Born in 1923, brought up in Brooklyn, he is a modest man with a welcoming smile. His hair is still dark brown with only a pinch of gray. His posture has a prayerful stoop. Jack has been married to Lillian for more than fifty years. He lives simply with her in a home by Triunfo Creek.
His most memorable thoughts are of his youth in World War II. Like every young man, he had plans. Out of high school, he began working for the New York Times. His dream was to become a journalist. He took night courses at City College. But his dream was not to be. He was drafted.
“I stood in line with hundreds of others. Everyone was being handed khakis. When I got mine, I asked, ‘Do I have to go into the Army?’ A guy grabbed back my khakis and said, ‘Go through that door!’ I went through another door and I was in the Navy.”
Jack became a machinist’s mate on LST’s. He was on a lot of LST’s (landing-ship-tanks), at invasions in Southern France, North Africa, and Italy. The LST’s had no names, just numbers. Only the really big ships and the really big shots had names. He applied to officers candidate school, had the right recommendations and good tests. But then disaster struck. The war ended. “I think the good jobs after the war went to officers. People naturally thought of them as leaders.”
Since his family had already moved to California, Jack Stein and his wife followed, arriving in 1949, settling in Boyle Heights. He worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. But after falling from a boxcar, injured, he went to work for Occidental Life Insurance. When enthusiasm for the insurance industry fizzled, he went to work for Standard Brands Paint Company. After fifteen years there, he retired.
Jack was also a union activist. “That was the era we were in,” he says. “The era of the union, when unions were being built. Everyone but management belonged to a union.”
His observations about the greatest change he’s seen in the world: “Well, certainly technology. But more than technology, the greatest change is education. In my day, people went to school, to college if they could, got a job, attempted to get promoted, and stayed there. You took a job, you kept a job. Nowadays, education is easier. There are community colleges, universities, specialty schools. You can get a job, start a career, and go back get more or a different education and begin anew.”
Jack Stein is a religious man. You may often find him at prayer, formally in his temple or alone in his home. While serving on the LST’s, he recalled that they not only landed on invasion beaches, sometimes they had more mundane tasks, like transporting prisoners. And he remembers one thing vividly.
“The belt buckles the nazi soldiers wore. They were embossed with the German equivalent of ‘In God We Trust.’”
In war, everyone, even Nazis, want god on their side.