In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of World War II, HWS initiated a series featuring the service of alumni, alumnae and community members who were involved in war efforts overseas and at home. To honor all alums who have served, the series explores themes of change, patriotism and pride that were felt at the Colleges and across the globe.
The history and legacy of World War II has shaped the lives of many Hobart and William Smith alumni and alumnae, particularly those who gave service to the armed forces before, during and after the conflict. Dr. Sheldon Feinberg ’50 was one such alum whose life was touched by the historic events of the war years.
Born in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, Feinberg attended Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School beginning in September 1942. At this time, the country and global community was embroiled in conflict with Germany. As such, Feinberg’s formative years were spent learning to understand the effects it meant for his own life and the lives of his loved ones.
As a young person of Jewish faith, he recalls encountering certain intolerant views, even held by some teachers during this era. However, in his recently published memoir, Looking Back, and Sharing a Wondrous Life With You, he writes that conversations with peers, with regard to these intolerances, allowed him to build his own sense of pride in religion and ancestry. Additionally, these learning moments paved the way for “bond of love,” a theme throughout his life.
Feinberg also felt intense pride in being an American and wished during his schooling years that he were old enough to serve in our armed forces. He enrolled in Hobart College in 1946, just after the war ended and the GI Bill was introduced. The legislation flooded the HWS campus with veterans “eager for the peaceful pursuit of joy, education and advancement,” says Feinberg in his book.
“These men were like big brothers to me,” he reflects. “…And with the desire to have freedom and much fun, I started college along with my older friends, the veterans.”
Due to the GI Bill funding the college education of veterans, Hobart’s enrollment surged from 200 students to over 1000 in one year. Because of the volume of applicants, Hobart and William Smith became an especially competitive institution following World War II. The huge influx of students required new hires and new accommodations; in fact, former barracks had to be borrowed from the armed forces to house the flourishing population.
In College, Feinberg decided to become a physican, a position that required further schooling. Accordingly, upon graduation from Hobart, he enrolled in the New York Medical College, and after medical school completed several years of residency there. He then joined the Air Force and was stationed at the Donaldson Air Force Base Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina.
Having had hospital training in the North’s finest institutions, Feinberg was convinced that during his medical stint in the Air Force he would bring pediatrics to what he characterized as “the sleepy backward South.”
“Well,” he writes in his memoir, “I was very wrong; for, in due course, I found that the southern doctors brought pediatrics to me.“
Following military service, Feinberg conducted investigative research on the cause of Respiratory Distress Syndrome, which afflicts premature infants. He then became a pediatrician, active in practice for forty years. He became best known for being a champion of child safety, and for organizing campaigns for school bus and other safety legislation. Now retired for twenty years, he still works to help family, friends and even other doctors, but no longer serves patients.