By Donald H. Harrison

The Journal of San Diego History
San Diego History Center Quarterly
Spring 2015, Volume 61, Number 2
The Wax and Addleson Families: Military Service Abroad and on the Homefront (PDF)

San Diegans can often see big blue trucks emblazoned with the name “Waxie Sanitary Supply” making deliveries all over town. Chances are if you use a restroom in an office building, a school, factory, or a government building, you will see towel and paper dispensers bearing the WAXIE name or those of the company’s vendors. Behind the Waxie name is the Wax family, which, since the end of World War II, has been participating in San Diego’s military, civic and Jewish community affairs. Immigrants from the city of Stepan, now part of Ukraine, the family made its way first to the East Coast, and then to Utah, where Ike and Sadie Wax operated general stores in succession in the small towns of Salina, Loa and Aurora. Their sons, Harry, born in New York City in 1906, and Morris, born in Salt Lake City in 1920, grew up learning how to be storekeepers—a trade that would shape their respective careers during the Second World War.

Harry became a storekeeper for the Seabees, Morris became a supply officer for the Army’s 14th Armored Division that helped liberate Europe, and Harry’s brother- in-law Herman Addleson, born in Ogden, Utah, in 1920, became a paratrooper and died in action.1

Harry Wax had worked as a regional manager for the Federal Railroad Administration in Salt Lake City prior to the war. There he fell in love with and married Ida Addleson, whose parents, Louis and Fannie Addleson, decided during the 1940s to move from Ogden, Utah, to San Diego. Ida waited out the war in San Diego with the large Addleson family, and it was for this reason that Harry, when he completed his military service, decided to look for business opportunities in San Diego rather than in Salt Lake City.

The Addleson family encouraged Harry to purchase San Diego Janitor & Supply Company, then located at 10th and B Streets. In turn, Harry urged his younger brother, Morris, to come to San Diego as his partner in the janitorial and sanitary supply company that later became known as Waxie. Together, the brothers helped build their business into the largest family-owned Jan/San business in the country, one that has won frequent acknowledgment from the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) as a leader in the industry. From 10th and B, the company moved to offices at 1st and G Streets, and when that second home became part of the Horton Plaza redevelopment, Waxie moved in 1978 to its current headquarters at the corner of Ruffin Road and Kearny Villa Road. On the company’s side of the street, Kearny Villa Road becomes Waxie Way.

Wax Brothers at War

The Wax and Addleson experiences during World War II were formative for the Wax family. Brothers Harry and Morris, along with Harry’s brother-in-law Herman Addleson, served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II in the air, on land, and on sea. Herman gave his life, Harry lost his health, while Morris forged a life-long devotion to the military which won him the reputation as one of the U.S. Navy’s top civilian supporters. Herman’s story was both short and poignant. A patriot, Herman wanted nothing more than to serve his country in the fight against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. He was born with a cleft lip that automatically disqualified him from military service. Herman’s plight became known beyond the circle of his friends and immediate family. The cost of the surgery was out of the family’s range, until a former San Diegan, Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, heard of the predicament of his former schoolmate and fellow baseball lover who had sold peanuts at the Pacific Coast League Padres games. Williams graciously helped pay the cost of Herman’s successful surgery.2

Herman Addleson told some of his wartime stories in letters to Dr. Lauren C. Post, a geography professor at San Diego State College (later University), who published a newsletter for and about SDSU alumni serving in the Armed Forces. On November 5, 1942, Herman wrote in a note from Camp Blanding, Florida, that some of his classmates had already achieved officer rank, and added: “I feel funny in writing and not being in the same class as they. Yet even as a ‘buck private’ (with hopes of officer training), I feel that I am proud to serve my country, no matter how small or how large my rank may be….”3

On September 18, 1943, while assigned to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, Herman told of his regimen training to become a paratrooper. “We run or shall I say ‘double time’ 6 mi, then do exercise, pushups, knee bend, etc. for 2 hrs, then take up other phases of parachute training. It (is) great & I like it, in five weeks I’ll   be jumping from 1200 ft.”4 He described that first jump in an evocative letter of November 17, 1943, from Fort Benning, Georgia:

My first jump was Monday, Oct. 18, 1943, a day I’ll never forget as long as I live. We were all up at 5:45 a.m. that morning, many of us had a very restless night. Our thoughts ran in common, I guess, for our past seemed to flash through all of our minds. It was cold & foggy that day & we marched over to the field, we were all trying to sing. Yes, sing, even if our voices did crack a little. Everyone was excited, nervous & mostly scared. As we took our parachutes out of the bins, I looked at mine & I guess I said a pray(er). ‘Please dear chute open for me.’ As we lined up, 24 men in front of the plane, my knees felt like water…. The next commands came very fast…. The Jump master taps the first man & hollers ‘go.’ Out we go, & when you leave the door the prop-blast takes you away…. Each jump after that is the same, only with more tensifying (sic) fear as you know what’s coming. Yet it is safe as driving a car or anything else that has the word safe with it. Don’t forget, its right here, where the boys are separated from the men. I am now going to school, specialist school to become a rigger….4

On May 1, 1944, a little more than a month before D-Day, Herman wrote what would be the final letter in the collection: “Seems like a lot of [San Diego State] Aztecs are over here, yet I haven’t been able to get around to locate any, except Tom Rice & Guy Sessions, buddy paratroopers. We are going to give those Nazi(s) hell on “D” Day, so you can see old Aztec is well represented in the [101st] Airborne outfit…. If I get back alive, tell ‘Cotton’ to move over with the snow jobs, I’ll really have the latest stuff.”5 Herman did not “get back alive.” He drowned after landing in a flooded field during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. He was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously.6 In taking note of his death, San Diego State University’s Daily Aztec wrote: “Pvt. Herman Addleson was killed in Normandy on D-Day when he landed with the first paratroops. The official notification came to his parents following the official message saying that he was missing. Unfortunately, a fellow Aztec had reported Pvt. Addleson as being in France with him, but he seems to have been in error.“7  A plaque honoring Herman’s military service has been erected at the Veterans Memorial, atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego near other plaques memorializing the military service of Harry Wax, who died in 1978, and of Morris Wax, who died in 1996.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, bringing the United States into World War II, Harry had been pursuing his career in Utah as a regional executive with the Federal Railroad Retirement Board.8 Already over 35 years of age like many members of his “greatest generation,” Harry wanted to find a way that he could translate his love for America into action. That opportunity materialized with the creation of the Navy Construction Battalions, known more popularly as the Seabees, under Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, then chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks.9

Harry, who worked as a supply agent rather than as a builder, turned 37 on May 13, 1943, six months after he reported for duty at the Naval Construction Center at Camp Allen in Norfolk, Virginia.10 “More than 325,000 men served with the Seabees in World War II, fighting and building on six continents and more than 300 islands. In the Pacific, where most of the construction work was needed, the Seabees landed soon after the Marines and built major airstrips, bridges, roads, warehouses, hospitals, gasoline storage tanks and housing. With the general demobilization following the war, the Construction Battalions were reduced to 3,300 men on active duty by 1950.”11 The Seabees made a point of recognizing the diversity of its personnel, even referring in its official song to the fact that the specialized unit included people of many religions, including Harry Wax’s fellow Jews (referred to in shorthand as “the Cohens”).12

The Navy wanted men That’s where we came in Mister Brown and Mister Jones
The Owens, the Cohens and Flynn The Navy wanted more
Of Uncle Sammy’s kin So we all joined up
And brother we’re in to win.13

Harry’s military personnel file shows that on December 22, 1942 he was transferred to Davisville, Rhode Island, and assigned to the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion as a Storekeeper 1st Class, which was equivalent to an E-6 rank.14 On January 19, 1943, he received nine days leave before shipping out. He spent the furlough with his sister Ida Diamond, at her home at 30 Greendale Road, in Mattapan, Massachusetts. Harry’s unit transferred back to Camp LeJeune, New River, North Carolina, and from there entrained to San Diego, his future home, where he boarded the USS Mount Vernon for a trip to Noumea, New Caledonia, which had the World War II code designation as “EPIC.”15

On arrival in Noumea, the 53rd Construction Battalion immediately set about constructing three Marine Corps camps for 2,000 men each, as well as an airfield requiring a parking area of 180,000 square feet. In between these assignments, the battalion trained for combat. From Noumea, Harry’s unit in October 1943, sailed north to Guadalcanal (code name Bevy) in the Solomon Islands, which had been wrested earlier in the year from Japanese forces. There, in concert with the First Marine Amphibious Corps, the 53rd Construction Battalion trained for the November 1 invasion of Bougainville, also in the Solomon Islands.

The 53rd Construction Battalion worked quickly and effectively. “By the close of the assault stage of the invasion, the battalion had built three airfields, a bomber strip 6,000 feet long and 250 feet wide and two fighter strips each 4,000 feet long and 200 feet wide. It also built almost four miles of road through the thickest jungle swamp to be encountered.” On January 6, 1944, Harry was transferred to

U.S. Navy Hospital No. 8 for treatment of an unspecified ailment, returning to the 53rd Naval Construction Battalion more than a month later on February 21. From Bougainville, the unit transferred back to Guadalcanal where it trained for the July 21, 1944 invasion of Guam, the southernmost island of the Mariana Islands chain.

According to the 53rd Construction Battalion history, here’s what occurred:

One officer and 17 enlisted men equipped with tractors went ashore at four minutes past H-hour to help the Marines unload Sherman tanks from mechanized landing craft and tank landing ships. Three of the tanks sank into bomb craters on the ocean bottom, but the detachment managed to salvage two of the tanks in two hours while under intense enemy mortar and small arms fire.16

What Harry did and saw during this assault has gone unrecorded, but it had a pronounced impact upon him. On July 27, six days after the initial assault, he was transferred to the temporary United States Naval Hospital at Aiea Heights in Honolulu, the first step toward his ultimate honorable discharge with a diagnosis of “anxiety neurosis” aggravated by his combat experience. On November 1, 1944, Harry was transferred to the Naval Convalescent Hospital at Santa Cruz, from which he was honorably discharged to civilian life on December 5, 1944. Harry was credited with a total of two years, three months and 21 days in the military, and that was further broken down as having included 23 months active service, within which 18 months and nine days were spent overseas, and 3 months were within a combat area. He was entitled to wear the Asiatic Pacific Area Ribbon with one Bronze Star.17

Whereas Harry faltered under the strain of military service, his brother Morris, 14  years his junior, thrived as a U.S.  Army supply officer. After being called   up for World War II service, Morris was sent to Camp Roberts in Paso Robles, California, for training.18 With the knowledge of general store operations that he had learned from his parents, within a little more than a year Morris was coming to the attention of his commanding officer. Major Charles B. Cross, commandant of the Headquarters Battery at the 40th Division Artillery Training Center, in Yakima, Washington, noted in July 1942 that before Sergeant Morris Wax arrived,

our supply problem was very disorganized. We were attempting  to train new selectees and at the same time securing from various sources the necessary equipment for this training. Sergeant Wax took hold of this situation and in a surprisingly short time he had drawn equipment from three different Army Posts scattered at various distances and our supply problem was cleared up in a highly satisfactory manner.

Major Cross recommended that Morris be promoted to a warrant officer. But Morris didn’t become a warrant officer; instead he was selected to go to officers’ training school at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Thereafter, he was granted a temporary commission as an Army second lieutenant effective December 2, 1942, with the commission “to continue in force during the pleasure of the President of the United States for the time being, and for the duration of the present emergency and six months thereafter unless sooner terminated,” according to an official notification from Major J. M. Worthington, Secretary for the Armored Forces. Although he officially remained an infantry officer, Morris became a supply officer in the Tank Corps.19

Second Lieutenant Morris Wax missed the start-up in October 1942 of the 14th Armored Division at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, by two months but he was assigned to this unit following completion of Officers Training at Fort Knox. Morris soon learned and excelled at the Army supply system. Discussing the division’s start-up period, in The History of the 14th Armored Division, Captain Joseph Carter gave readers a taste of the meticulousness with which the Army looked after its property—a fastidiousness that Morris would carry with him into civilian life as he built up San Diego Janitor and Chemical Supply Co. into what would become the sprawling WAXIE empire.20

Herb Strauss, a master sergeant, remembered seeing Morris and other “90-day wonders” from Fort Knox as they joined the 14th Armored Division. It took only three months at officers’ school for candidates to be transformed into officers, thus the facetious nickname. Strauss, who would become a warrant officer in charge of billeting for the battalion, noticed that Morris wore his officer’s cap a little cockeyed, and decided there was something about the man he liked. They became pals. “I called him ‘Mo’ like everybody else, but when he was out of the Army, he was known in San Diego as ‘Morrie.’ And you know his wife, Jeannette, well she didn’t like the idea of anyone calling him ‘Mo,’” reflected Strauss at 90 in 2011, some 67 years after they met.21

In July 1944, Brig. Gen. A.C. Smith, the man who would lead Morris Wax and 10,000 other soldiers into battle, took over command of the Division from Major General V.E. Prichard, who had overseen its training.22 In that same month, Morris was promoted from 2nd lieutenant to 1st lieutenant, his orders signed by his friend, the adjutant, Herbert W. Strauss, who by then had been promoted to a chief warrant officer. In the summer, soldiers were told to take two weeks leave if they had not already had one in the last six months, but to return to camp by September 20. They would be shipping out. Other orders told them what to pack, what to send home.23

Division historian Carter reported that only five days were needed at Morris’s next duty station, Camp Shanks, N.Y., to get the Division ready to board the ships that would take soldiers to the destiny for which most of them had been training for well over a year. Shanks, located in Orangeburg, in New York’s Hudson Valley, 19 miles north of New York City, was known to the 1.5 million soldiers who passed through there as “Last Stop USA.” There were drills covering embarkation and procedures for abandoning ships, should that become necessary—and for Morris, that would have been a serious problem because, according to Charles Wax’s recollection, “my dad never learned to swim!” The soldiers were briefed on what to do if captured, and they were given final physicals. They were also permitted to visit New York City, provided they removed the 14th Armored Division patches from their shoulders and spoke to no one about where they might be going— just in case spies were monitoring troop movements. Next, Division personnel were transported by train to Weehawken, New Jersey, where their ships awaited. “Curious men and women, open-mouthed boys, watched the troops through the wood fences, serious faced, heavy laden, feeling a million different thoughts. Going over. A song and a fear, a proudness and a sadness….”24

Departing aboard the Santa Rosa, officers were berthed six to a cabin, on upper decks, whereas enlisted men were crowded onto hammocks, four high, in crannies and holds on lower decks, recalled Herb Strauss.25 Seasickness was rampant and when soldiers couldn’t make it off their hammocks, they used their steel helmets for receptacles of their nausea. Just visiting the men, as officers were supposed to do twice daily, made the officers feel guilty about their far superior accommodations, according to Strauss.

Morris, recorded in the Army records by his service number 01014666, on December 29, 1944, was awarded the Bronze Star for Meritorious Service during this campaign. Then a First Lieutenant with the service Company of the Tank Battalion, he was cited for:

…meritorious service in actions as Acting Battalion Supply Officer  in France from 1 November 1944 to 27 December 1944. His sound judgment and untiring efforts in servicing and delivering necessary supplies and equipment to combat troops facilitated the expeditious movement of his unit…. During operation in the Vosges Mountains, Lieutenant Wax successfully supported not only his own battalion, but assisted in supplying an entire command. His aggressiveness in processing and delivering supplies to troops in actual combat were of material assistance in contributing to the high state of morale of his unit. /s/Brigadier General A.C. Smith.26

While the citation made no mention of this, one of Morris’s unfortunate duties was to evacuate charred bodies from a tank that had been disabled by enemy fire. His son Charles recalled that, “dad  said it was the most gruesome thing  he had ever seen—and he was relieved that he never was called upon to do it again!”27 Strauss, who received a Bronze Star for his efforts under fire to keep front-line troops supplied with mail, recalled that it was not until after V.E. Day that the medals were actually pinned onto their chests during a ceremony near Nuremberg, Germany. “We lined up, there were about maybe 40 of us—and Patton was supposed to come by but he was too busy, of course, and the commanding general, A.C. Smith, pinned them all on us,” Strauss later would relate. There had been no opportunity for the ceremony until then.28

On January 9, 1945, the Division launched a twin attack against the villages of Hatten and Rittershoffen, which a U.S. Army Group Commander (Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers) later described as “one of the greatest defensive battles of the war.” Resting during February, the Division “jumped off again on 18 March, broke through the Siegfried Line on 23 March, and, driving to the Rhine, took Germersheim on the 24th. It crossed the river on 1 April, passed through 3rd Infantry Division, and striking northeast took Lohr on the 2nd and Gemunden on the 5th….“29

One day before the Division crossed the Rhine, Morris was recommended for promotion from 1st lieutenant to captain. His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ernest C. Watson, wrote in the notice of promotion that Morris “has clearly demonstrated his fitness for the responsibilities and  duties  of  the position and grade….” Furthermore, said Watson, “to the best of my knowledge and belief he is the best fitted officer available in this command for the grade and position for which promotion is recommended.” That Easter crossing of the Rhine River in 1945 would always be memorable to Morris because on that day the Combat Command Reserve (CCR) he then was assigned to, drew the wrath of General George Patton Jr., who was standing on the eastern side of the Rhine. Patton spotted the sandbags that had been piled up on CCR’s tanks even though they were moving in an area that previously had been cleared of Germans. Patton, in his high voice, gave all within hearing distance, including Morris in his jeep, a royal chewing out, calling them “yellow- bellied cowards,” and worse, saying the sandbags slowed down the tanks and also caused them to burn more fuel. Morris may not have enjoyed the experience as it happened, but it was one of the few moments of the war that he always enjoyed retelling.30

Meanwhile, on April 16, 1945, Morris’ promotion to  captain was officially confirmed in orders issued by Major General Arthur White. “The division passed through the 86th Infantry Division bridgehead at Ingolstadt   on the 27th and fought south to the Isar River, capturing Moosburg  on  29 April and liberating an estimated 110,000 allied prisoners….” The prisoners had been held at Stalag VII-A, the largest prisoner of war camp in Germany. The following day, the division continued its advance, “crossing the Inn River and establishing bridgeheads at Jettenbach and Muhldorf on 2 May.” Muhldorf was the location of the Ampfing Concentration Camp, which, because of signage identifying it as a sub-camp of Dachau, many members of Morris’ unit later mistakenly believed it was Dachau itself. What the soldiers of the 14th Armored Division saw at the Ampfing subcamp of Dachau made Morris and his fellow veterans later wince with the memory. One camp held “1,500 Jewish prisoners;“ the other was filled “with Jewish female inmates. The unit reported that of the 1,500 prisoners in the first camp, only 900 could walk, and that the lime pits were filled with the corpses of inmates.”31

On December 15, 1945, Morris was accepted as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, reverting to inactive status on February 22, 1946. At that time, it was noted on Morris’s record that he was “authorized to wear two Bronze Service Stars for participation in Rhineland and Central Europe  campaigns.”32

Wax Family on the Homefront

Following the war, upon the urging of his brother Harry, Morris Wax came home to San Diego in late 1945 to join him as a partner in San Diego Janitor & Supply Company, which had a storefront operation at the corner of 10th Avenue and B Street. With some skepticism about tying his fate to a company that, at that time, had four employees and one truck “with no second gear,” Morris cast his lot with his older brother. Over the next 70 years, the company, later to be known as WAXIE Sanitary Supply, grew to become the largest family-owned janitorial and sanitary supply company in the United States, employing in 2014 over 800 employees at 20 facilities throughout nine western states. In the 1950s the company moved to a warehouse location at 1st and G Streets; in the 1970s to the corner of Ruffin and Kearny Villa Roads in Kearny Mesa, and in the 1990s, a major expansion of its offices, warehouse, and parking facilities, involved cutting through the Kearny Mesa property a road that was named Waxie Way.33

Throughout this time, Morrie’s interest in all things military grew to include leadership positions in the Navy  League,  the USO,  and  the Jewish  Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Morris clearly had  relished the time  that he had spent in the military. “He loved it, he loved the order, he loved    the camaraderie, the friendships, the teamwork,” said his oldest son Charles, who today is the chief executive officer of WAXIE Sanitary Supply. “He loved the discipline, he loved the structure and knowing what you were going to do every day. You had to keep moving ahead all the time, and he ran the business that way. He believed you had to take care of your customers, you had to get things done, and you had to keep your word.” In the military, “Morris learned to take orders, but he was a hell of a lot better at giving them!” Charles said. “As a kid, I didn’t really understand him,” Charles  continued:

He would get up really early and get to work early. In the military you do that, you rise and shine, and he believed in that very strongly, and he wanted things to be clean and he wanted things to be right. He wanted to have good equipment so people can do their jobs right. But also he had a great love for military. He knew what they went through, how they put their lives on the line, and he had the greatest respect for military people. That’s why he became so involved in the Navy League and the USO because he wanted to do anything he could to help the servicemen and the military people have a better life because they have a very tough, stressful life, and they are always moving and always having to leave their families. It’s tough, not an easy life.34

Morris’s decision to remain in the Army Reserves resulted in his being notified in February 1951 of his activation as an Army captain to take effect March 25, 1951, with orders to report to Camp Cooke, California. A few days later, however, his date to report to Camp Cooke was officially delayed to July 1, 1951. A few months later, it was delayed again to November 1, 1951, and then, yet again, to February 1, 1952.35

Morris’s nephew Frank Lerner was sent to boot camp at the Marine Corps  Recruit  Depot in San Diego,  prompting a request from Frank’s mother, Yetta Lerner, to her brother Morris to make sure the young Marine was okay. “One Saturday he came to visit me,” Frank Lerner recalled:

The officer of the day came to my drill sergeant and asked to let me see my uncle. He said no. The officer of the day went back and the next thing I know, the drill sergeant sent me to see him. I think my uncle (then an Army captain) pulled rank and knowing Uncle Morris I am sure he can be demanding on anybody. I went to see him and he asked how I was doing, that my mom was worried…. The next day I got my ass kicked all over the place from the drill sergeant. He made me jump over our locker boxes for about 30 minutes or longer and I had shin marks for a damn long time. I wrote my mom and told her not to send Uncle Morris to see me anymore….36

In January 1955, Morris, by then a major, completed his service in the U.S. Army reserves.37 The friendships that he cultivated through the Navy League, the USO, and JINSA led to him occupy an important position in San Diego. More so than anyone except perhaps the mayor, he provided the linkage between the civilian community and the military establishment. “That  was Morrie’s  special niche  in the community,” longtime friend Gert Thaler once commented. Whereas his brother Harry had helped lead such Jewish organizations as the B’nai B’rith, United Jewish Fund, and the Jewish Community Center, Morrie had Jewish community involvements, but “his life was devoted to his connection with the U.S. military and particularly to the USO project to which he was a most generous philanthropist.”38

“Whenever Morrie had parties,” remembered Fern Murphy, who was a strong supporter of the USO, “there’d be a mixture there of his Jewish friends and his non-Jewish military friends.”39 Charles added: “A lot of people might be surprised to learn that one of the strongest supporters of the military in San Diego was Jewish.”40 From 1970 through 1972, Morris served as president of the USO in San Diego, and, according to a tribute placed in the Congressional Record on June 23, 1982, by Congressman Bill Lowery (R-San Diego):

Morrie was out front and very instrumental in raising the money and working with the city of San Diego in the construction of a new USO center for the large military population and due to his efforts that facility was opened on September 22, 1970. However, 10 years later, when the city was forced to relocate the USO, once again it was Morrie who took the lead in finding a site, raising the money and supervising the construction of a new USO center. Because of his efforts the new center was dedicated to Mr. Wax upon its opening in 1980. His terms as president of the USO have been in the years 1970-72 and 1980-82, and for the past 11 years he has initiated the fund drive to finance special holiday dinners and snacks for servicemen and women on Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas and throughout those holiday periods. For the past 6 years he has led USO board members in ticket sales for the annual fund-raising party.41

The USO in San Diego has had numerous homes. From Thanksgiving Day 1941 through 1947 it was located at 7th and E Streets, close to San Diego’s Main Library. Reopening in  1950  for the Korean War, it was placed in the basement of the Spreckels Building near 2nd and Broadway, where it stayed until 1971. Morris Wax, Robert Murphy and Otto Hirr, all of them veterans, worked together to have the USO moved to improved quarters at India and F Street. Nine years after that, it was time to move the USO again to 433 Harbor Drive, into a building close to the San Diego Convention  Center.  It  was “dedicated to Morris Wax in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the goals and objectives of the USO,” according to a plaque below a bust of Morris that stood in the building’s lobby. Ribbon- cutting ceremonies in 1980 had featured Morris and Jeannette Wax along with San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Thomas B. Hayward. Morris was again the honoree on February 23, 1991, at a fundraiser for the USO that was held as San Diego’s attention was focused across the world on the Gulf War.42

When the USO had to make room in 1995 for the Convention Center’s expansion,  Morris   again   led  a fundraising campaign to finance the move to its present location at 303 A Street downtown, where the organization took a 50-year lease. Morris’s bust and plaque were moved with the USO. The two-story USO center features “giant television screens and a library, pool tables, pinball machines and video games; a dance floor and disc-jockey booth, meeting rooms and a stainless-steel kitchen. There are even showers in the restrooms,” reported Roger Showley of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Am I totally happy with this place?” Morrie asked rhetorically. “No, I’m not, but it’s the best we can do.” He told Showley that the lack of parking on site was the most serious drawback.43

The USO was only one aspect of Morrie’s devotion to the military and the nation it served. From 1970 through 1975, during the Vietnam War, he served as a member of the Selective Service Committee, commonly referred to as the Draft Board, and dating back to 1966 was an active supporter of the Navy League. He was also called upon by Pete Wilson and other U.S. senators from California over the years to make suggestions for their appointments to the nation’s military academies. Being on the draft board was a difficult position for his father, Charles said. “Many people didn’t want to serve because there was so much unhappiness with the draft. It was not a popular spot, but he did it.”44

While serving as president of the San Diego Council of the Navy League in 1978, Morris got behind the effort of the newly organized United States Navy Memorial Foundation to erect a national monument in honor of all United States Navy personnel who served, fought, and died for their country, as well as to endow a scholarship fund for their children. Today, the Navy Memorial Center is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 7th Street Northwest and 9th Street Northwest, in Washington, D.C.45

The following year Morris was selected by the Navy to serve as chairman of the commissioning ceremony at North Island Naval Air Station for the amphibious assault ship USS Essex. Ship commissioning ceremonies were not as common on the West Coast as they were on the East Coast, making the selection of Morris a particular honor. The honor of chairing a commissioning ceremony for a Navy ship—that is being in charge of a ceremony that brings the ship into active service—fell again to Morris in 1993 with the guided missile destroyer John Paul Jones.

The Secretary of the Navy, John H. Dalton, on July 25, 1994, issued a meritorious public service citation to Morris. It complimented him “for his full and unswerving attention to the cause of greater public knowledge and understanding of the nation’s need for strong maritime forces.”46 The citation went  on to say about Morris:  “His exceptional leadership and dedication have led to maximum support and recognition of the Navy, especially in the San Diego community. His significant contributions to enhanced public awareness and community support of the Sea Service have furthered the Navy League and its goals in support of these services.”

In March 1996, Morris again was selected to be chairman of a commissioning ceremony, this time for the destroyer USS Benfold. This was his final act of public service in behalf of the military. He died nine months later. Morris always had the interests of military service personnel at heart, and recognizing how lonely they were, away from home on important holidays, he rallied San Diegans to their cause. Charles remembers his father underwriting turkey-dinner programs at the USO for Thanksgiving, and successfully stirring members of the Jewish community to volunteer on Christmas day so that Christians in a variety of civilian jobs in support of the military could have that day off.

Charles Wax recalled that his father became incensed when he heard that the Haifa USO might close. Morris promptly raised the $60,000 that USO officials  said  was  necessary  to  keep it open. Years later, when President Barack Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to become Secretary of Defense, there was an outcry from Israel supporters, including Charles, who recalled that Hagel had headed the USO when the Haifa facility was threatened.47

When Morris died, the USO in Haifa lost its champion. “USO (in Haifa) is closed now, and I must let you know that the hardest thing for me was to take down the American flag from the building,” wrote Gilla Gerzon, director of Haifa USO. “I did it at 3 a.m., so that no one would be around to see me crying.”48 After Morrie helped with the USO in Haifa, Shoshana Bryen recalled, “we elected Morrie to the JINSA Board and  he became an active supporter of our Flag and General Officers Program in Israel. He participated in two of them and helped us meet some of the most active and influential retired officers of the time. Everyone knew Morrie.”49 Among the “everyone” of Morris’ acquaintance was Colin Powell, whom he met in 1981 at a party in the South Korean Embassy in Washington D.C.

Powell, a future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and later the U.S. Secretary of State, was then a colonel. On a visit in 1994 to Morrie and his second wife Alice at their home in the Alvarado Estates neighborhood of San Diego, General Colin Powell had time to know members of Morrie’s family. Charles remembered “My dad invited my daughter Amy and me to his house. We were told he had only 15-30 minutes, but we ended up staying almost two hours sitting around the kitchen table. I was extremely impressed with him, not only because of all the great accomplishments, but because of his easy nature and how comfortable he made us feel.”50

As the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996, Powell was again a house guest for several nights at Morris’s home and also paid a visit during the day to WAXIE headquarters in Kearny Mesa.51 That very evening Powell was scheduled to address the Republican National Convention, Charles recalled: “He went to dad’s home, and Morrie asked if there was anything special he wanted for lunch, and Powell replied, ‘just give me a hamburger, or whatever,’ and they got him a hamburger from Rory’s on Mission Gorge Road, and he ate the hamburger and went in for a nap and fell asleep. I would say that if I were giving a speech in front of millions of people, I tell you the adrenalin would run really high, and no way would I be able to take a nap! But he was able to make the speech without any notes—no problem whatsoever.” Powell wrote to the Waxes afterwards: “Dear Morrie and Alice, Thank you again for your hospitality. I really needed the quiet and beauty of your house to get ready for the speech. More importantly was your friendship…. And to have Alice Wax cook food for me is honor beyond the pale. Thanks my dear friends. I hope to see you again soon. Much love.”52 Morris, who had hoped in vain for a liver transplant, had been ailing for some time with cryptogenic cirrhosis (non-alcohol related) before his death on Tuesday, December 24, 1996, and one could see in photographs taken that year how gaunt he had become. “’Cryptogenic diseases’ are those for which the cause is unknown and the irony of it was that my dad rarely drank alcohol, I don’t think I ever saw him drink a beer, but on occasion, he would have a Crown Royal whiskey with a Coke,” Charles reflected. “Certainly not enough to develop the common form of cirrhosis. Whatever caused his illness, at the end he was so sick, he was unable to get out of bed for more than a few moments.”53

Morris was cheered and touched by a letter lauding his life that was sent to him December 13 by Secretary of the Navy John Dalton:

On behalf of the United States Naval Service, I would like to personally thank you for everything you have done over the years for our Sailors and Marines in San Diego and around the globe. I know the Fifth Annual Holiday Band Concert this past weekend was a tremendous success and this was due  to your sponsorship and leadership. It    is very rare one individual can make such a positive difference in how the public and our naval personnel, military and civilian, feel about the Navy and the Marine Corps. Your work over the years has accomplished that and more. It has saved us money, but more importantly your personal efforts have made life better for our Sailors and Marines in their daily lives. The young men and women who daily use the Morris Wax San Diego USO know what a tremendous difference you have made. I hope you are feeling better in the very near future. Again, thank you on behalf of our sailors, marines and their families. You are a very special member of our Navy/Marine Corps team. I hope to see you on my next visit to San Diego.54

Not too many days after reading that message, Morris received a personal reminder how much he was appreciated by the American military. His son Charles related the circumstances: “Saturday, December 21, about 10:30 in the morning, the phone rang. I answered it. It was General Colin Powell asking to speak to my dad. I don’t know if it was special karma or spirit, because it was the only time during that five-day period that my dad was able to take a phone call.” Powell “was the last person” that Morris “ever spoke to by telephone while he was alive, I will never forget,” Charles said. “What I remember so vividly about this conversation is listening to the both of them say ‘Thank you for what you have done for the country, for your service, and for your friendship’—they both said it to each other—and it was a very, very moving time for me.”55

A short time before his death, Morris had been “diagnosed with having an incurable liver disease,” Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue told mourners at the funeral service. “Despite the best medical care and the love and support of his family, there was not too much that could be done for him.” Morrie died in peace. His funeral was held at Congregation Beth Israel, where he had served on the board of directors, and his burial was in the Jewish mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in San Diego.

An obituary, which was the lead story in the San Diego Union-Tribune’s local section, mentioned that in addition to his many military affiliations, Morris Wax had been involved in a variety of other organizations and causes. “In 1991, he was honored for his efforts on behalf of the United Negro College Fund, and in 1993 he received the group’s Dr. Frederick D. Patterson Award. In May 1996, he was one of fifteen business owners honored by the Greater San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Small Business Administration and Wells Fargo Bank,” the obituary noted. The newspaper also reported that Morrie “was a member of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, Masonic Lodge No. 35, and the board of the San Diego Anti-Defamation League, among others.” It mentioned his service on the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA) board, as well as the “Southern California Committee for Employers Support for National Guard and Reserves, the Selective Service Board, the 1993 Holiday Bowl Committee, (and) the Jewish Community Center.”56

So numerous were Morrie’s honors that a complete listing was not possible in the obituary. But it should be noted that in 1988, along with Congressman Clair W. Burgener, a Mormon; retired school teacher Audrey Chung, a Catholic; and George Georggin, a Greek Orthodox; that Morris, a Jew, was selected to be one of the honorees of the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. In his memory, his sons planted a grove of 1,000 trees in Israel under auspices of the Jewish National Fund. In May 1997, five months after Morris’s death, he was the posthumous honoree at the USO’s Showtime Gala. President Bill Clinton wrote a letter for the occasion from the White House. It said that he joined “in honoring Morris Wax for his lifelong support and leadership of the USO.”57“The ceremony took place on the USS Pearl Harbor where Admiral (Hugh) Webster and the captain of the ship spoke.” The citation on the plaque read: “USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) Mess Deck is dedicated to the memory of Morris Wax whose numerous contributions to the men and women of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps are forever appreciated.”58


  1. Charles Wax in numerous interviews with Donald H. Harrison, Dec. 13, 2011-October 27,
  2. Herman Addleson to Lauren Post, November 5, 1942, Lauren C. Post Papers (hereafter LCPP), San Diego State University Special Collections and University Archives. Sadie Addleson Breitbard, one of Ida’s sisters, told Charles Wax that their brother Herman’s cleft lip initially precluded him from joining the service, but recruiters said if he had it repaired, he could be accepted into the
  3. Herman Addleson to Lauren Post, November 5, 1942, September 18, 1943, LCPP.
  4. Herman Addleson to Lauren Post, September 18, 1943, October 18, 1943, LCPP.
  5. Herman Addleson to Lauren Post, May 1, 1944
  6. Herman Addleson plaque, Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial, San Diego. Aztec News Letter, Sept. 1, 1944,
  7. Herman Addleson to Lauren Post, February 10,
  8. See “Increased Employment,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, March 2, 1941, page 16-A; “Call Made for 250 Laborers For Rail Jobs,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, June 1, 1941, Section 2, page 1; “Coast Lines Need Switchers, Keymen,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, June 19, 1941, page 10A; “Railroaders Requested To File Reports,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, June 29, 1941, page 2B; and “Migrant Workers Settle Down to Defense Project Jobs,” Ogden Standard-Examiner, 26, 1941, page 19B.
  9. “We Build, We Fight,” ; accessed Feb. 3, According to a U.S. Navy website, “The earliest Seabees were recruited from the civilian construction trades and were placed under the leadership of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. Because of the emphasis on experience and skill rather than on physical standards, the average age of Seabees during the early days of the war was 37.”
  10. Arlene Orlansky (niece of Harry Wax) interview with Donald H. Harrison, February 1, 2011.
  1. “We Build, We ”
  2. Words by Sam M. Lewis; Music by Peter de
  3. (accessed February 3, 2011).
  4. 201 Military Personnel File for Harry Wax, Service No. 660-41-78; Private archives of WAXIE Sanitary
  5. {accessed October 17, 2012}. Before the war, USS Mount Vernon had been operated as the passenger ship SS Washington by United States Lines. With eight passenger decks, it measured 705 feet-3 inches long, 86 feet wide, and displaced 24,289 gross rated tons. Capable of speeds up to 20.5 knots, Mount Vernon carried for its defense four 5” guns and four 3”
  6. “We Build, We Fight.”
  7. Military Personnel File for Harry Wax, op. cit.
  8. National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [database on line] Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network,
  9. Military Personnel File for Morris Wax, Service No. 010-14-666; Private archives of WAXIE Sanitary Supply.
  10. Charles Wax in numerous interviews with Donald H. Harrison, Dec. 13, 2011-October 27, Joseph Carter, “Training and P.O.M., January 13-October 13, 1944 (chapter 4),” The History of the 14th Armored Division, published shortly after World War II, no page numbers. Thanks to Herbert Strauss who kindly loaned the book to Harrison.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Herbert Strauss, interview with Donald H. Harrison in San Diego, February 15,
  3. Carter, “Training and O.M.”
  4. Meryl Pollack to Donald H. Harrison, Meryl Pollack, phone interview from Brooklyn with Donald H. Harrison, October 3, Charles Wax interviews.
  5. Carter, “Training and O.M.” Perhaps some soldiers were pleased to know that their ship’s namesake, Rose of Lima, was the first Catholic saint from the Americas. Many years after the war, the name “Santa Rosa” would take on a whole new meaning in the Wax household: Santa Rosa, California, was the hometown of Randi Cohen, who became the wife of Charles Wax, and daughter-in-law of Morris.
  6. Robert Correll, “The U.S. Army Transport, Santa Rosa.” , accessed February 21, 2011. “History of the 14th Armored Division,” summary, uncredited. The document is among memorabilia of Morris kept by Waxie Sanitary Supply in his former office, later occupied by Harry Babb. Carter, “Training and P.O.M.” Don Beamgard to Charles Wax, Feb.3, 1999, Private archives of Charles Wax.
  7. Military Personnel Record for Morris Wax; Charles Wax intereviews.
  8. Strauss interview, February 15, 2011.
  9. Carter “Training and P.O.M.”
  10. Strauss interview, February 15, 2011.
  11. Military Personnel File for Morris Wax.
  12. Strauss interview, February 15, 2011.
  13. Charles Wax interviews.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Military Personnel File for Morris Wax.
  16. Frank Lerner, email to Donald H. Harrison, Oct. 23, Lerner continued: “I assume my drill sergeant did not like to be told what to do. Also, being Jewish in the Marines with this drill sergeant was not great, trust me. Being in boot camp is to break you down so that when they gave you an order you did it without thinking about it. It was great once you got out, but not so damn good while going through it. Fourteen weeks is a long time in the summer in San Diego.”
  17. Military Personnel File for Morris Wax.
  18. Gert Thaler to Donald H. Harrison, April 21, 2011.
  19. Fern Murphy, interview with Donald H. Harrison, May 4, 2011.
  20. Charles Wax interviews.
  1. Bill Lowery, “Tribute to Mr. Morrie Wax,” Congressional Record, “Extension of Remarks,” June 23, 1982, Page 15913.
  2. Jeanne Beach Eigner, “USO salutes troops as institution turns 50,” San Diego Union-Tribune, February 25, 1991.
  3. Roger M. Showley, “San Diego USO begins new tour of duty at downtown site,” San Diego Union-Tribune, October 1, 1995.
  4. Charles Wax Interviews.
  5. “Gray Lady Down,” Wikipedia,; accessed September 14, 2012.
  6. Jeff Roberts, interview with Donald H. Harrison, August 11, Jeff Roberts, who in 2012 would be named WAXIE’s president, recalled being invited with other WAXIE employees to the Point Loma Theater for the gala premiere, “with lights, limousines pulling up and that was real fun. I was a youngster, they probably figured I was there to sell popcorn.”
  1. United States Navy Memorial Foundation, citation, March 3, 1978, part of Waxie historical exhibit at One Waxie Way.
  2. John Butvich, interview with Donald Harrison, May 30, 2012; Shoshana Bryen to Donald H. Harrison, April 10, 2011; Marsha Halteman, interview with Donald H. Harrison, Nov. 10, 2011; Gilla Gerzon to Donald H. Harrison, February 12, 2012.
  3. Shoshana Bryen to Donald Harrison, April 10, 2011
  4. Charles Wax interviews.
  5. David Wax, “General Colin Powell Receives San Diego Welcome,” Hot Wax, March 1995, Page 1. Corey M. Miller, “Colin Powell Shares Long Friendship with D. Businessman,” San Diego Daily Transcript, August 14, 1996, Pages 1, 16.
  6. Colin L Powell to Morris and Alice Wax, 1996, letter on the wall of the Waxie historical museum.
  7. Charles Wax interviews.
  8. John Dalton to Morris Wax, Dec. 13, 1996, Letter on display in Waxie historical museum.
  9. Charles Wax interviews.
  10. James Steinberg, “Businessman Morris Wax dies,” San Diego Union-Tribune, December 26, Pages B-1, 10.
  11. Bill Clinton to San Diego USO, May 23, 1997.
  12. “USO Holiday Band Concert,” Hot Wax, March 1998, Page 5.


Donald H. Harrison, editor and publisher of San Diego Jewish World, is a member of the editorial board of The Journal of San Diego History and the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly. Portions of this article are taken from several chapters of his forthcoming book commissioned by Waxie Sanitary Supply in honor of the company’s 70th anniversary in 2015.