HIGHLAND PARK – Of all his accomplishments, Korean War veteran Jerry Adler’s greatest moment was when he met his wife.
On graduation day, after receiving his B.A. in Journalism at Rutgers University, Adler, now 86, saw the girl of his dreams standing behind him in line. He congratulated Elaine Bader, then 21, for receiving a Master of Arts in English. Afterward she asked Adler how to get to the train station, and he seized the moment.
“I drove Elaine along with her aunt and mother to the train station, leaving my parents stranded at the Rutgers Athletic Field, where the graduation ceremony took place, wondering whatever happened to me,” said Adler.
Three years prior to this event, in 1951, Adler was struggling at Rutgers University and dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army Infantry. He was sent to Korea as an intelligence and reconnaissance specialist.
Larry Sassorossi, commander of American Legion Post 145, explained at the November 11 City of Highland Park Veterans Day Ceremony that Adler wrote battle plans in Korea and received top clearance on sensitive materials to consult his battalion commander.
“The commander was so impressed with Adler’s performance that when he was transferred he wanted to take Adler with him,” he said. “Adler had to decide whether to follow his dad’s advice to return to Rutgers University or to become a U.S. Army careerist.”
Sassorossi said if he had not complied with his father’s wishes he would never have met Elaine (his wife of 60 years).
Adler, a Highland Park resident, was honored as a “Hero Among Us” at the ceremony, emceed by Mayor Nancy Rotering. The guest speakers included State Rep. Scott Drury (D- Highwood), State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), Col. Brett M. Turner, U.S. Army Fort Sheridan, Commander Omar G. Martinez, executive officer of the U.S. Navy, Great Lakes Naval Station, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and Sassorossi.
Rotering told the large turnout of veterans in the audience, “You are role models and you truly inspire each and every one of us to live a little better, to be a little stronger, and to recognize and appreciate that freedom absolutely does come at a price.”
Morrison added, “Today, all across America, we are joining as one people putting aside our differences and our divisions, to appreciate a debt that we can never fully repay. As we dedicate today to service and sacrifice, let us simply repeat to our American Veterans the words that are inscribed on the Congressional Medal of Honor: ‘a grateful nation remembers.’”
Adler told DailyNorthShore prior to the ceremony that after one year of intense training he was transferred to Seattle with follow-up instructions to go to Korea.
The New Jersey native said he couldn’t choose which was his most dangerous moment, because it was all dangerous. “You lived on the edge,” he said. Other than taking his boots off, he always slept “in costume.”
“The most intense moment I had in Korea was on September 18, 1952, when we fought to recapture our hill, ‘Old Baldy’ in the Battle of Old Baldy, which is well known by historians,” said Adler.
Sassorossi added that it took two days of aggressive fighting to “repel the attack.”
This led to another incident, which Sassorossi categorized as “What was he thinking?”
“Twice Jerry flew in a single engine starter plane unarmed and unescorted over enemy territory,” said Sassorossi.
“When you’re 20 years old, you feel like you’re immortal and when the guy next to you gets blown up by a mortar shell, you think that’s not going to happen to me,” said Adler.
During his three years serving in the U.S. Army, Adler wrote more than 100 letters home and told his parents that the men fought to protect each other – “our buddies.” According to the city’s Veterans Day program, these letters have been donated to the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in Chicago.
Adler said the two years after he came back to Rutgers “were a breeze.” He excelled in college, had the G.I. Bill, was a stringer for United Press International, covered Rutgers sports, and wanted to pursue a career as a newspaper man.
Then he entered the world of advertising, and worked as a writer and marketing executive at McCann Erickson Advertising Agency. One day the head of the agency called Adler into his office. He said he was nervous he was going to be fired.
He told Adler he had the wrong business card, and handed him a box. The new cards read “Jerry Adler, Vice President.” He said he wanted Adler to be a vice president before his 30th birthday, thus making him the youngest vice president at the agency.
Adler’s other professional accomplishments included:
- Created D.J. Dotson, a beverage specialties company
- Became president & CEO of Mogen David Wine Corp., which was owned by Coca Cola.
- Created the first restaurant meals delivery company called TakeOut Taxi
“Today Amazon is doing everything that I started with TakeOut Taxi in 1991,” said Adler, who moved to Highland Park with his wife and two children in 1974.
About six years ago, Adler told former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Highland Park) that he’d like to go back to Korea someday, because “it cost us 66,000 lives and I wanted to see what we paid for it.”
Kirk said he would make all of the travel arrangements. When the Adlers arrived at Seoul Airport, a South Korean member of the administration of defense came in and asked for Mr. and Mrs. Adler. There was a limousine waiting for them with a driver.
“The first thing that every person we met in Korea said to me was ‘thank you for your service to my country’,” said Adler.
He was treated like royalty for being a Korean War veteran.
“When I was in Seoul during the war, it was a ruble, but today it has 108 universities and glitters, “ said Adler. “I’m very pleased with the turn of events.”