Norman Zuckerman and Sam Notkin went to the 60th annual convention with the same expectations as the other 76 veterans in attendance — to see a few old friends and tell a few old stories. Zuckerman traveled across Illinois – about 300 miles — to be in St. Louis. Notkin journeyed through several time zones and about 4,000 miles — from Dublin, Ireland — to attend his first 99th convention.
Their friendship began more than 60 years ago. Although Zuckerman was born and raised in Chicago and Notkin’s home was in Roselle Park NJ, their paths crossed in July 1943, during basic training at Camp Fannin in Tyler TX. Both were sent to Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge LA, in September 1943, as part of the ASTP.
By February 1944, the two friends had finished one semester of college and the Army decided it needed soldiers, not scholars, and canceled the ASTP program. Zuckerman and Notkin were sent to Camp Maxey to help fill the ranks of the 99th Infantry Division.
Notkin went to B/393 and Zuckerman to A/395. They saw each other often during three months of additional infantry training. However, in September, the division was shipped to Europe and the two lost track of each other.
When the Battle of the Bulge began in December 1944, Notkin was wounded and sent back to the United States.
In January 1945, Zuckerman was part of a 10-man patrol of which three were killed and seven captured. The POWs were taken deep into Germany, to Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb. On April 2, 1945, they were liberated by American troops. Zuckerman was hospitalized, then taken back to the States.
While on furlough in June 1945, Zuckerman traveled to New Jersey to see the mother of a close friend, 99er Andrew Yeaple, who had been killed in Germany. And, he decided to check up on an old friend – Sam Notkin.
Through the years, the two continued their relationship by phone. Both were busy with their own lives, and visiting old Army buddies took a backseat to careers and family obligations.
Fast-forward 64 years and this summer, Notkin decided it was time to attend his first 99th Infantry Division Association convention. It wasn’t a decision made lightly – he wasn’t in the best of health, and the trip from his home in Ireland required much planning and assistance from his wife, Kay.
“He took the chance we would meet,” said Zuckerman, who attended the convention with his wife, Marion. The two couples spent a good share of the week together as Norman and Sam caught up on the details of each other’s lives.
“We were both at the 60th convention with our wives,” Zuckerman said. “It was a great reunion – 64 years later!”
Next year’s convention is still in the planning stages, but the two friends hope their paths will cross again.