Noted Brooklyn WWII veteran and writer Norman Wasserman dies at 96
Received French Legion of Honor, mingled with artists and writers
Brooklyn Heights resident Norman Wasserman, a decorated WWII veteran known for his poise, intelligence and joie de vivre, passed away on September 4. He was 96.
Drafted as a teenager, Wasserman shipped to Europe and joined the 286th Field Artillery Observation Battalion in General George S. Patton’s Third Army in 1944. American soldiers took the brunt of a furious six-week German assault during the coldest winter on record in Luxembourg. Winston Churchill described the Battle of the Bulge as “the greatest American battle of the war.”
In May of 2012, at the age of 87, Wasserman traveled to West Point with 38 other American soldiers to receive the French Legion of Honor, for his valor during the bloody Battle of the Bulge. The prestigious medal symbolizes “France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation,” according to the Consulat General de France.
“It was an extraordinary honor, and I feel a little humble,” Wasserman told the Brooklyn Eagle. “The French appreciate being liberated by American troops, at such a high cost.”
For decades, Wasserman was a guest of honor at veterans’ events in Brooklyn. Toba Potosky, who has been working for years to renovate the War Memorial in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park, reached out to him in 2015. “When I first called to introduce myself, I asked him what he had been doing for the past few years. His response was, ‘I’ve been waiting for you to call me,’” Potosky said.
In 2009, on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Wasserman was one of six American veterans invited by the government of Luxembourg to participate in commemorative ceremonies. In an essay he wrote for the Brooklyn Eagle about that visit, he said, “The people of Luxembourg have not forgotten. The momentous events of that period are indelible in their history, terrain, schoolbooks, museums, monuments, their vigils in December and their warm hospitality to Americans.”
Ed Marinello, a fellow Brooklynite who met Wasserman in the army, became a lifelong friend. Wasserman’s elegance, sense of humor and top skills with a gun (he was the battery’s only sharpshooter) led to his nickname “The Wasp,” Marinello said.
A lifelong Brooklynite
Norman A. Wasserman was born in Brooklyn in 1924 and was raised in Gravesend. After the war he attended UC Berkeley on the GI Bill. He later moved to a basement apartment on Bank Street in Greenwich Village, where he became a writer and waited tables.
“He often invited me to sit in with circles of budding writers at the New School,” Marinello said. These included William Styron and George Mandel, and also Mario Puzo, who was in Wasserman’s poker group. His social circle also included artists such as abstract expressionist Nell Blaine.
In 1954, Wasserman picked up a painting in a frame shop which he came to believe was an unattributed “drip” painting by Jackson Pollock. Proving its authenticity was a project that would lay claim to his attention for decades. This saga was reported in great detail in 1992 by The New York Times.
He married Nina Horowitz in 1963. The couple raised their two children, daughter Jennifer (now Jennifer Wassermiller) and son Gabriel in Brooklyn Heights. Wassermiller said her father played football and Frisbee in the park with her and her brother. She recalls him skipping down the steps “to stroll in his beloved Brooklyn.”
Wasserman was a gifted writer, freelancing for various publications before joining the public relations firm Ruder & Finn 1968, where he advanced to become a vice president, retiring from the agency in 1986.
He remained extraordinary youthful well into his senior years. “He played like a child with his grandchildren and tossed them into the air with as much glee as they were experiencing,” Wassermiller said. She described her father as “movie star handsome. He was graceful and funny, and enjoyed mentoring budding writers. He was his grandchildren’s favorite editor and was a great listener.”
Wasserman remained married to Nina for 39 years until her death of cancer in 2002.
When he married Tatyana in 2004, he called her his “life extension.”
“But I can say that he was my life extension also,” Tatyana Wasserman said. She described her husband as “an independent man, free spirit, a survivor and a soldier.”
“I admired his taste, his manners, graciousness and warmth” she said. “His love for the art, literature, nature, his care for people he knew, old and new friends, visits to the ballet, to the country house, to Coney Island where he felt like revisiting his childhood, made us very close together.”
Wasserman’s greatest passion in life was writing, she said. “It was his hardest work, endless hours of research, collecting materials, writing and rewriting again something that is already beautiful, looking for perfection — it was real Norman.”
His granddaughter Sasha said “He left behind many file cabinets of his poems, plays, memoirs, letters, and essays. Spanning decades, all meticulously annotated. It is not lost on me the privilege it is to have these intimate archives”.
In his final days, when it became clear that he would not be able to finish his novel, he requested his grandchildren complete his work.
Zamir Wassermiller, Wasserman’s grandson, said Wasserman had a “warrior spirit.” Reflecting on his grandfather’s life and achievements “feels vast, dauntingly so. I try to remember a sentiment he practiced to design such prosperity: Enjoy the moment.”
His granddaughter Chloe bought a copy of the Odyssey to read with him while he was in the hospital. “I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Norman and Odysseus — both are well known for their intelligence, their wisdom, storytelling, their loyalty, and immense love for their wives.” Like Odysseus, Wasserman was “a man of many turns. He had so many layers. Every time you saw him there was something new,” she said.
Though celebrated for his role during WWII, Wasserman was against war in general, Tatyana Wasserman said. In those days, soldiers were allowed to bring home a pistol as a souvenir following the war. On his way home from Europe, standing on the deck of the Queen Mary, Wasserman took out the pistol and threw it in the ocean.
Friends and family said Wasserman was extraordinarily disciplined. His grandson Axel said “he rarely indulged in something, a little bit of dessert. It made us all conscious that we should do the same.”
Phyllis Beinstein, a family friend for more than 50 years, said, “He had so many parts to him, and on each occasion, you spent time with him there was a deepening of what you knew about him … and it was always counterpointed against the impish, childish, playful side of him.” She said that Wasserman told her many times, “The most valuable thing you have to give someone is your time.”
Wasserman epitomized the saying, “Die young as late as possible,” Tatyana Wasserman said. “Until the end of his life, he was never old.”
A graveside service with military honors was held at Wellwood Cemetery in Babylon, Long Island on Sept. 8, 2021, which was followed immediately by a shiva/ memorial service.
Norman is predeceased by his first wife Nina Wasserman, siblings Ruth Morse and Connie Albert, and parents Harry and Esther. He is survived by his wife of 16 years Tatyana Wasserman, daughter Jennifer Wassermiller (Paul) and son Gabriel Wasserman (Jackie) as well as five grandchildren: Zamir, Aram, Sasha, Chloe and Axel.
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