By Larry Jasper

During the opening days of World War II in the Pacific Theater, on December 29, 1941, the Japanese lay siege to Corregidor Island in the Philippines. The Japanese bombed the island and destroyed everything they could, including the hospital, barracks, and fuel depot. On that day Corporal Sam Cordova was killed in action.

Cordova enlisted on September 21, 1940, and served with the 60th Coast Artillery Regiment at Fort Mills on Corregidor. Cordova is now buried in Plot D, Row 2, Grave 69, at the Manila American Cemetery, located in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Metro Manila, within the boundaries of the former Fort William McKinley, along with 17,058 fellow service members.

Cordova received the World War II Victory Medal, Purple Heart, American Campaign Medal, Army Presidential Unit Citation, Army Good Conduct Medal, and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal.

For 79 years Corporal Cordova had a Latin Cross as his marker. He was Jewish.
Finally, Corporal Cordova has a Star of David as his marker.

This was accomplished thanks to an organization known as Operation Benjamin.

Operation Benjamin began in 2016 as the Normandy Heritage Project and changed its name as the project expanded to other cemeteries managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC).

ABMC regulations require any request for changes to headstones come from a relative of the deceased.

Cordova’s brother Harry, now 99, made a request through Operation Benjamin and finally succeeded in getting his brother a Star of David.

The ceremony to change the headstone took place on December 29, 2020, the 79th anniversary of Cordova’s death. In attendance were representatives of the Embassy of Israel, ABMC, the U.S. Embassy, Operation Benjamin, and members of Manila’s Jewish community.

While he could not make it to the ceremony, Cordova’s brother recorded a video message played during the ceremony. In it he said, “I never imagined in my 100th year that I would be able to honor my brother by ensuring that the proper headstone graced his grave. I didn’t know why he was buried under the Latin Cross, but I do know that he belongs for all eternity under the symbol and heritage of his birth, the Star of David.”

“That I could do this for him 79 years after his death, is a wonderful gift,” Harry Cordova added.

Corporal Cordova is the ninth U.S. Jewish Servicemember whose headstone has been changed to a Star of David due to Operation Benjamin’s research and advocacy. There are five more scheduled for change in 2021, and another 25 in advanced stages of research. Hundreds more cases are still waiting to be examined.

Volume 75. Number 1. 2021