Veteran Voices of the Central Coast -
Leonard S. Berman

Leonard “Len” Berman - a former Hollywood film producer and director and current “ring leader” of the local jazz band, Jazz Plus - got his career start serving in the U.S. Navy.

Born in West Hartford, Conn. in 1926, Berman was drafted into the Navy during WWII when he was 18 years old.  

“I wanted the Navy and I was lucky to get in,” said Berman, whose father served in France in WWI and brother served in the Korean War.  
He was assigned to play the saxophone in the military band as well as help load anti-aircraft guns with ammunition during attacks.  Berman spent most of his service in the Pacific Theater on the U.S.S. Wasp, which has the distinction of shooting down the last kamikaze plane of WWII.

“That’s the first time I knew what an adrenaline rush was,” he said of the attack.

On Aug. 9, 1945, the Japanese plane got through the Wasp’s anti-aircraft fire and gunnery crews, but the sailors on the Wasp hit the plane’s wing, causing the kamikaze to crash into the sea. Berman and the rest of the crew received a Bronze Battle Star for efforts that day.

But that wouldn’t be the last time Berman had a narrow escape from death. Two weeks later, while on the way home from the war, a typhoon engulfed the Wasp. A portion of the Wasp was wrecked, but the crew survived. However, two of their escort ships flipped over and 600 sailors died.  

“We were tossed around like a leaf in a wave, we were absolutely helpless,” Berman said. “It’s sad that all those sailors were looking forward to going home and then they died at sea as we were headed back.”

He left the Navy in June of 1946 with the rank of Petty Officer 3rd Class.
“War is hell,” said Berman. “But if your freedom is threatened, it’s important to defend yourself. I’ve never seen the U.S. so united.”
Berman returned to Connecticut, where he started studying to be a real estate agent at the University of Connecticut, but left to be a home builder and then eventually took a job as an apartment developer. During that time, he got married and had two daughters.

At 42 years old, he decided he couldn’t take any more of the Northeast’s harsh winters and moved with his family out to Los Angeles. There, he studied at UCLA and the Southern L.A. Film Institute.

Berman went on to produce and direct many documentaries and films through his company LSB Productions, Inc., including the 1973 multiple award-winning Velveteen Rabbit movie.

Through his work in the film industry, he discovered Randal Kleiser, who went on to direct Grease; found the puppeteer of the NBC sitcom ALF; and worked with John Ritter, best-known for his role in Three’s Company.
In 1989, Berman retired from film and moved to Santa Barbara. He credits much of his success with lessons learned in the Navy.

“The discipline in the services was a very good asset for me,” he said. “You get training and learn certain things that help you the rest of your life.”

He currently plays in a band call Jazz Plus that performs Dixieland, blues and swing music for retirement homes in the Santa Barbara area.
Berman was introduced to the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation by attending the events they sponsor to honor veterans. “They’re terrific,” Berman said of PCVF. “Pierre Claeyssens was a wonderful man to start that.”

Berman also visits local schools, talking to the students about his experience in the war and how people in the U.S. are fortunate to have so many freedoms.

“I’m very grateful that I’m still here as part of the Greatest Generation,” said Berman. “I want to perpetuate the memory of all those fallen boys.”

To support the mission to ensure that the local men and women who have served our country, such as Leonard Berman, are “Never Forgotten,” you can make a donation by mailing a check to the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Fund, 1187 Coast Village Rd, Suite 1-334, Santa Barbara, CA or DONATE NOW.