Manhasset’s Leonard Finz, a former New York State Supreme Court justice, War War II veteran, writer and musician died Feb. 1 of cancer at 98 years old.
Finz started a law firm that is now called Finz & Finz in 1984 after leaving the bench in 1978.
Born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1924 to Turkish immigrant parents and growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, Finz was initially a talented musician, playing both the clarinet and saxophone while attending the High School of Music and Art, from which he graduated in 1942.
Finz enlisted in the Army at 18 and completed basic training at Camp Pendleton, Va., in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
At the request of the captain of special services and given his background in the arts, Finz organized shows on a weekly basis.
After only achieving the rank of a first-class private, Finz entered a four-month training program at the Field Artillery School in Fort Sill, OK. Of the 100 who applied at the start of the class, just 32, including Finz, graduated on May 5, 1945.
Assigned to Okinawa, Japan, as part of the 27th Division overseeing the first wave of an attack, Finz was in the Pacific for 32 days when he learned the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that the Japanese had surrendered, he told Blank Slate Media in a recent interview.
Finz was rerouted to the Philippine island of Leyte and tasked with repatriating Filipinos who had been driven from their homes during the war. After a number of months, Finz was called upon by his commanding officer for a somewhat unconventional assignment. With just a high school diploma, he was given the job of gathering a court-marshal board to handle trials for the G.I.s who were in their guard houses and jails.
Finz tried the cases and earned 1st lieutenant honors before his discharge in August 1946 and met his soon-to-be wife Pearl after leaving the service.
When Finz returned home, he enrolled at New York University on the G.I. Bill majoring in history and English and passed the New York State bar examination in 1951. He also joined the local Associated Musicians of Greater New York in a band that was seeking a saxophone player who could sing.
While playing gigs five times a week as a singer and a musician, Finz met Al Jolson after a 1949 show in Milwaukee, who complimented his style. Finz was later invited to sing at the Al Jolson memorial concert at Madison Square Garden after the singer’s death in 1950.
Finz’s law career rose to the point where he ran for Congress in 1962 and became President John F. Kennedy’s spokesman in Queens and Nassau on Medicare, which would later be passed under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was elected as a judge to the New York City Civil Court in 1965 before being elected to the State Supreme Court, where he served until 1978.
Finz also had four published books to his name, including “Arrowhead” (2005), “The Paragon Conspiracy” (2011), “Reservation to Kill” (2013) and “The Greatest Day of My Life” (2017).
Last summer, the Manhasset resident was honored with an induction into the United States Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame on July 23 at the historic Gracewood Mansion.
“We had 60 million Americans in uniform during WWII. What we have left today is less than 1% of that total and we are losing (more) at the rate of 350 to 400 veterans a day. Now most of those veterans who are still with us are either in VA homes or in nursing homes or disabled,” Finz said at the time.
“We’re all in our mid-to-upper 90s, and we are really a vanishing breed. I’ll leave the higher authority to (decide) when I will fall statistically into that group known as the vanished breed,” he said.
Finz is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Pearl, in 2016.