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Bellerose veteran recounts battles in the skies over Japan

On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Sampson Lester Friedman left New York University and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force.

Friedman, 86, a resident of Bellerose for 63 years, was a bombardier in the Air Corps who shot down a Japanese kamikaze plane and logged 1,000 hours of flying time during his one year of active duty in the military.

“I was no hero,” Friedman said during an interview Monday at his Bellerose home, where he showed a reporter an album filled with photos of his squadron and Imperial Japanese currency he made after he returned from World War II. “I didn’t see myself as one until now, after all these years.”

Friedman, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Air Medal and four other honors, said growing up in Brooklyn is what led him to join the Air Corps instead of the Army or U.S. Navy.

“I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “Because we were meshugganah kids. We wanted to fly. We were Brooklyn kids. We went on the Cyclone. We went on the Parachute Jump.”

Friedman’s plane, which he flew on with 11 other men, dropped fliers telling the Japanese the United States was about to drop the atomic bomb.

“It’s not as though we didn’t warn them,” he said.

His 25 combat missions over Japan included the encounter with the kamikaze pilot and two firebombings of Tokyo.

“I stop and think how many people I killed in Tokyo,” said Friedman, who labeled himself as anti-war. “I never thought about it.”

Friedman said he was told by his superiors that Japanese civilians were not innocent casualties because they made bullets and electronic parts for the Japanese military.

But Friedman said he has no remorse for the Japanese military after finding out they beheaded American soldiers with samurai swords.

“Why would I have compassion or sympathy for them?” he said.

Friedman, who is Jewish, is a former Queens County commander of the Jewish War Veterans and speaks about the war on Memorial and Veterans days at his synagogue, the Bellerose Jewish Center.

Friedman said he still talks to the captain of his plane 65 years after the war.

“He will never forget because I shot a kamikaze down that almost rammed us from the front,” Friedman said.

He said his mind was not racing with thoughts of death as the plane flew toward his.

“You don’t think, you react,” Friedman said. “You just aim and shoot.”

A month after Friedman came home, he got married and a year later moved to Bellerose, where he lives in the same house he bought in 1947 on 249th Street.

Friedman graduated from NYU with a bachelor’s degree from the School of Commerce and worked in his family’s jewelry business.

“When you think about it, millions of people died,” he said of World War II. “I’m a lucky guy. I came back.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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