Stanley Feltman, a longtime Coram resident who was a B-29...

Stanley Feltman, a longtime Coram resident who was a B-29 tail gunner during World War II, died on Sept. 23 at age 95. Credit: Feltman family

He'd gone undefeated as an amateur boxer, becoming a fighter at the urging of his drill sergeant who had seen him beat a taunting bunkmate in his barracks at the U.S. Army Air Forces training camp in Biloxi, Mississippi.

And as a World War II tail gunner on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber based on Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands in 1945, Stanley Feltman once shot down a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" fighter over the Pacific — a feat not common for a gunner and one requiring great skill.

But for Feltman, who was born in Brooklyn and who lived most of his adult life in Coram, it was his final mission that proved most harrowing.

He and 10 crewmates were shot down on a "milk run" — that is, a mission where they were supposed to face little threat from enemy fighters or anti-aircraft fire.

Stanley Feltman, bottom row, second from right, with his B-29...

Stanley Feltman, bottom row, second from right, with his B-29 crew during World War II. Credit: Feltman family

They ended up floating in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by sharks, their yellow-dye shark repellent running out.

Feltman lived to be 95. He died on Sept. 23 at Stony Brook University Hospital after taking what his son described as "a bad fall" at home.

"He didn't talk about it a lot in my childhood," his son Richard Feltman said of the war, "but as he got older he began to open up more, to allow his story to be told."

And it was a pretty good one.

Born April 5, 1926, in Flatbush, Brooklyn, Stanley Feltman was just 15 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. As soon as he turned 17, he persuaded his parents, Henry and Gella, to allow him to enlist in the U.S. Army. Sent to Biloxi, the 5-foot-8, 136-pound Feltman soon found himself harassed nonstop by a barracks bully.

It all came to a head one morning when the bigger recruit blocked Feltman's path, insulting him with derogatory taunts about being a Jew from Brooklyn.

Feltman trounced him and the fight was witnessed by a drill sergeant, who arranged for Feltman to be recruited to box in intersectional tournaments.

He went 22-0.

Because he also proved an expert marksman, Feltman was sent to gunnery school and became the tail gunner on a B-29.

He completed 15 missions over Japan, shooting down the Zero, before his bomber got shot down on the 16th mission.

Adrift in the Philippine Sea, Feltman braved sharks to save his crewmate.

"My dad wasn't overly dramatic when he recounted it," Richard Feltman said. "He just said, ‘This is what happened. We were in the water, there was yellow dye in the water, there were sharks in the water, one guy floated off and I went and got him back to the dinghy’ — and that was that. I'm thinking, these guys just crashed into the freaking ocean."

After the war, Stanley Feltman went to Mohawk College in Utica on the GI Bill, running afoul of the administration there for operating an underground newspaper. He graduated from Utica College at Syracuse University.

He'd been offered a tryout as a second baseman with the minor league San Francisco Seals, where Joe DiMaggio once starred, but it didn't work out. So he headed back to postwar Asia.

Feltman told WarHistoryOnline he worked as a casino runner in Portuguese Macao, then moved to Japan, where he learned Japanese and became friends with a Japanese aviator who piloted a Zero in the war.

"Originally, he was the enemy," Feltman told WarHistoryOnline. "But he became one of my best friends."

The two remained friends into their 90s, he said.

Returning stateside, Feltman worked for his father's flooring company and met Marilyn Jacobson, who would become his wife, on a blind date in 1968.

The two married in 1969 and had two sons, Richard and Scott. Feltman's wife predeceased him in 2008.

Richard Feltman said his father was a fervent Zionist and even helped smuggle weapons, via Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, through Canada to Israel.

Later, the elder Feltman became a charter member of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and, after retiring as a carpet salesperson, survived pancreatic cancer. He joined Post 366 of the Jewish War Veterans, where he became a huge fundraiser for the group and the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, selling poppies almost daily outside local stores from a display table showing pictures of him and his bomber crew. It was a routine halted when the coronavirus pandemic came along.

"In a way, the pandemic kind of killed him long before he died, because selling those poppies and raising money kept him young, kept him viable, kept him healthy, kept him active — and losing that, well … It was just very very important to him," Richard Feltman said.

Feltman is survived by his two sons and five grandchildren.

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