Remembering Our Fallen

13 Jews Who Died Fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq

Fallen Comrades: Service members salute James Malachowski, who was killed March 20, 2011, by an improvised explosive device in Marjah, Afghanistan. He was 25.
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Fallen Comrades: Service members salute James Malachowski, who was killed March 20, 2011, by an improvised explosive device in Marjah, Afghanistan. He was 25.

By Maia Efrem, Blair Thornburgh, Andrea Palatnik and Seth Berkman

Published September 09, 2012, issue of September 14, 2012.
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Pfc. Morris L. Walker

He could fit in anywhere

Morris Walker’s grandmother, Burglinde Walker, and her family hid the fact that they were Jews in Germany during the Holocaust in order to survive. She later fell in love with and married an African-American soldier stationed in Germany and moved to Fayetteville, N.C., with him. Morris Walker was raised by his grandmother, and though he was always proud of his roots and identified with the Jewish people, he was not raised as a Jew.

Walker — or “Mo,” as his friends remember him — was a man who could fit in anywhere. “He had grown up in a situation where he was one of the only African-American kids in private school and had learned how to be a fish in any water,” his friend Sam Rosenthal told the Forward.

By the time Walker got to college at the University of North Carolina, however, he embraced his Jewish identity more openly and joined a Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau. Michael Chasin, a frat brother, described him as a social butterfly who excelled in sports and whose smile lit up a room and brought joy to people. The two attended Sabbath and holiday dinners together at the home of Ben Packer, the UNC campus rabbi.

Since Walker grew up in Fayetteville, N.C., in a military town near Fort Bragg, it came as no surprise to his friends when, before graduating from UNC, he enlisted in the Army, looking forward to rising in the ranks and having a strong military career. “When he came back from basic training he was a different person. All of us saw the military as changing him for the better,” Chasin said.

When Walker died, Packer dedicated siddurim prayer books and planted a tree in Israel in Walker’s honor.

“He wasn’t perfect; he had his issues, he had his demons. But he was special. He was a special person,” Rosenthal said.

Morris Walker died August 18, 2009, in Dila, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was 23 years old.


Sgt. Zachary M. Fisher

Committed to Army life

Zachary Fisher was a history buff who enjoyed stories of heroism and bravery. His favorite movies included “Braveheart” and “Saving Private Ryan.” But he also was a passionate friend and husband. During the summer of 2006 he met the woman who would become his wife. They dated until he left for Iraq in early 2007; when Fisher returned for Christmas break, he proposed. The couple were married April 26, 2008, at B’nai El Congregation, in Frontenac, Mo.

“Zach took his family and his friendships very seriously. He adored his grandparents. He fell in love with [his wife] almost instantly,” Jim Jacobs, Fisher’s stepfather, told the Forward.

Though he had been exposed to Judaism through his stepfather, Fisher’s parents said their son had decided to officially convert when he returned home but died before he got the opportunity. Fisher was converted and given the Hebrew name Zecharya in a Jewish and military burial.

Fisher grew up in Ballwin, Mo. and graduated from Marquette High School in 2004. After a brief stint in community college, he eventually joined the Army Reserves.

During Fisher’s funeral procession, local residents lined the streets alongside members of the military, including 100 riders from the Patriot Guard. The Missouri Military Memorial Foundation reported that people in a car passing by in the opposite direction “stopped in the middle of traffic, got out of their vehicle, and stood with their hands over their hearts.”

Zachary Fisher was killed July 14, 2010, in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his military vehicle with a command wired improvised explosive device. He was 24 years old.


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