American Arabs among those who fought during World War II

American Arabs among those who fought during World War II
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American Arabs among those who fought during World War II

By Ray Hanania

General Fred A. Safay WWII

Gen. Fred Safay, Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida (

More than 15,000 Americans of Arab heritage fought during World War II to defend the United States against the Japanese and their German Nazi and Italian Fascist “Axis” powers.

Several served in prominent positions including Army officers Maj. Gen. Fred A. Safay, (1898 to 1952) who fought alongside Gen. George S. Patton, the commander of the 7th United States Army, and later the 3rd United States Army in the European Theater of World War II. Also, Brigadier General Elias Stevens, who served on the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 5 Star General and Supreme Commander of all Allied Forces during World War II.

Of Lebanese heritage, Safay enlisted in the Florida National Guard on his 19th birthday. During his first year he moved through the ranks of non-commissioned offices. He was nominated for a commission and he saw combat in France as a 2nd Lieutenant with the “Blue Bonnet Regiment.” After returning from France, he and other officers worked to have the 124th infantry reorganized, and in 1940 Safay took command. He served until 1942, when he received his star and transferred from the regiment. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.

Stevens, also of Lebanese heritage, was the first American Arab graduate of West Point. He reportedly lived in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1944, one of America’s U.S. Naval ship, the “destroyer escort” the U.S.S. Naifeh, was named in honor of an Arab American hero, Navy Lt. Alfred Naifeh of Oklahoma. While serving on the U.S.S. Meredith in the Solomon Islands during World War II in 1942, Naifeh’s ship was struck by a massive Japanese air raid and rapidly sunk. Naifeh worked for two days and nights to locate wounded shipmates and placed them aboard life rafts. Naifeh died on the third day of the battle of  exhaustion after fighting off shark attacks and rescuing many of his compatriots. Naifeh was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and the Purple Heart for his heroics.

George Hanania, Jerusalem, Palestine. In US 5th Army uniform immediately after enlisting after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

George Hanania, Jerusalem, Palestine. In US 5th Army uniform immediately after enlisting after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

These are some of the most prominent American Arabs who fought to defend America during World War II and they and the many American Arabs who served should also be remembered on the 70th Anniversary of the American military landing at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, (D Day) which began the defeat of the Nazis.

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My father, George Hanania and his brother Musa (Moses) Hanania who both immigrated to Chicago in the 1920s, enlisted together immediately after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The two brothers from Jerusalem, Palestine wanted to serve together in the U.S. Army. But when they enlisted, my father George was assigned to the 5th Army and later to work under General Donovan in the Middle East and Europe the Offices of Strategic Services (OSS) the precursor to the CIA. The recruiters assigned Moses to the U.S. Navy, because they thought that an American with the name “Moses” might help the Navy “part the sea” and give the Allied Powers an advantage, especially after the attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor which took the lives of 2,400 Americans and sunk or damaged 21 ships.

American Arabs were among those who fought in the Philippines and the Pacific War, while others battled in the North Atlantic and in Europe. Of particular interest where American Arabs who spoke Arabic to help counter the Italian and Nazi Germany advances on the Middle East.

Over the years, so much pro-Israel propaganda has been fabricated to cast Arabs as having supported the Nazis. The truth is that some Arab leaders did ally themselves with Germany but only because the west, led by Great Britain, had backed the illegal disposal of Jewish refugees who were prevented from fleeing the Nazi persecutions to Western countries like Britain and America, to go to Palestine instead. The pushing of Jewish refugees to Palestine, and preventing them from fleeing to America and Britain and other Western nations that were driven by anti-Semitism, created the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the support of the Germans was driven more by the Biblical notion that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Most Arabs, however angry over the illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine, opposed the racist ideology of the Nazis. That Nazi ideology also targeted “Arabs” as being members of an inferior race like the Jews, Gypsies, Slaves and Asians.

My father fought during World War II to not only defeat the Nazis and Japan, but to also free the Jews who were being placed in concentration camps prior to the war in the 1930s, camps which were converted to centers of mass murder during World War II. More than 6 million Jews were murdered, gassed and incinerated by the Nazis in gas chambers and ovens as a part of Adolph Hitler’s demonic effort to erase the existence of Jews in the world. That Holocaust is the worst human atrocity committed in human history.

The American Arabs fought with distinction, although in many cases after World War II, and continuing through the subsequent wars including the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the wars in Libya, Yemen and Iraq, American Arabs were discriminated against by the Veteran’s organizations that became politicized in recent years.

American Arabs later formed their own veterans groups including the Palestinian American Veterans Association in Chicago, and the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in the Military (APAAM) which have since folded as anti-Arab discrimination has increased in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

When we commemorate the service of American military veterans, we must also remember the patriotic service of thousands of American Arabs, Christian and Muslim, who served in defense of our nation at times of war, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice and lost their lives during that heroic service.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and columnist. He is managing editor of the Arab Daily News


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Managing Writer at The Arab Daily News
RAY HANANIA — Columnist

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at, and for, and

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com
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  • Samuel Davis

    My father, an American of Syrian descent, was in the Army Air Corp during WWII. He flew 35 combat missions as a Waist and Tail Gunner, lived through 4 crash landings and had to bail out over German-occupied France. He flew in the B-17. All this before he turned 19. How did you get the 15000 number? Thanks

    • Ray Hanania

      Thanks Samuel for sharing your father’s story. One of the biggest failures of American Arabs has been the failure to document and share our stories. The number 15,000 comes from estimates from many sources. As you know, the US Census has excluded Arabs and the US Government doe snot acknowledge Arabs as a minority or recognized ethnic group so our numbers are not “official”. But from my years of research and talking with many Arabs in the military, many American Arab historians and in community activism, they all seem to agree with that number. Again, thanks for sharing that. It’s inspirational.