TWO World War II airmen lie buried in a single grave in South Jersey, their bodies so torn by German anti-aircraft fire during a 1944 bombing raid that they could not be told apart.
DNA testing wasn't available back then, so the remains of Solomon Henry Bernstein and Chester F. Bartoszewicz were mixed in both caskets and their coffins buried, one atop the other, in a plot at Beverly National Cemetery, in Burlington County.
Fourteen years ago, the steadfast determination of Bernstein's sister caused a gravestone unlike any other to be placed there:
The stone is engraved with a cross for Bartoszewicz, of Pittsburgh, and a Star of David for Bernstein, who spent part of his childhood in Upper Darby.
"It is in fact unique," said Michael Owen, an administrator at the cemetery. A spokeswoman for Arlington National Cemetery agreed, saying she had never heard of a similar marker.
It came about due to the efforts of Mary Bernstein Stout, 78, of Winter Springs, Fla., who still vividly remembers "Sol," the movie-star-handsome big brother who was her protector.
She still feels the pain of his death at age 21, especially on occasions like Memorial Day.
"My brother is in my mind all the time," she said by phone from Florida. "You think about it a little bit more on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, or the day he was killed. I get sadder that day."
Stout doesn't know details of how Bernstein's and Bartoszewicz's remains were recovered, but she knows well the story of their deaths on the afternoon of Aug. 6, 1944:
The two, both staff sergeants, were among four crewmen killed, just after bombing a German aircraft factory, when their U.S. Army Air Corps B-17 was shot down near Brandenburg.
Bernstein was an aerial gunner and crew chief; Bartoszewicz was the plane's radio operator.
Five other crewmen bailed out.
After the war, when Bernstein's and Bartoszewicz's bodies were brought home and interred, a granite headstone was placed at their grave, like others at the cemetery.
But the granite chipped from being struck by lawn mowers, and the headstone bore only their names, while other graves were marked by a cross or Star of David, Stout said.
The stone was so weathered that Stout requested a marble stone, like those of other servicemen from the Vietnam era on. Since she understood that Bartoszewicz was Catholic, she asked that the stone be marked both with a cross and a Star of David. The new stone was erected in 1994.
"I still feel sad that I couldn't see him get married or have children," said Stout. "He died while he was a young man, as many, many, many thousands of young men did back then."
The memories are particularly poignant now that the U.S. is involved in another war that devours the lives of young fighting men and, now, women too, she said.
"I feel bad because I know what it is to lose a loved one in war," she said.
Sol visited home for a few days around Mother's Day 1943. But the day he left, his sister said, she was visiting a girlfriend. When her mother called to tell her that her big brother was leaving, she said, she ran all the way home, but it was too late. He was gone.
"I never got to say goodbye," she recalled.
The Bernstein family lived briefly in the Cobbs Creek area of Upper Darby when Stout was 4, and also in Atlantic City before settling in Miami Beach.
Over the years, Stout has tried without success to find members of Bartoszewicz's family.
But she didn't forget him.
When the World War II memorial opened in Washington in 2004, "I sent a donation of $5 each" so that Bernstein's and Bartoszewicz's names would be listed in the memorial records, along with the date of their deaths, Stout said.
That was all she could afford, said Stout, who along with her husband, a former Coast Guardsman, is ill and has part-time medical help.
Through the years, she has come to terms with her brother's death, and feels satisfaction that she honored his memory and that of his fellow airman.