Jack Fein (1916-2008) began his military career at Fort Totten in Queens, NY. He was processed at the fort after enlisting in the Army in 1936 and served in Panama. After a 36-year military career, he retired with the rank of chief warrant officer 4 and returned to Fort Totten in 1972 to give tours as a volunteer. Built in 1857 across from the Throgs Neck Bridge at Willets Point, Fort Totten served mainly as an Army training base until its decommissioning in 1967. Recruits from New England started their Civil War service there, and some 5,000 Union soldiers were treated at the fort hospital.
Mr. Fein loved history and especially the history of Fort Totten, which started out as a Civil War-era fortress. He felt it was his mission to keep the fort safe and remember those who had served there. He gave free tours (up to 250 a year, well into his 80s) of the rocky battlement almost daily and ran the adjacent military museum. Eventually, the base was decommissioned and the city was given control. The NYC Parks Department fixed up the old fortress to make it more visitor friendly and closed the museum. The museum opened as a visitors center, with exhibits, programs and tours.
Much of his fort memorabilia collection stored at Fort Totten, including canons, was donated to the Army and the Smithsonian Museum upon his death in 2008. Many of the items were originally given to him by the Army.