Herman Zeitchik spends a great deal of time at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., often laying a wreath during annual ceremonies on Memorial or D-Day.
The retired businessman also attends Memorial Day concerts, as a remembrance to those who died during the war.
“They always call him,” said his wife of 67 years, Linda.
The involvement of Zeitchik, who achieved the rank of sergeant in the U.S. Army, in veterans’ affairs led to a singular honor: attending the State of the Union Address on Feb. 8.
When Holy Rotondi, executive director of Friends of the National World War II Memorial, received a call from the White House asking for suggestions of individuals to be invited, Zeitchik immediately came to mind, Linda said.
She is sometimes the spokesperson for her husband, soon to turn 95; he has clear memories but some difficulty speaking because of his developing Parkinson’s disease.
At age 18, Zeitchik left school to enlist. He was among the 4th Infantry Division soldiers who landed at Utah Beach early on the morning of June 6, 1944, known as D Day. He helped liberate Paris hold by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge, valor for which he was named Knight in the French Legion of Honor.
But another memory Zeitchik finds poignant was being one of the soldiers to free the starving, near-death prisoners at Dachau Concentration Camp.
“I said they shouldn’t be given a lot of food right away, because they couldn’t handle it,” he said.
Zeitchik also recalled giving the prisoners the front page of the Army-issued Bible he was carrying, with his mother’s name and phone number written on it, in the hope one of them would call him later.
“But they didn’t,” he said, sadly.
In what Linda calls her husband’s “museum” in the downstairs level of their Silver Spring house, Zeitchik has hung photographs and documents related to his World War II service.
These include a letter former President Barack Obama recognizing the honorary degree Zeitchik received from his high school in his hometown of Linden, N.J., even though he had not initially completed his studies.
“The school decided he should graduate,” Linda said. “They honored him in 2014.”
Among the photographs is one of Zeitchik standing next to a German tank. He also has multiple boxes of papers and photos that are looking for space or just to be remembered.
He was one of three World War II veterans invited to the State of the Union in February. Before the address, Zeitchik and his family were taken on a private tour of the White House.
Janet and Herman Zeitchik have two daughters, Linda and Carol, as well as four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Politics were not a consideration that night.
“We didn’t hesitate to accept an invitation of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Linda said.
Zeitchik was one of three World War II veterans to the White House and Congress.
Perhaps most memorable for Zeitchik was the opportunity that night to meet Joshua Kaufman, who was a prisoner at Dachau at the time of liberation. The two men did not come into contact then, but now were seated side by side in the gallery.
Before leaving the “museum,” Zeitchik wanted to make sure to show off his military jacket. It was decked with a presidential medal and the French Legion of Honor medals, among others. It’s the same jacket he wore for his State of the Union honor.
He also donned his Army helmet and explained its many uses.
One regret Zeitchik has is that he won’t be able to attend the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day Belgium. He and his wife were there for the 50th.
Linda argued gently that it’s not doable under their present circumstances. She also has osteoarthritis. Zeitchik argues a bit, also gently, then gets back to discussing the “museum” and his memories.