BY JOAQUIN CONTRERAS
Although two years shy of his 100th birthday, Leonard Finz doesn’t look that far ahead into the future, instead preferring to live as presently as possible.
“To think that in two weeks I’ll be 98, God willing, (and) if I’m still around to think that I’ll even hit the century mark— well, I don’t go that far. I just live day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, and I leave the higher authority to chart whatever life I have for the future,” said Finz.
Though looking back on the nearly 36,000 days of his lifetime, Finz’s achievements have spanned courtrooms, stages, and a World War. The Manhasset resident was honored with an induction into the United States Army Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame on Saturday, July 23, at the historic Gracewood Mansion.
Finz was recognized for his service as a 1st lieutenant, field artillery in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was awarded with the Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious and Outstanding Service.
“As a young man, Lt. Leonard Finz led his artillery battery into combat to serve and protect his nation. Today we have the honor to recognize Judge Leonard Finz for a lifetime of devoted service. He is an icon of his generation and a role model for others to follow,” said state Sen. John Brooks, who presented Finz with copies of New York State Senate and Assembly Resolutions that were passed in his honor at the ceremony alongside state Sen. Ana M. Kaplan and state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti.
Finz joins other famous inductees such as Sen. Bob Dole, Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and author, political commentator and original host of Firing Line Willam F. Buckley Jr.
Born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1924 to Turkish immigrants, Finz was initially a keen musician, playing both the clarinet and saxophone while attending the High School of Music and Art, from which he graduated in 1942. Finz would embark on a career as a singer and musician under the name ‘Lennie Forrest” for two years after law school, performing in venues across the country.
Finz was cast in the NBC soap opera “Another World” and even auditioned for the lead in the 1952 remake of “The Jazz Singer,” a role which went to Danny Thomas.
Graduating in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Finz enlisted in the Army at 18 and completed basic training at Camp Pendleton, Virginia.
At the request of the captain of special services and given his background in the arts, Finz produced, wrote, and directed shows on a weekly basis, subsequently displaying his musical talent with the United States Army Band.
But louder than the music were the cries of soldiers on the battlefield.
“There were soldiers—real soldiers— dying in Europe, dying in the Pacific, and I just didn’t want to tell my grandchildren and my wife that I spent World War II playing music. I wanted to get into battle and be a part of the war. Therefore, I applied to officer candidate school in field artillery, which is a combat branch of the Army,” Finz said.
Graduating as part of a class of only 32 candidates, Finz was honored as a 2nd Lieutenant and boarded a troop ship for Okinawa, joining the first wave attack force upon the Japanese mainland, but never reached his destination as Japan surrendered following the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just days prior to the planned attack.
Honorably discharged as a 1st lieutenant in 1946, Finz pursued a law degree at New York University through the aid of the G.I. Bill, prompted by his experience as Judge Advocate General in the Philippines where he defended GI prisoners waiting to be court-martialed for various crimes. Finz fulfilled the position despite having only a high school diploma.
Returning to the law after his time in show business, Finz became politically active, organizing rallies as Queens County campaign chairman for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and running for senate and congressional seats unsuccessfully. He was elected as a judge to the New York City Civil Court, becoming the youngest at the time, and later as a New York State Supreme Court Justice.
During this time Finz married his late wife Pearl of 67 years and had two children.
He founded what is now Mineola-baed Finz & Finz P.C. in 1984, and later joined by his son, Stuart, secured verdicts and settlements totaling over $1 billion until his retirement in 2004.
“The firm is a family business. It has been three generations: myself, my son, my grandson and my granddaughter. I’ve also got four grandchildren and they’re all involved in law,” Finz said.
Finz received the Army Commendation Medal for his Distinguished Meritorious Service from the United States Army Officer’s Artillery School in 2004, in addition to receiving the Army Commendation Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal prior to his induction into the Hall of Fame.
During his retirement, Finz has become an author of four published books and various legal articles, a YouTube commentator on political and geopolitical affairs, and occasionally advises counsel on some of the firm’s cases.
“(Finz) has been an extremely important role model to me throughout my 65-years and he is a determined, strong and caring, talented, loving and supportive father to me and my sister Sandy,” said Stuart Finz, CEO and trial attorney at Finz & Finz P.C. “This world would be a better place if more people displayed the kind of care and compassion for others that he has displayed in his life. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t talk or discuss the day’s issues or current events. We have developed that kind of relationship and it goes to show the depth and quality of the person that my father is and how important he has been in my life and the lives of so many people in our country.”
Although stoic about the honor, Finz is grateful for the attention, particularly the light it sheds on what has become known as the “Greatest Generation.”
“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. 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,” said Finz.