Ed Peyser, 99, of Greenlawn holds some of his World...

Ed Peyser, 99, of Greenlawn holds some of his World War II photos. Credit: Rick Kopstein

They met at a rehab center in Commack — one a World War II veteran, the other having served during the Korean War.

This was right before the COVID-19 pandemic and it wasn’t long before roommates Edwin Pyser and Herbert Gold became friends.

Pyser had been a mechanic in the Army Air Forces in World War II, enlisting as a buck private, getting out as a sergeant. He had been with the 96th Bomb Group at Eccles Road Air Base, north of London between Cambridge and Norwich, where he worked on B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. Gold, recovering from hip replacement, had been in the Army, in as a private, out as a corporal, serving with the 47th Infantry Regiment in Incheon, Busan and Seoul — though he never saw combat.

“We were in the same room,” Gold said of that time in rehab, “and we used to joke around a lot. We talked about the areas we participated in, what we saw. And when we’d see other patients going by our room we’d ask, ‘Are you a veteran?’ When they’d say, ‘No,’ we’d say: ‘Keep going!’”

Herb Gold, 90, of Levittown holds a photograph of his...

Herb Gold, 90, of Levittown holds a photograph of his younger self in his Army uniform.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Pyser, 99, of Greenlawn, and Gold, 90, of Levittown, will be honored on Saturday, Oct. 15, by the Long Island chapter of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, which will present each with a patriotic quilt in a ceremony at the Eisenhower War Memorial in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. The ceremony was originally scheduled for this Saturday but was pushed back because of the prospect of rain.

Since 2003, Quilts of Valor has awarded more than 320,000 quilts to veterans across America.

“I think the organization is wonderful to do this,” said Gold’s daughter, Stephanie Gold, who manages singer Gloria Gaynor — and said Gaynor plans to be in attendance. “So many veterans don’t get the recognition. Young kids today, I think they’re clueless about what these guys did so they could have their freedoms.”

Herb Gold was born in Brooklyn in May 1932 and grew up in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan. He had just graduated Seward Park High School when he was drafted in 1950 — reporting to the induction center on Whitehall Street in Manhattan.

“At that time,” Gold said, “they were short of Marines. And so here’s how they picked you. A guy counted off — 1, 2, 3, Marines — and if you were the fourth guy in line, that was it. You were a Marine. I was 2, so I missed out on that. But that’s what I remember, this guy counting off while you were in line getting all these different needles shot into you.”

Gold went to basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, then was shipped to Korea.

“My outfit did see action,” Gold said. “But I missed actual combat . . . Of course, I was concerned. I understood what was going on — and, I was willing, if it was necessary, to do what needed to be done — but I lucked out.”

Postwar, Gold had three children and worked for Western Union fixing teletype machines.

He later became friends with then-Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta, working in his administration helping veterans secure tax reductions.

Pyser, 99, was born in August 1923 and grew up in the Bronx.

A left-handed pitcher at James Monroe High School, he was good enough to earn tryouts with the then-New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers.

Days after Pearl Harbor, Pyser enlisted in the Army Air Forces.

An aptitude test turned him into a mechanic and after training he was shipped to England, where he served at Eccles Road.

The B-17s were one of the primary four-engine heavy bombers used by the United States against Germany in World War II. The plane was renowned for bringing crews home despite massive battle damage.

“Sometimes, the planes were so damaged they didn’t have enough power to make the runways,” Pyser said. “Sometimes, they crashed. We’d see the medics — they’d come out to the planes with us — and we’d see them taking guys out, guys who’d been shot up . . . I was very curious to know what happened. But, the combat crews, they’d just leave.

“They didn’t want to talk about what they’d been through.”

Unlike portrayals in the movies and in the press, Pyser said many of the crew members often tried to get out of flying missions.

“You felt for them,” Pyser said. “For us mechanics, I guess we were the safest ones. We weren’t in combat planes, we were just working on them, getting them to fly again. It was much worse for them.”

Pyser said the big terror for men on base were V-1 rockets, German buzz bombs, that whizzed overhead, suddenly falling from the skies, exploding on impact. And there were other everyday horrors as well.

Mechanics got their uniforms coated in oil, grease and other lubricants and as a result often cleaned their clothes in a solvent: gasoline.

The servicemen made homemade stoves out of converted oil drums to heat tents and barracks and one night, Pyser said, some mechanics fell asleep in their gas-soaked uniforms — leading to a huge explosion when fumes ignited. “Next thing I remember this friend of mine was running,” Pyser said. “Guys were on fire, guys burned to death.”

Pyser met his wife, Edith, at an off-base dance. Her father had been a London firefighter, killed when a burning building collapsed on him during a bombing by the Luftwaffe.

Another big moment, he said, was D-Day. 

“The sky was blackened with all the heavy bombers and planes going across the Channel,” he said. “At first we didn’t know what it was. They didn’t say, ‘It’s D-Day,’ they just came to the barracks in the middle of the night, told us we needed to get flights ready — and that was it.

“But,” he said, “we knew it was something big.” 

After Germany surrendered, Pyser was on the Queen Elizabeth bound for New York when word came of the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan.

“We didn’t know what the heck it was, this atom bomb,” Pyser said. “All I knew is it meant I wasn’t going to Japan.”

Pyser later settled in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, working as a diamond setter in the diamond district in Manhattan.

His son Larry and Stephanie Gold make sure the two friends get together once a month for lunch — and both are thrilled their dads will be honored Saturday. 

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