Service Number: 160244
Birth and Early Life:
Manny Berkman was born in Russia on September 1, 1895. He emigrated to the United States at a young age, and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Manny Berkman’s Marine career began on March 8, 1917 at Marine Barracks, Port Royal, South Carolina – the facility that would be renamed Parris Island later that year. After two months of training, Private Berkman boarded the USS Panther and sailed for Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where he joined the 53rd Company in barracks.
Service Prior to 1941:
Berkman’s service in Haiti did not get off to a glowing start; he was hospitalized in June and remained there until the beginning of August. He served in the enlisted men’s mess after his release, and then on December 16 was caught committing the cardinal sin of sleeping while on post. The company had its share of disciplinary issues, mainly drunkenness, and mostly handed out fines and light stays in the brig. Sleeping on duty was always treated seriously, and Private Berkman was thrown in solitary confinement for a month on bread and water and fined $99.00 – a tremendous amount for a Marine Corps private. He was released for duty in January.
The Haiti detachment spent World War One in Port-au-Prince; Berkman himself took instruction as a cook and became a post orderly. In December 1919, he returned to the United States and took up a post at the Marine Barracks, Navy Yard Charleston, South Carolina. He was again hospitalized almost immediately, and remained there until being discharged on February 7, with a character rating of “excellent.”
Berkman went home to Ohio and re-enlisted almost immediately on February 10, with the provision that he be allowed a 19 day furlough before reporting to Mare Island, California, for duty. California was only a brief stop-over on his way overseas; Berkman caught a glimpse of Cavite Navy Yard as well before arriving at the American Legation in Peking, China.
In recognition of four years of service, Berkman was promoted to Private First Class in February, 1921 (he celebrated by going AOL for an hour, for which he was reprimanded by his commanding officer). Although he continued to suffer from health problems, Berkman made the most of his time on “China duty,” culminating with a rating of Expert Rifleman and a reassignment back to the United States as an instructor.
Back at Mare Island in December 1922, Berkman was advanced to the rank of corporal. He remained there quite comfortably until June, 1924, when he returned to Port-au-Prince – this time with the 196th Company, 8th Marines. The 8th had been fighting the Cacao rebels in Haiti for years, and by 1924 had eliminated almost all traces of “banditry.” Manny saw no fighting in Haiti; with their mission complete the 8th Marines were deactivated in 1925 and Berkman – Sergeant Berkman – once again returned to guard duty in the States.
After a brief stint with the machine gunners of the 29th Company, Fourth Marines in California, Sergeant Berkman joined his first Marine detachment as Police Sergeant aboard the USS California. He was aboard the battleship for two years, including a stop in Nicaragua during the Banana Wars, where he was detached to join the 61st MG and Howitzer Company of the 11th Marines in San Fernando.
In February, 1929, Berkman returned to quieter duty as Property Sergeant of the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Within a year he was back overseas in Shanghai, this time with the Fourth Regiment. While there, Sergeant Berkman married another Russian immigrant, Alexandria Chirkoff. Following his second tour of China, Berkman went to Mare Island, and then to the Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, where he would remain until September, 1935.
Now a gunnery sergeant, Manny Berkman returned to China for a third time with the Second Battalion, Fourth Marines. By 1937, after twenty years in the Corps, he was able to step up to command platoons on exercises, and had accumulated a host of stories with which to impress and terrify younger recruits on their first hitch. He joined up with Company C, First Battalion, Sixth Marines to return to the United States in February 1938 and, in the powerful position of Company Gunnery Sergeant, was the fourth highest ranking member of the unit.
Berkman enlisted yet again on February 10, 1940. That November, he left the Sixth Marines for Sea School, where he was appointed as a marksmanship coach. He taught at the San Diego rifle range in 1941, before joining the Marine detachment of the USS Astoria on October 30.
Gunny Berkman was aboard the Astoria when Pearl Harbor was attacked; as the ship’s armorer, he was kept busy through the spring and summer of 1942 as the cruiser participated in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. Berkman and First Sergeant Joplin Hord kept the younger Marines of the detachment in line, epitomizing the “old salt” that the privates of the detachment aspired to be. The Astoria supported the landings on Guadalcanal in August, 1942, and following the invasion stood off the island, running patrols to protect the transports still offloading supplies
Date Of Loss:
The Astoria was surprised in the pitch-black of August 9, 1942, by a Japanese fleet that tore through the American defenders. Called to general quarters at 0149, Astoria’s crew fought as best they could but, subjected to the full force of four Japanese cruisers, she was reduced to a flaming wreck within thirty minutes. Astoria hung on until noon, when she finally capsized and sank, taking 234 sailors and Marines – among them Gunny Berkman – to their death.
For more information on the USS Astoria, please visit http://www.ussastoria.org
Next Of Kin:
Wife, Mrs. Alexandria Chirnoff Berkman
Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.