Harold E. Hirsch, 68, operated newsstands

February 17, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Harold E. Hirsch, a Baltimore businessman who won a Silver Star for valor despite being seriously wounded during the Battle of Iwo Jima, died Jan. 26 of congestive heart failure in Plantation, Fla., where he and his wife were planning to retire. The Randallstown resident was 68.

For the the past 15 years, Mr. Hirsch operated newsstands in the lobby of Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co. and in the Court Square Building. He had sold the Mercantile stand this year.

He came to Baltimore in 1950 after working in the family grocery business in Fairmont, W.Va., after World War II.

After selling advertising for the Yellow Book in the city, he and Irv Levinson, father of Hollywood filmmaker Barry Levinson, started a siding and remodeling business named Southeastern Contractors.

The younger Mr. Levinson "probably used the business as an inspiration for [his movie] 'Tin Men,' " said Mr. Hirsch's daughter Maureen Kessler of Baltimore.

Mr. Hirsch was awarded the Silver Star for "conspicuous gallantry under heavy enemy fire" as a medical corpsman on Iwo Jima. His unit, the Marine Corps' 5th Amphibious Corps, had been part of the second wave of U.S. soldiers that hit the beach under heavy fire from Japanese shore batteries Feb. 19, 1945.

On March 7, while inching toward an airstrip, Mr. Hirsch was attending an injured Marine when shrapnel from a mortar hit his own left arm, severing his median and ulnar nerves and hurling him to the ground.

He ignored the wounds until he completed life-saving treatment for the wounded comrade.

West Virginia newspapers hailed him as "Yank of the Week," and urged residents to "Buy War Bonds in his honor." He was hospitalized for a year, but his recovery made medical history -- as well as a Reader's Digest article in 1946.

He underwent two operations on Guam before being shipped to a hospital in the United States, where he endured eight more operations that resulted in the saving of his arm.

Then, he became the first to undergo delicate nerve sheathing surgery at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, which Dr. Colin McCarthy performed.

Surgeons realized that unless they could sew the damaged nerves together, Mr. Hirsch would go through life with a paralyzed arm and fingers. Carefully sewn together, the nerves were wrapped in tantalum foil, which protected the minute fibers as they slowly grew back together. His successful surgery, which left him with only two fingers paralyzed, was hailed as a medical miracle.

Family members said he was widely known for helping others.

"He could always get things done. If you had a problem, he was the first one there to help you," said Larry Kessler, a son-in-law, who credited his father-in-law with inspiring him to start his own maintenance-construction business.

Services were held Jan. 29 in Plantation.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former Anita Bendler; two other daughters, Danielle Hirsch and Stacey Jerome, both of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

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