and special counsel for tax certiorari. He was also an active member of the Nassau County Bar Association, where he was recognized in May as a 70-year member.
Korth retired from his legal practice in 1985 but donated his time as a pro bono legal adviser for Our Lady of Peace Church in Lynbrook, where he was a parishioner, lector and fundraiser for more than 66 years. He was also a past commander of American Legion Post 335.
Along with Korth-Williams, Korth’s two other children — Lorraine Korth-Smith and Jay T. Korth — followed in his footsteps and became lawyers.
While the legal profession attracts some because it is lucrative, Korth viewed it as a true vocation and profession, Korth-Williams said.
“He had the mentality that no case was too small or too big. He would help anybody who walked in the door,” she said.
But the law was only a part of his life. “He had many interests and hobbies, from golf to hiking to astronomy, [and] he loved history,” Korth-Williams said. “He would speak to anybody about any topic they wanted.”
“He taught us all something special,” she said. “He taught me how to look at the sky and see constellations.”
A funeral Mass will be offered at Our Lady of Peace on Friday morning, almost 77 years to the hour after the Pearl Harbor attack. He will be buried at Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury.
A brother, Charles, also served with the Army and was part of the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944. Charles Korth, who died in 2011, marched with Allied troops to Paris for the liberation of that city.
Aside from his three children, Korth is also survived by his wife, Grace, to whom he was married for 66 years, and six grandchildren.
“What was amazing to me, being in the age we live now, my dad never once mentioned the word money,” Korth-Williams said. “His whole life was about things that matter, patriotism, faith.”
“To us he really was unforgettable,” she said.