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Heritage Film Project focuses on Pleasanton POW

Horrors of war forged Milt Feldman into a man of peace

Pleasanton resident Milt Feldman thought a documentary about his war experiences might warn other about the dangers of the ideology of white supremacy. (Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley)

The elderly gentleman traces his fingers across an aging newspaper, peering closely at the wrinkled pages from March 9, 1945, to make out the small print.

"After nearly two months of anxiety, following the receipt Jan. 12 of news that their son, Pvt. Milton Feldman, was missing in action," he reads, "good news came yesterday morning to Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Feldman ... in the form of a letter written by Pvt. Feldman from a German prison camp."

Milt Feldman, now approaching 94, is revisiting the fraught events of his World War II experience in a trailer for a documentary being created by the Heritage Film Project, which filmed at his Pleasanton home in January.

The 20-year-old soldier was a member of the 1st Army 423nd Infantry, 106th Division, which was virtually wiped out in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

"At last I get my chance to write to you," Feldman reads from the Daily Times of Mamaroneck (N.Y.), which reprinted the letter he had written to his parents from the prisoner of war (POW) camp. "I guess the important thing to tell you now is that I am well and safe."

Feldman pauses in his reading as tears well up in his eyes and he comments, shaking his head, "I hadn't read that in a long time."

"I hope you didn't worry too much when you thought I was missing," the letter continues. "I'd like for you to send me packages, including cigarettes."

Feldman stops again, saying, "I can't read it."

But he does continue, to conclude his letter of so long ago, "For now, I'll say I love you all and take care of yourselves."

The newspaper article continued, "A January message from the War Department said that Pvt. Feldman had been missing in action since Dec. 21."

Now in the trailer, Feldman puts down the newspaper and ruminates.

"War is terrible," he says. "Anybody thinks that it's heroic, sure it's heroic, but heroic is not good. The very idea of war is disgraceful."

Documentary director Eduardo Montes-Bradley knew when he heard about Feldman that he wanted to record his words for posterity. Post-production work is being done where the Heritage Film Project is based, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and the crew is headed for Europe next week to film in France, Belgium and Germany.

"We are going to go to the spot where he was captured, at a pillbox," Montes-Bradley said. "He was coming out from under a tree on the Siegfried Line of defense, basically half a mile inside German territory."

"His story has wonderful aspects," he added. "His father was a Russian immigrant in New York, and he'd been in the First World War. Milt not only goes to fight in the same place but gets captured and goes to the POW camp."

Feldman recalls the prisoners hearing about President Franklin Roosevelt's death and holding a service in secret.

"They also celebrated the Jewish Passover under the noses of the Nazis," Montes-Bradley said. "They were liberated by the Russians, and then he walked almost all the way across Europe, just like his father had before him when he came to America."

For the past three decades, Montes-Bradley has documented the words of scientists, writers, artists and political activists. He extolled the way Feldman related his experiences "with forthright and blunt honesty for the camera" about the horrors of a war that forged him into a man of peace.

"In the case of the films I've made with veterans, three so far, I have partnered with the Library of Congress," Montes-Bradley said. "If the story is moving, if it has to be told, I will find the resources to do so."

Feldman finally arrived at Lucky Strike Camp in France -- all the camps for returnees were named for cigarettes -- and was shipped back to the States. He returned to Penn State University, married his college sweetheart, Shirley, and became a certified public accountant. For many years, Feldman ran an accounting firm in New York and was active in state politics.

Shirley died after decades of marriage, and Feldman eventually remarried, to Renee Bauer.

"Milt is a modest and unassuming man," Bauer said. "In spite of it all, he keeps telling me how lucky his life has been."

Milt and Renee moved to Pleasanton in July 2014 to be near family members.

"We have made wonderful, new friendships in our Stoneridge Creek community," Feldman said. "We enjoy playing bridge, belonging to the drama club and Reader's Theater, as well as attending lectures and taking excursions to museums, theaters and other places of interest. We spend a lot of time with our family, and especially love the time with our two West Coast great-grandsons."

When Montes-Bradley contacted him about documenting his experiences as a prisoner of war, Feldman did not hesitate. He said through the years he would sometimes talk about his wartime experiences.

"As time passed, it became easier," Feldman said. "Now I speak about them freely."

"I'd like to leave this documentary as a legacy to my family and others, so that these things will never be forgotten," he said.

See the trailer at: vimeo.com/239244823.

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