SCHENECTADY — After hearing several veterans, elected officials and church members talk about Bob Becker on Sunday, it was Becker’s turn to talk.
Becker, who had just received the Four Chaplains Brotherhood Award, barely spoke about himself. Instead, much like the meaning behind the award he was given on Sunday, he chose to focus on everyone else who got him to that point.
“This award is not for me,” Becker said. “It’s for the committee I work on.”
Becker, of Schenectady, was given the award by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States Albany Post 105 at the First Reformed Church on Sunday.
The award was created in the name of the Four Chaplains. The chaplains were among those who died in February of 1943 on the S.S. Dorchester when the ship was struck by a German torpedo during World War II in the North Atlantic.
The four man group was made up of a Methodist minister, a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Dutch Reformed minister. They are heralded for putting the rest of those on the boat before themselves, as they helped the other soldiers board lifeboats and gave up their own life jackets when the supply ran out. They then linked arms, prayed and sang hymns as the boat sank into the sea.
Clark V. Poling was the Dutch Reformed minister on that boat. He actually was a minister at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady up until 1942, when he volunteered to be a chaplain for the U.S. Army.
Fred Altman, commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States Albany Post 105, said the incident occurred during a time of intolerance, violence and lack of compassion. He said it was the duty of veterans and military members to promote the principles shown by those four chaplains during a time of crisis.
“We hope those principles dominate the spirit of how people treat other people,” Altman said.
The award goes to those who help others, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or religion.
Becker served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a supply chief and platoon sergeant in the Second Marine Division from 1960 until 1966. He then joined the USMC Reserve in 1966 and retired as a first sergeant in 1982.
After his retirement, he advocated on behalf of veterans’ rights. One of the more recent accomplishments Becker obtained through his advocacy was helping pass the bill in New York state allowing medical marijuana for treatment of those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Richard Goldenberg, co-chair of the Four Chaplains Committee, said Becker would have been “reluctant at first” to support such legislation back in the 1960s.
“But the science is there,” Goldenberg said. “It works. And it it works, we want to support it.”
Several speakers, including U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Ammterdam, praised Becker for his dedication to veterans and advocating for their needs, regardless of who they were.
“That sense of diversity in ranks of the military, people of different backgrounds, you’re there for them,” Tonko said to Becker. “Because they served this nation and the world in their efforts for peace, you’re giving to a cause greater than yourself.”
U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, decided to focus more on Becker’s patriotism and his faith, while also noting his service to other veterans.
“Thank you for your selfless service and what you’ve done for veterans,” Faso said.
Becker was also given the state Liberty Medal by state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and James Tedisco, R-Glenville.
Even after all of this adoration, Becker turned the spotlight elsewhere. He thanked the Jewish War Veterans, the U.S. Marine Corps., the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Amvets, the Albany Chapter of the Military order of the Purple Hearts and several other veterans’ organizations.
Becker did this because he said it wasn’t about him, it was about the veterans.
“Veterans are the ones that make this world go ’round,” Becker said. “They’re the ones who come back from places in conflict or peace time, and we work to help them.”