Before he died at age 97 on Feb. 1 at a Massapequa nursing home, Hyman Strachman shrugged himself off as just another 5-foot 5-inch World War II veteran, an old man just trying to keep busy after the death of his wife.
His pastime was technically criminal. But no one thought to press him on the letter of the law.
That’s because Strachman’s passion, found late in life, brought pleasure to U.S. GI’s spread around the world.
“Your exceptionally meritorious service while ensuring that we had care packages greatly improved the morale of the soldiers,” Col. Peter L. Jones, wrote from Iraq in a 2010 Army Certificate of Appreciation for “patriotic civilian service.”
“Separation and deployment are hard for most of the Soldiers” wrote Maj. Xuan Tran, chaplain of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, in 2011. “However, they are doing great because of people like you who have been supporting and encouraging them.”
Strachman won the hearts of hundreds of thousands of homesick service members by copying movies onto DVDs, fastidiously packing them into boxes, and sending them to U.S. military posts ranging from Iraq’s Tigris River to Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.
Three years ago, he told Newsday that he did so to give himself a sense of purpose after Harriet, his wife of 55 years, died in 2003.
“She liked movies a lot, not the comedies, the serious stuff,” he said in a documentary “The Pirate of Massapequa.”
Working from his Massapequa apartment using a machine that made seven duplicates in six minutes, Strachman is believed to have spun off as many as 300,000 copies of first-run films — from Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” to the sports drama “Moneyball.”
His handiwork violated copyright law, which makes it illegal to duplicate original works without permission. But in 2012, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America told The New York Times the studios were unaware of Strachman’s copy-for-the-troops practices. And no one ever came knocking at Strachman’s door.
With the number of U.S. troops in combat dwindling, Strachman eventually ended his bootlegging ways in 2013. That year, he persuaded movie rental company Redbox to donate about 10,000 DVDs to his effort to aid the troops.
Strachman, who was born in Brooklyn to Polish immigrants, dropped out of high school during the Depression to work in his parents’ window shade business.
Drafted two months after Pearl Harbor, he served two years in an Army intelligence unit in the Western Pacific, making maps for his battalion command. He recalled that movies were a welcome break from the tension of war. He was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1945.
He worked as a stockbroker before retiring in the 1990s. He used savings he made from then to help finance his “Big Hy For Heroes” gift packages.
“I take care of a lot of good people all over the world with DVDs,” he said.
Strachman is survived by a son, Arthur, of Massapequa, and a daughter, Dorothy, of upstate Walton. He was buried at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont.