NEW YORK — It took seven decades, but at last, one of Manhattan's most prominent crime fighters has received his country's formal recognition for his heroism in World War II. Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau also served as grand marshal at the New York Veterans' Day Parade on Wednesday, but not before receiving the service medals he'd earned in the war, but somehow managed never to collect.
"We all, I think, wanted to put the book of war behind us," Morgenthau said in an interview with PIX11 News. "We weren't thinking about it."
He did go on to a very distinguished career as a prosecutor after the war. Following 12 years at a private law firm, he was selected by President John F. Kennedy to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a position he kept under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
He ran for Manhattan district attorney in the mid 1970s and won, and ultimately became the second-longest serving D.A. in U.S. history. Over 35 years, Morgenthau handled Mark David Chapman's murder of John Lennon, the controversial Central Park jogger case, and Tupac Shakur's sexual assault conviction, among thousands of other cases.
But Morgenthau, 96, said that his war experience produced lessons that proved to be key to achieving all of his other accomplishments.
"The four and-a-half years in the Navy," he said, "were the most important in my lifetime. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I wouldn't want to miss it."
"I learned to look for the best in everybody," said Morgenthau from his current office at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, where he holds an of counsel position.
During the war, he was the executive officer — second in command — on destroyers in both Europe and Asia.
His ships served with distinction, and so did he. His honorable discharge included a variety of awards, including the bronze star for heroic service in combat.
It was only at a ceremony in his office days before the parade, that Morgenthau finally received his medals. United War Veterans Council President Doug McGowan, an Iraq War veteran, pinned them on Morgenthau's lapel, saying that "from the Latest Greatest Generation to The Greatest, an honor is an understatement."