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    Posted May 27, 2014 by
    Palo Alto, California

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    WWII Veteran and Moldaw resident Reflects on Unique Military Experience and the Importance of Memorial Day

    Memorial Day is about taking time to remember those who gave up so much to serve their country. Jack Geffner, an active 94-year-old at the senior living community Moldaw Residences, knows very well about the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made by those in the military. As a WWII veteran who served four years in the Pacific Theater, Geffner looks back on his service and considers himself lucky for making it back home and for being able to serve in the role he did. Geffner was in the Air Force but was in a role not many war stories mention: he was a Photo Lab Commander. Now enjoying life in retirement with his wife at Moldaw Residences, Geffner emphasizes the importance of honoring all who have served while remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

    “Our fight was in the dark room,” said Geffner. “In the Air Force, I was part of the team working directly with pilots who flew planes shooting cameras as opposed to shooting guns. I don’t feel like we did much out of the ordinary, but it made me realize how essential our jobs were because we captured significant images with our photos.”

    Geffner believes he was very fortunate to have had the chance to serve the way he did and realizes that so many were not as lucky as he. His cousin fought in The Battle of Bulge and survived to write three novels about his experience and the overwhelming loss from that event.

    “Many who survived find it difficult to look back on that time of service on occasions like Memorial Day and reflect on the friends that were lost; many don’t like to talk about it,” said Geffner. “However, taking time to honor them and hear veterans’ stories and experiences is important because it’s a way of capturing part of history before it’s lost with them.”

    For a few years after the war, Geffner made efforts to keep in touch with some of those who served with him, particularly one of the pilots who worked with him on missions in the Pacific. He recalls even attending some reunions together but acknowledges that there are not many of them left now.

    After graduating from New York University in 1940 as a pre-med student, Geffner went to work for the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C. He took advantage of opportunities provided through his work there and studied industrial chemistry with courses in powder and explosives. He then was given a job as an inspector of explosives specifically working in the explosives department. The skills and knowledge he acquired through this led to his interest in the military, so he enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1942 to be trained in photo reconnaissance. Geffner entered as an aviation cadet, went through basic training and was commissioned as second lieutenant in 1943.

    “I was part of the 28th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force and assigned to the Pacific Theater,” said Geffner. “Doing photo recon, we worked with pilots of P-38s to get the precise photos needed of coastlines and islands. We processed the film and had targets for the other pilots before noon.”

    Geffner’s photo recon squadron was fully staffed with four to six officers. Each team was responsible for individual P-38s, which involved maintaining the cameras and using the proper types of cameras based on the missions the pilots were given. They also instructed the pilots as to the exact altitude and speed they should fly in order to capture the best photos needed. Then, they processed the film upon the return.

    “We weren’t in the heat of the battles,” said Geffner. “But our jobs were very important in the overall wartime activity. Information was needed, so we collected photos and therefore collected intel on the enemies’ coastlines. We helped develop the film of islands all over the South Pacific – Iwo Jima, Hiroshima and Okinawa.”

    Immediately following his military service, Geffner was able to finish his education because of the G.I. Bill. He is grateful for the help that provided him to earn his degree and to become a podiatrist. Geffner has dedicated many years to ensuring local groups of Jewish War Veterans, the oldest veteran organization in the country, continues to thrive with new members and support. As soon as he was out of service in 1946, Geffner decided to make sure there were actively involved members. Later he moved to California and collected funds and volunteered at the local VA hospital to get the group at Post #60 in San Jose revitalized. He continues to look for opportunities to recruit other veterans to join the group.

    “I was relieved to be done and able to go home when I was discharged, but I believe we all did what we had to do at the time, and each individual person and job was important,” said Geffner. “Acknowledging that and paying tribute to those who didn’t come back is what Memorial Day is all about.”


    Moldaw Residences is an innovative senior living community located at the 8.5 acre Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, adjacent to the 130,000 square foot Oshman Family Jewish Community Center. As a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), Moldaw Residences enables older adults to age in place by providing independent living, assisted living and memory support. Opened in 2009, Moldaw Residences offers 193 maintenance free, spacious apartment homes and extensive social and cultural amenities. Affiliated with the Jewish Senior Living Group, it is open to all faiths, ethnicities, and racial background.

    For more information about Moldaw Residences of Palo Alto, visit www.moldaw.org or call (800) 873-9614.
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